May your garden be merry and bright

With garden designer, Sally Cunis

As we approach the end of the most extraordinary year that anyone could have anticipated, we continue to draw comfort from our gardens and immediate surroundings.

Gardens, both private and public, have given solace, joy and hope to many this year. They have brought people together both in the community and on home soil; neighbours have swapped plants, home-schooled children have sown seeds and some of us have experienced the delight of ‘grow-your-own’ irrespective of the size of our plot be it a windowsill or large back garden.

Planters of cyclamen, violas, hardy fern and dogwood stems

Optimism, kindness and the need to share are natural attributes of gardeners old and new. As the festive season looms, perhaps in a rather different format to one we are used to, it is time to put those generous natures to good use and lift the spirits of our friends, families and neighbours by brightening up front doors and gardens for all to enjoy when people are out on their festive walks.

Doorstep planters are a wonderful way to cheer up the front door. Choose pretty pots in which to place bright hardy cyclamen and violas backed by ferns and cut stems of Cornus (coloured dogwood); under-plant with small spring bulbs for later flowering.

handmade wreath

Hang a magnificent wreath as a centrepiece on the door. Many plant nurseries make and sell wreaths also supplying all the elements required to create your own. Using a circular base, firstly cover well with moss, binding firmly with string, then add greenery, such as fir, placing it in overlapping layers in the same direction wiring it as you go. Embellish with holly, larch or fir cones, hydrangea heads, silver birch twigs, dried orange slices and sticks of cinnamon for a natural look finishing with a dramatic bow. It is great fun to go foraging in the woods for cones or feathers with which to decorate a wreath or a table decoration.

Plants in pots will not only brighten up the approach to the home but might also be a good present. In addition to doorstep planters, scented plants such as Sarcococca, Daphne odora “aureomarginata” or clipped standard forms of Ilex, Photinia, Laurus nobilis (Bay) and Ligustrum are wonderful in pots and make a good display near a main entrance.

If you have a front garden, think about improving it with winter colour and perfume. Choose variegated, coloured and scented evergreens under-planted with spring bulbs. There is a fabulous range of tulips available to plant in November but remember to sit them on some gravel if planting in a border or mass together in pots for a stunning display next year.

Don’t forget the garden birds. Add a simple bird bath to your front garden and hang up bird feeders or make your own by filling used yoghurt pots or stuffing the gaps in large fir cones with melted suet mixed with seeds and dried berries. The birds will enjoy the berries of bushes and small trees such as Cotoneaster, Sorbus or Malus if there is space and reward you with their songs and activity from dawn to dusk. Rake up leaves to discourage slugs and top dress the beds with a mulch of bark chip to protect perennials over winter.

Regardless of what we will be allowed to do in terms of celebrations this year, everyone loves to give and receive presents. Gardeners always need gloves, string, plant labels, another gardening book and a new pair of secateurs but a bowl of hyacinths, a plant for the garden or a few packets of seeds is hard to beat!

Have a wonderful time whatever you do and enjoy our green spaces.