In the family: His Emporium
Christmas Day flower counts

Plants in flower on Christmas Day

Rosa-Suffolk-Winter-Frost-Rose-J019692Nearly twenty five years ago Clive Lane, for so long the guiding light of Britain’s Cottage Garden Society, revived an old Victorian custom. Writing in the Society’s Newsletter in December 1988 he said: “I believe there was a delightful custom in Victorian times for gardeners to list and publish the number of plants which were flowering in the garden on Christmas Day, and I have seen references to some quite remarkable lists.

“The length of the list, I feel sure, will depend very much more on where in the Kingdom the gardener lives (and of course to some extent on how much port was drunk after lunch on Christmas Day!) rather than on the gardeners’ green fingers. However, this quaint custom should be revived, and I propose asking all members of The Cottage Garden Society to forget that little snooze in the armchair before the Queen’s Speech and to take a look at what is flowering in your garden on Christmas Day.”

[For US readers: The Queen’s Speech – officially The Royal Christmas Message – is an annual broadcast by the Queen to her subjects. In the 1980s, if I remember rightly, it was broadcast on all British TV and radio channels at precisely 3pm on Christmas Day!]

Three months later Clive Lane reported that he’d received over a hundred lists and that a member in the west of England had counted the most with sixty three different varieties in flower in her garden on Christmas Day. These included five different roses, four hellebores, four euphorbias, polyanthus in all colours except blue, and the old double wallflower ‘Harpur Crewe’.

And Clive is right about it being an old tradition. Here’s just one example, a letter printed in the issue of The Garden dated 16 January 1909 from a garden near Falmouth, a cosy spot in the south west of England, listing plants in flower there on Christmas Day, 1908. The list includes such unexpected companions as Cobaea scandens, three nicotianas and Helleborus niger.

I’d add a list of my own at this point – but this year I’m in Pennsylvania and my notes are all in England. The rose at the top of this post, Suffolk (‘Kormixal’) was shot in Northamptonshire at Christmas 2010.

If you’re interested in cottage garden plants and cottage gardens, you should join Britain’s Cottage Garden Society. With their quarterly magazine, extensive seedlist and many other benefits membership is great value at just £12 in the UK, or £17 (about $27). It’s easy to join online.