December days are passing quickly as we work our way steadily towards the end of one year and the beginning of another. A couple of frosty mornings gave us the briefest glimpse of a winter – frozen cobwebbed Phlomis russeliana and Symphyotrichum lateriflorum var. horizontale stood out in the Xiaotian Fu garden in the December early morning sun!

Our apprentice Sam marvelled at the Betula pendula silver birch tree planting in Cowan Court as the leaves turned their yellowy orange brown. Standing in the middle looking skywards made for a peaceful moment he said!

Our Churchill trees this week are laden with the numerous perfectly formed round balls of mistletoe living on the branches. Viscum album, the hemiparasitic mistletoe plant, has run riot in many of our trees. It seems to love the Rosaceae family like apple and hawthorn on our site and others like the sugar maples Acer saccharinum. It arrives high up in the branches because of the birds – spreading seed around with their beaks, wiping gooey sticky berries onto the wood! Mistletoe holds a special place in many peoples’ hearts and has long held significance for its healing powers and fertility symbolism as well as being an omen of doom. The Victorians introduced us to hanging it in our houses for Christmas decoration and an opportunity for a kiss underneath! Margaret Baker writes in her book ‘Discovering the Folklore of Plants’ that perhaps mistletoe is amongst our most mysterious and magical plants because of its special qualities existing as it does high up in the branches as neither tree nor shrub!

The oranges, reds and greeny yellows of the dogwoods and willow on the winter border are really striking this week. The tallest is the stooled willow Salix alba var. vitellina ‘Britzensis’ and it’s surrounded by the coppiced dogwoods red Cornus alba, orangey pink Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, greeny yellow Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ and the deeper red Cornus alba ‘Kesselringii’. Our three holly trees Ilex x altaclerensis ‘Camelliifolia’ with their smooth leaves and pyramidal form are full of scarlet berries and all we’re lacking is a little ivy to complete the Christmas look.

The darker December days and the slowing of growth gives us a chance both for reflection and for looking forwards. Our garden continues to grow in the same way it did last year, maybe a little earlier or maybe a little later, but it is still in essence doing its thing. We can be sure that the snowdrops will be there, the trees will green and then finally lose their leaves again. We hope some of you will have enjoyed being in the grounds at Churchill as much as we have this year. Happy Christmas from the Grounds and Gardens team! We hope, just like us, you manage a little bit of a rest over the holidays!

Happy Christmas!
The Grounds and Gardens team