“I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day

Their old, familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet the words repeat

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 1863

The holly is a tree with berries that reflect the light and add colour to the dark days of Yule.

This is one reason why people bring it into their homes - but it has significance as well. Holly is one of our brightest plants at Christmas.The holly is a tree with berries that reflect the light and add colour to the dark days of Yule.

Christian symbolism connected the spiny leaves with Jesus’ crown of thorns. The berries became associated with the drops of blood shed for humanity’s salvation. This is related in the Christmas carol The Holly and the Ivy.

Holly berries also feed garden birds, as all berries do when winter sets in. Others are pyracantha which is available with berries in several colours. One berried shrub can support up to 300 species of creatures including birds, moths and butterflies and many invertebrates.

Many people can’t understand why their holly tree doesn’t have any berries. There can be two reasons for this.There are male and female cultivars, and you don’t need a degree in biology to realise that to get berries, you must have a mummy and a daddy. You won’t get berries by just having one or the other.

It is that time of year to look at seed merchants catalogues to plan what to plant in the coming new year. Is there something which you always wanted to try but didn’t, or a new variety? Then the seed catalogues are the place to look. I am always excited to look through them.

Our gardener this month is Peter Walker whom I worked with at Cleckheaton’s memorial park - he is seen in my photograph with the park looking resplendent.

Holly, pyracantha, hawthorn and sea buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides) all have berries and make excellent hedges, which are beneficial to the environment.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Peter Fawcett looks back on his gardening career and shares advice in his bookPeter Fawcett looks back on his gardening career and shares advice in his book (Image: Peter Fawcett)

Continuing with the theme of planting hedges we mentioned last time, I undertook a bit of research in to the matter.

In spring last year, I met a man in a nursery who wanted to plant a hedge, some 40 yards (36m) long. His face dropped when he looked at the price of container grown specimens. Realising it was too late for bare-rooted, I advised him to leave it until late in the year, he might be reading this.

To give you an example, I looked at a beech plant in a two-litre pot which cost £7.50 but a single bare-root plant would cost £1.80 - so there’s big savings to be made planting bare rooted for our man. If he ordered 50 to 250 the cost comes down to just £1.32. And for his 40 yards of hedge I reckon he would need 180 whips.

Preparation is how to get a hedge off to a flying start. Very often people take a spade, make a slit in the ground and plant the bare-rooted whip, firming it in with their foot.

This is all very well and quick but, for better results, a trench can be dug a spade depth, two spades wide. Organic material should then be forked into the bottom of the trench.

Then plant the whips - 2ft tall are ideal - 18 inches apart in a double staggered row. Any very long roots can be reduced in length. Firm in with your heel. A sprinkling of bone meal in between will set them off to a good start. But don’t do this job if the land is very wet or frozen. The planting of trees, shrubs and hedges really needs to be done from now early March when the plants are still dormant.

The hedge can be of beech, hawthorn or blackthorn. Other species can be used. Many in rural locations may chose to plant a mixed hedgerow to encourage wildlife. But whatever takes your fancy! Tulips can still be planted and bargains are to be had now. I have planted tulips in early January which have still shown their glory in spring.

Unlike the holly and mistletoe, mahonia japonica is in fact a native of Taiwan but has rightly taken its place as a star of Christmas and through the whole winter. Their bright golden yellows on long racemes are a delight to see and shine bright, even on the dullest days. They will tolerate a number of different soil types and will flower in partial shade or full sunlight.

They grow from 3ft to 6ft with a 4ft spread. Pruning should be done (as for all shrubs) after flowering. Mahonias are tough and can stand even hard pruning if they have been let grow too large.

If you have a greenhouse it’s a good time to have a clear out of plants, such as old tomatoes, cucumbers grown in summer. The empty greenhouse should be given a thorough scrub down, with a suitable horticultural disinfectant. Make sure to clean right in to the crevices, this may be hiding any pest and diseases. Cleaning the glass is also essential, outside as well as in. This will allow maximum light for your plants and seedlings to get off to a good start in spring.

I am giving a talk about my gardening life and my book for Spen Paxton society at Liversedge Cricket Club on Thursday December 14 at 8pm. All are welcome.

Have a happy and peaceful Christmas.

* Gardener’s Delight by Peter Fawcett is available by emailing peterfawcett0@gmail.com or calling Spenborough Stationers on (01274) 873026.