The few new orchids have been moved into the greenhouse as night time temperatures drop – next in are the Hoyas. Hoping for a milder winter this year, the garden has made a valiant recovery after the deep freeze. It was like losing a part of me when I looked out on that destruction after days of heavy ice and freezing weather.

Even though there weren’t many plants in the greenhouse, it had to be cleaned out before plants could be moved in. I feel virtuous now that the junk has been tossed and the orchids are safely tucked inside. Some are blooming and the various amaryllis are beginning to put up bloom spikes. The greenhouse is my happy place.

In the spirit of the holidays, I have been trimming and cleaning up the flowerbeds. I have been working in compost, planting and topping with a nice layer of mulch. Plants to decorate the garden for the holidays include wine colored snapdragons, violas, flowering kale, geraniums, African daisy and cyclamen.

When visiting the nursery and big boxes, you will spot six packs or larger pots filled with pansies. Pansies are derived from a simple weed common to European cornfields – Viola tricolor. Known by the name “heart’s-ease” during Shakespeare’s day, the delicate little flower was known as a symbol of thoughtfulness. Its cheery little face has endeared it to gardeners for centuries.

Violas are a better choice for our area – tougher than pansies. They are more tolerant of both heat and cold. They will tolerate sun or partial shade.

Transplants do best if set out in late November when temperatures have cooled off.

When it comes to violas, I love Johnny-Jump-Ups. They form small clumps covered with tiny little cheery blooms. Even though they are perennials, they are grown as annuals in our area.

Another great flower for the holiday season is the cyclamen. Grown for their flowers, the plants form an attractive clump of roundish to heart-shaped basal leaves that are reddish beneath and patterned with silver above. The blooms resemble butterflies and appear atop the clump on long stems. They make a spectacular planting when mixing shades of pink, rose and red together and will definitely brighten your day.

Cyclamen, native to the Mediterranean region, are found growing under ancient olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane in Jerusalem. Although its scientific name hints at a Persian origin, it has never been found further east than Israel and Syria. Its wild form, C. persicum has white flowers tipped with pink at the ‘nose,’ narrow, elegantly twisted petals and a delicate perfume. A single plant in full flower can scent a whole greenhouse. It is frost-tender. It became fashionable in the mid-1800s and plant breeders selected for color and size, and like the rose bred the scent out of the plant. In recent years, breeders are trying to regain some of the lost charm of the wild plant. They are trying for smaller blooms with scent and the bright colors. They have even had a breakthrough developing a yellow-flowered cyclamen. I personally love the pinks and red.

Cyclamens grow best in fairly rich, porous soil. Loosen soil to a depth of one foot, mixing in coarse sand and lots of organic matter. Cyclamens prefer a neutral to slightly alkaline pH. Hardy types should be planted under the oaks along with ferns, violas and bulbs. All make excellent container plants and will provide a splash of color all winter.

Another favorite of mine is stock (Matthiola).

This old fashioned garden plant will fill the garden with a rich spicy-sweet fragrance. Another native of the Mediterranean region, stock has narrow gray-green leaves and masses of scented flowers in erect, spike-like clusters. They need light, fertile soil and good drainage. While stock will tolerate moderate frost, it will not set flower buds if nights are too chilly, so late planting delays bloom until spring.

Any or all of these flowers will fill your garden with color for the holidays and beyond. Personally, I’m planting them all.

Holidays are fast approaching. It’s time to get serious about gifts for your favorite gardener. I have a few suggestions - hope the husband pays attention when he proofs this.

A good bypass pruner is always appreciated and perfect to tuck into that empty stocking. While there are many different brands, just make sure they are bypass. Gloves are another great stocking stuffer. Subscriptions to gardening magazines or gardening books will provide your gardener with hours of pleasure. A battery powered weed cutter or blower will make your gardener’s workload lighter. There is even a lithium-ion powered chainsaw. For the serious gardener, a woodchipper might be just the thing.

Birdhouses, birdbaths, and pretty containers will make the heart glad. Don’t forget a gift certificate to their favorite nursery. A little red wagon is a great gift. My red wagon goes to botanical sales and provides the grandchild a ride when it isn’t working in the garden. The best gift is your time and labor in their garden.

Don’t forget a good new hose. I’m always crimping the hose to move from one spot to another and after a couple of seasons hoses tend to become cracked and useless.

For the really thoughtful, a special rose or a special tree would make a great gift. Just be sure to pick one that is special to the gardener and appropriate to their garden.

Don’t forget to plant wildflower seed, poppies and larkspur if you want a beautiful spring garden.

Happy Gardening!

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