ONE of the joys of having a property in Spain is the pleasure of experiencing a colourful garden at Christmas.
A garden that motivates you to sit out and enjoy the winter sun and perhaps even eat Christmas lunch outdoors before a glass of brandy and hot mince pies in front of a roaring log fire as the afternoon cools off.
There are five main things to be done:
1. Resist doing the major annual garden cut back in the autumn as you would in northern Europe. The cut back is best done during the months of January and February. Earlier will mean few flowers in December.
2. Throughout the autumn aim to prolong the flowering of existing perennials and shrubs by continuously deadheading as soon as flowers die and the cutting back of unsightly branches to stimulate new flowering shoots. If a dry autumn also continue to water.
3. Stimulate the early flowering of shrubs and trees that often do not flower until early to mid January. The three main requirements are to plant selected plants in south facing beds sheltered from cold winds, to keep plants watered in garden beds or containers and to feed with a high potassium feed.
4. If your garden is not already fully planted plant up some of the shrubs and trees we list below during October and November.
5. Purchase a selection of plants in flower just before Christmas. These can be for sunny spots in the garden, the front step and porch or covered terrace.
We list below some of the garden plants that can be in flower at Christmas.
The strawberry tree (arbutus unedo) which also has bright red fruits to brighten a corner of the garden. The fruits are edible but we prefer to leave them for wild birds.
The galan de noche that might be persuaded to pump out its heavy perfume on Christmas Eve.
Of the early flowering trees the delebeta and bon accuel varieties of mimosa are spectacular with their network of branches covered in masses of yellow flowers.
Lantanas are reliable in most gardens and also hibiscus in warmer spots. Likewise roses if they have been deadheaded, watered and fed during the autumn. Poinsettias can replace a garden Christmas tree.
Bougainvilleas, bignonias, blue and white solanums and perfumed white and yellow varieties of jasmines can produce spectacular year end displays.
The frutescens and coronarium chrysanthemums and euryops daisy give reliable colour in many gardens. If you are very lucky a few margeritas may still be in flower.
Several succulents can come into flower around Christmas notably the red hot pocker aloes and the aeoniums with their bright yellow spires of flowers and the various varieties of Christmas cacti.
The most reliable for colourful displays are the seasonal pansies, busy lizzies, stocks, wallflowers and also petunias which are now available almost all the year round.
Our favourites include pots of specimen amaryllis and hyacinths, and in warm corners of rockeries anenomies, crocuses, miniature daffodils and freesias. These bulbs need to be planted as soon as possible.
(c) Dick Handscombe www.gardenspain.com October 2014