Through the Garden Gate: December in the Garden

Published 6:45 pm Sunday, December 3, 2023

December is usually a quiet time in the garden. The days are short, and the temperature is crisp. It’s a time for rest, reflection, and mulling plans for spring.

This year is different We haven’t had a killing frost on my little plot of land. In fact, the neighbors think my property must be protected by fairies or some other supernatural force.

It’s so warm that the David Austin roses are still blooming. Not just a few sad, pathetic blooms, but big, luscious specimens. The reblooming irises are standing tall and have five to six blooms on each stem. There are tall pale-yellow ones, as well shorter blue and white ones. 

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The Rijnveld’s Early Sensation daffodil, the earliest of the trumpet daffodils to bloom, is performing right on schedule. These little daffodils aren’t showy, but they’re reliable, cheerful and bring on nearly uncontrollable urges to plant more bulbs of all sorts. So, it’s not surprising that when I found daffodil, hyacinth, and tulip bulbs on sale at a local garden center, I bought them all and tucked them into empty spots throughout the garden. Just as I finished, I had this vague feeling that way back in July I had ordered over 200 bulbs from a grower in Gloucester, Virginia. Was I dreaming? Had the order gone astray? No, the company delayed shipping because of the warm weather, and the bulbs arrived just in time for Thanksgiving! I’ve since learned that it’s quite possible to plant several hundred bulbs in an hour. As long as you know where they should be planted and have an auger drill bit for use with a battery-operated drill, it’s simple: Drill a hole, drop in a bulb, cover. Repeat until all bulbs are in the ground. 

The reblooming daylilies are still producing scapes of large, colorful flowers, and a new one that I just planted in late summer has stunning mango-colored flowers. Who knew that they would continue blooming for so long and look so fabulous! I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m almost tired of them. Daylilies in December just aren’t natural.

My fall and winter blooming camellias are unusually happy this year. The tall red one is covered with masses of double flowers. The pink ones, which have sulked for several years and that I’ve threatened to remove from the garden, suddenly look healthy and have lots of deep pink flowers. I don’t claim any credit for their sudden improvement.

And then there are the leaves. Our house is surrounded by huge white oaks, which tend to hold onto their leaves far longer than many other trees. Only a few leaves have fallen, and many of those remaining on the trees are still green. We’ll be raking leaves until the end of January. Maybe longer.

Yes, it’s the first of December. The days will continue getting shorter until the Winter Solstice on December 21 when we only have 7 hours and 14 minutes of daylight, and the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. I’ll honor the solstice by lighting a candle and checking on all the bulbs that I’ve planted. I’ll also do a private dance of joy the following day when the amount of daylight is ever so slightly longer, and I know that spring, with the beginning of a new gardening season, is on the way. 

Enjoy the quiet of winter and anticipate spring.

Dr. Cynthia Wood is a master gardener. Her email address is