(Clockwise) Mumsettia, Christmas Rose, Paperwhites and Fringed Cyclamen.

Gardening: Creating a white Christmas

‘Plenty of white flowers and foliage to choose from.’

It’s a rather strange seasonal habit, hoping for a white Christmas here on the ‘Wet Coast.’

I mean, the chance of snow anywhere else in Canada on Dec. 25 is pretty well a sure thing.

But in balmy coastal British Columbia, you might as well rub your lucky rabbit’s foot or go searching for that elusive four-leaf clover – both might make you feel better but you’ll still be waking up to a ‘green’ Christmas.

There is, however, a potential white transformation, and while it’s probably a matter of semantics, I think it is a solution that just might satisfy even the diehards.

The idea being to bring the outdoor alba garden into the domain of your indoor Christmas decor and, fortunately, there are plenty of white flowers and foliage to choose from.

So let’s start with the obvious, the poinsettia – while past attempts at breeding have resulted in various creams or pale yellows, the new ‘Princettia Pure White’ really lives up to its name.

Another great choice is the Christmas rose, or Helleborus niger, as these are being forced into bloom and are readily available.

Just remember that this is an evergreen perennial that should only spend seven to 10 days indoors in a cool room, after which it can be planted in a sheltered outdoor container or in the garden proper once acclimatized.

Paperwhites are another traditional choice with their scented white flowers, but many gardeners get frustrated when they have to stake the lanky stems. ‘Ziva’ provides pure white blooms and you can promote shorter stalks by simply watering with a one part vodka and seven parts water solution after the shoots have reached several inches.

The four to six per cent alcohol content will definitely make for half-sized stouter stems and of course, much happier plants.

Another common white Christmas bulb is the amaryllis, which can be found in both single and double-flowered forms.

Before the advent of red poinsettias, it was the white chrysanthemum that reigned supreme at Christmas and I remember Marge Saunders regaling me with memories about the massive crops at the former Brown Brothers Greenhouses.

Sadly, the only white chrysanthemums we see today are those grown as ‘Mumsettias’ – essentially a red poinsettia planted in the midst of white chrysanthemums. Many of these are assembled last minute and it may be possible to stealthily remove the offending red poinsettia and replace it with one of the aforementioned whites.

Florist cyclamen are another common winter crop that is widely available now and come in a range of sizes.

The minis are ideal for use in mixed planters, while the larger traditional forms have silver marbled foliage and occasionally, fringed blooms – both will flower for months when properly cared for.

Kalanchoes and their double-flowered forms marketed as Calandivas both come in white, are often used in mixed planters, bloom for months and are also a good choice for those cursed with a brown thumb.

For a little foliar contrast try the Christmas fern, which is actually a spikemoss (Selaginella ‘Frosty’) with coarse green cedar-like foliage that is edged in white to cream, almost like it has been touched by a little frost.

Regardless of whether or not you achieve that perfect white Christmas, we can still enjoy that one day when we bring family and friends together to show them that we care despite the harried pace of life we may live the rest of the year.

Lastly, I would like to wish Jess and family a whiter Christmas than most.

Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author (hebe_acer@hotmail.com).

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