By Mandeep Matharu & Louise O’Beirne
As a kid brought up in India, perhaps my earliest memory of Christmas is looking up at one of my teachers dressed up as Santa eagerly distributing presents to the pupils. Yes, even in India we have people putting on big white beards and setting up giant Christmas trees in our schools. Despite being surrounded by kids from a hugely diverse mix of faiths and backgrounds, everyone came together to enjoy the true community spirit of this festive period; the important thing was that we were celebrating ‘CHRISTMAS’ together.
And it only just dawned on me; there’s actually something similar happening in the cupboards of our herbarium. Plants from all different families and genera are cheering and celebrating Christmas through their names and appearances! After all, why should just the ivies (click here for the magnificent monograph), hollies and poinsettias have all the fun? Here’s a list of some of our dried and pressed cultivated plants that celebrate Christmas (or shall we say ‘CULTIVATING CHRISTMASES’!)
So we start our adventure with three ‘White Christmas’ cultivars, are they all trying to think about the joy of a snow covered Christmas day? Or are they thinking of the popular Christmas song written by Irving Berlin in 1942? There have been many versions of the song but Bing Crosby’s is the classic one we all know.
Helleborus niger ‘White Christmas’
Known as Christmas rose, this member of Ranunculaceae family is an early flowering herbaceous perennial. H. niger ‘White Christmas’ has bright white flowers against deep green, leathery foliage. Seems to be a popular choice for flower arranging.
Schlumbergera truncata ‘White Christmas’
A white-flowered form of Christmas cactus. The ‘Christmas cactus’ is also known as a ‘holiday cactus’ as it is known by some as a ‘Thanksgiving cactus’ (or crab or a yoke cactus… I am sure with others too). It flowers with red, purple, pink, white or cream blooms from about Thanksgiving (at the end of November) through to Christmas, hence the name!! Another strong contender to brighten up your Christmas alongside those shiny baubles.
Caladium ‘White Christmas’
A tropical South American member of the Araceae. Caladium includes many shade-loving hybrids with greens, reds, pinks and in their white leaves with many patterns. C. ‘White Christmas’ has leaves with a pure snow white centre leaf with a deep green margin and veins.
And what if Bing meant to sing….
May your days Begonias be Merry and Bright….
Begonias are popular houseplants due to the exciting and colourful range of foliage they can bring all year round into a home. Begoniaceae contains two genera Begonia and Hillebrandia – the latter containing only one species H. sandwicensis. A common characteristic of Begoniaceae is the asymmetrical leaf, turning into a spiral in some.
Begonia ‘Merry Christmas’
A large, slightly asymmetric leaf with dark green centre, changing to white and then green at the margin with some speckled with white, all flushed from the centre with a pale pink.
Begonia rex ‘Bright Christmas’
Smaller leaves than B. ’Merry Christmas’ but strongly asymmetrical.
Now a member of Asparagaceae; this bulb produces fragrant racemes of dazzling blue, bell-shaped flowers that turn white at the tips of the older flowers.
Nematanthus ‘Christmas Holly’
Not a holly at all… known as the goldfish plant, due to the shape of the flowers. This tender Gesneriaceae, with glossy, ovate, green leaves and bright orange flowers can bring bright colour in to any home at Christmas.
Ocimum basilicum ‘Christmas’
Although normally sage would be one of the first culinary herbs you think of at Christmas this basil has got there first. This specimen was grown at RHS Wisley for a trial we held in 2012. Not just for eating though, it has green shiny leaves and purple flowers in summer that would spread Christmas cheer all year. Described by Nicky’s nursery as ‘Christmas with a hint of pine’.
And finally 3 cheers for Christmas…
Early spring flowering, this medium/large shrub has pale pink flowers of about 4.5cm long, coming from darker pink buds. It was given an AM (Award of Merit) in 1990 and an AGM (Award of Garden Merit) by the RHS in 2012.
This evergreen shrub, with glossy dark green leaves, lighter in young growth, has an abundance of white urn-shaped flowers which are pink at the tip. Pieris japonica ‘Christmas Cheer’ will start flowering earlier in the season.
Hamamelis vernalis ‘Christmas Cheer’
Hamamelis wait until the depths of winter to flower, doing so when the tree is bare of leaves to show off the small but brightly coloured, strap like and highly fragrant flowers. It has orange/yellow to red flowers, and flowers early in the season.
…… Hip hip Hooray!
Cultivated Christmas continues tomorrow with Santa’s little helpers (You better look out for it…….)
Cultivated Christmas has been kindly edited by Rosalyn Marshall and Harry Smith
Images ©RHS unless otherwise stated.