When I was growing up, my mother always decorated the house at Christmas with huge vases of fresh flowers from the garden, and one of my daughters offered to do the same last time it was our turn to host the family for the festive lunch. I've always been too busy to pick blooms for the house at Christmas, distracted by the million and one jobs on the to-do list, but there is a host of floral possibilities in the Sydney garden in late December!
As mentioned in last week's blog, Mum always used Agapanthus, which is in full flight at Christmastime, and the huge globes of blue or white look like starbursts and are quite dramatic in a big vase; they last well in water. There are some Agapanthus cultivars that add interest to an arrangement: I like the brilliant blue of 'Guilfoyle', the strong purple hue of 'Purple Cloud'', and the bicolour blue and white flowers of 'Queen Mother'. For smaller vases, the petite blue 'Peter Pan' is perfect. As also mentioned last week, a favourite Sydney combination with blue Agapanthus is adding in some sprays of orange-red NSW Christmas bush (Ceratopetalum gummiferum); sadly, I have never been able to grow this shrub in my garden of heavy red clay. In her bunch featuring white and blue Agapanthus, my daughter used foliage from a Japanese maple and a purple Loropetalum, pictured above.
Another stalwart for my mother's Christmas floral arrangements was the faithful Hydrangea, which grew prolifically in our Blue Mountains garden. Some of the Hydrangea shrubs I grow are from cuttings from that garden. Mum grew the big, old-fashioned mophead types, which last very well in vases - she would usually bash the ends of the cut stems with a hammer to help this. I've added other varieties to my garden over the years and one that can be used in a Christmas display is the beautiful double form of Hydrangea quercifolia, which grows very well in Sydney. Unlike the rounded heads of the Hydrangea macrophylla, this one has long panicles. The flowers of the double form (the cultivar 'Snowflake') last an exceptionally long time in the garden, taking on a gorgeous greenish-white tone. At a Christmas party at the home of a gardening friend last week, one guest brought along a bunch of beautiful Hydrangea blooms from her garden, showing the diversity of their colours and form (pictured above).
There are lots of native plants that are in bloom at Christmastime, and those who grow them will have plenty to choose from. At the party last week, another guest brought along a beautiful bouquet of native flowers from her garden, which included large-flowered Grevillea cultivars and kangaroo paws (Anigozanthus), the creamy star blooms of Backhousia myrtifolia and dainty white-flowered Baeckea linifola, along with the NSW Christmas bush already mentioned earlier in the blog. The spectacular large red, pink or orange blooms of the grafted flowering gum (Corymbia ficifolia) such as the 'Summer Beauty' series, are also often used in Christmas bouquets.
The traditional Christmas colour theme of red and green can be achieved in vases using seasonal green foliage of shrubs such as Camellia with red flowers such as those of Salvia splendens (though they don't really last well beyond a day or so); any lingering stems of Alstroemeria (though these tend to have finished around this time, they are excellent cut flowers and some blooms may still remain in the garden; it may seem appalling, but the red and green flowers of the noxious weed Alstroemeria pulchellum can actually look quite effective on a Christmas table, if, like me, you have the misfortune to have this plant in your garden); or perhaps best of all, the starry blooms of Pentas lanceolata, which last well in water. Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) plants are traditional in northern hemisphere gardens and can be obtained here as dwarf plants 'forced' into 'flower' (actually the showy red part of the plant comprises bracts) at this time and they'd make a good centre-piece for a Christmas table or a nice gift for a friend. To add white flowers to the mix, consider Gardenia, white Pentas, the spidery inflorescences of Hymenocallis, an unusual bulb out now,or the airy white umbels of Queen Anne's lace (Ammi majus), which have a pleasingly long life in a vase.
I'd love to hear of other flowers that can be used for a Christmas display!
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Many scented flowers are in bloom now.