This Month in the Garden (December 2018) with Derek Cox

During November I stopped my car in Walkers Way to admire our native silver birches which many years ago had been planted. One tree in particular fascinated me, this had been planted against the block of flats on the right hand side of the road and this had almost 10 feet (3m) long weeping branches. From my school days I cannot recall whether, due to its long tresses, it was Wordsworth, or Tennyson who calls our native birch the lady of the woods. Our native silver birch will form a tree over 40 feet (12m) in height.
However, Betula pendula ‘Youngi’ will form a low growing weeping tree some seven/eight feet (2.1/2.4m) in height, but even so be careful where you plant it as it will form an umbrella shape almost 10 feet (3m) in diameter. In the past I have had to send out landscaping teams to dig out weeping birches and low growing weeping cherries that had been planted too close to a garden path, or house driveway. In many cases the house owner had lopped off the branches that obstructed the path, or drive, giving the trees a lop sided appearance. Here I had better point out the birches need to be pruned between November and the following February. If pruned during the growing season the wounds will bleed sap and this not only attracts wasps and other insects which feed on its sugary sap, but the sap will also attract fungus spores and these cause the sap to turn black. As the deciduous trees and shrubs lose their leaves it is the evergreens we depend on to not only give us structure in the garden, but also their leaves which are often variegated to help lighten the drabness of winter.
Choisya ternata ‘Sundance’, pictured below left, is, in my opinion the finest of all golden leaved shrubs. I have a plant in my garden that is now four feet (1.2m) tall by eight feet (2.4m)in diameter and its large, glossy golden leaves brighten the area outside my kitchen window. ‘Sundance’ also has masses of small fragrant flowers during May giving it the common name of ‘Mexican Orange Blossom’.
I have three different varieties of Abelia x grandiflora in my garden and these lovely evergreens produce their flowers during late summer, in fact if the weather is good they can still be in flower on Christmas day. Recently while on a visit to Goscote Nurseries I came across another Abelia named ‘Lady Peach’ and as this has peach variegated foliage Vi said we must have this in the garden, but it still sits in its pot awaiting a space in a border.
I grow three different forms of Pittosporum tennuifolium, which being native to New Zealand I thought might be a little tender, but they have survived 20 years of inclement weather. ‘Silver Queen’ is the tallest of these being eight feet (2.4m) tall, but I keep this clipped to form a three feet (90cm) column. ‘Tom Thumb’ as its name suggests is a low growing shrub, which in 20 years only attained two and a half feet (75cm) in height. ‘Tom Thumb’ needs a light background as at the onset of winter its green leaves turn an unusual purple-black. All of my Pittosporum’s have small, fragrant dark crimson flowers during May.
If you have a dry soil in full sun then look for Cistus ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ as this will form a two feet (60cm) mound of bright yellow leaves and although it becomes massed with single flowers during early summer, the flowers are white and give little contrast with the foliage. There are a number of evergreens which not only make excellent specimen shrubs, but are also ideal to create hedges.
Eleagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ has large gold edged leaves and small silver very fragrant flowers during November. For those who say they have seen a Snowdrop in flower out of season, I have a clump in my garden that always flowers in November and it is called Galanthus reginae-olgae. May I finish by thanking all of the Syston in Bloom committee for the work they have carried out in the borders at Syston station. The memorial they have created to all who left the station to serve their country during times of need can be seen by all who now use the station. My very best wishes for Christmas and a prosperous new year in the garden.