A “Merry and Bright” Christmas Garden

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Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’ is a festive addition to the winter landscape for Southern California gardens.

During the holiday season, adding some Christmas color around the house often means a quick trip to the garden center to grab a couple of red poinsettias. The foil-wrapped pots full of holiday cheer start springing up on front porches all over town. But why stop there when the season has so much more to offer local gardeners?

Kathy Musial, The Huntington’s curator of living collections, will share some of her favorite holiday plants for the home landscape in a talked titled “A Christmas Garden” on Thursday, Dec. 12, at 2:30 p.m. The free program is this month’s offering in the Second Thursday Garden Talk and Plant Sale series, held in the Brody Botanical Center. While there are many plants in bloom in December, Musial will focus on those with red or white flowers or berries—the perfect choices for dressing up the garden for the holidays.

“Some of the plants I’ll be featuring are very common ones, like holly and paperwhite narcissus,” says Musial. “But I also wanted to include plants that are less well-known and that make colorful additions to the garden at this time of year, like Iris foetidissima, with its bright red berries.

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Tall and graceful, mature poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) put on joyous display. Photos by Lisa Blackburn.

It would be hard to find a plant with a more festive name than Camellia x vernalis ‘Yuletide’, and its flowers really live up to the appellation: the color is like rich red velvet. For a warmer, spicier red, there’s Salvia gesneraeflora ‘Mole Poblano’ (Mexican Chocolate Scarlet Sage)—a lovely addition to a drought-tolerant winter landscape. For white flowers, one of Musial’s top Christmas picks is Jasminium grandiflorum, which blooms virtually year-round. Its delicate white blossoms will have you thinking of snowflakes.

A plant sale will follow the talk, so gardeners can take home some holiday color to enjoy in the landscape right away. (You can pick up a few to give as gifts while you’re at it.) In addition to the plants mentioned above, there will be succulent plants such as “Christmas cactus” (Schlumbergera) and Kalanchoe species in seasonal colors, rare plants like the red-flowering shrublet Dermatobotrys saundersii from South Africa, cyclamen, roses, conifers, and more.

But let’s get back to those poinsettias for a moment. Because, let’s face it, nothing says “Christmas” like those joyously exuberant plants with their bright red bracts and deep green foliage. Known by the botanical name Euphorbia pulcherrima, poinsettias are native to Mexico and are well-suited to our climate here in Southern California. Plant one in your garden this season, let it mature and grow, and you’ll have one of the merriest Christmas gardens in town before many New Years have passed.

The Huntington’s “Second Thursday Garden Talk & Plant Sale” series, now in its 25th year, offers timely garden topics by expert guest speakers followed by a sale of related plants. Coming Jan. 9: “Guaranteed Success with Bare-Root Roses” with rosarian Tom Carruth.

Lisa Blackburn is communications coordinator at The Huntington.

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