Plants in flower on Christmas Day
Book Bullets: Two Important Re-Issues by Christopher Lloyd

Christmas Day flower counts

Helleborus argutifolius often seems to flower at Christmas. Image ©
Well, having discussed the tradition of listing plants in bloom on Christmas day in my last post, I asked a few friends on both sides of the Atlantic to make lists this year. I myself dutifully went out on a chilly Christmas morning to count the plants in bloom in our Pennsylvania garden and was delighted to find far more than I expected – a grand total of… two!

These were two of the recent Gold Collection hellebores bred in Germany by Josef Heuger: Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’ and ‘HGC Josef Lemper’. The mild weather two or three weeks ago had hurried them along, then it was down to 19F/-7C so they bent their heads and froze to the ground! I blogged about these impressive hellebores back in 2006, and also in 2008 when we had them in flower in mid November.

Back in England my friend Tracey Mathieson, who runs the lovely barn shop and garden called Foxtail Lilly, just a few hundred yards from our Northamptonshire home, took a quick look at her garden at Christmas and, surprisingly, came up with only three plants in flower: Helleborus argutifolius, Penstmon ‘Port Wine’ and Prunus x subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’.

The record from Russ Graham’s garden in Salem, Oregon, was also surprising: “My list is short this year,” he emailed: “Cyclamen hederifolium.” This is especially unexpected as Russ has been collecting early flowering forms of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, for some years.

“I do have Rhodie 'Christmas Cheer' and Viburnum 'Pink Dawn' blooms from a nearby neighbor open in the house,” he continued. “And a garden in Salem had H. niger in full bloom last Tuesday (they had a low of 23F/-5C already as did we...) I still only see tight buds. I do have H. foetidus with a couple of flowers essentially open but it is a bit of a stretch to think of it as "in bloom"”.

Bougainvillea and snow-capped peaks in Southern California. Image ©Ian CookeMuch farther south on the west coast, another British ex-pat Ian Cooke, author most recently of Designing Small Gardens, published in Britain in October and published in the North America in April 2012, reported: “I think maybe I got the easy one – Palm Springs, in Southern California…”

Ian explained that his own yard is tiny so he added what’s in bloom in his neighbor’s gardens and came up with a total of forty – but that counts the many cultivars of Bougainvillea, Hibiscus, Lantana, Nerium oleander and roses he spotted as just one of each.

Back in Britain Julia Boulton, the Editor of The Cottage Gardener, the quarterly magazine of the Cottage Garden Society, reported fourteen plants in bloom in her suburban garden on the south western edge of London, including a pyracantha with both flowers and berries, and three different roses but no hellebores.

And finally Clive Lane, who when writing in The Cottage Gardener back in 1988 revived this old Victorian tradition. This year Clive counted nineteen plants in bloom in his cottage garden in Cheshire, in the north west of England including three hellebores and, surprisingly, Genista monspessulana which has seeded everywhere in his garden.

You can check the full lists from Ian Cooke, Julia Boulton and Clive Lane.