Festive pines: garden plants of the month for December

Green throughout the year, and particularly significant in the run-up to Christmas: the spruce and fir tree help create a variety-filled patio and garden.

A forest full of personalities
Oh Christmas tree, how … versatile, beautifully green and distinctive are your branches. Naturally the spruce and fir tree are the real trendsetters in December, but don’t overlook what they can offer during the rest of the year in terms of greenery and interesting points of focus. The range is extensive, and every pine tree has its own personality. Hence there are species that look like they’ve come straight from a Japanese garden, interesting silhouettes with hanging branches for a bit of theatre on the patio, and beautiful full fir trees with a bluish grey tone that lights up beautifully in the moonlight. Even without decorations or fairylights they already look stunning, and you get to enjoy them in the summer as well.

December duo
Spruce (Picea) is officially a hardy needle conifer, but looks like a true pine tree, often complete with cones below the branches. It can have a classic pine shape, with layered branches that stand around the stem like a wreath, but it can also be spherical, trained as a pyramid or beautifully chilled with hanging branches. 

Fir tree (Abies) has long, flat needles. The colour is greyish green, sometimes with a silvery tone. The fir tree has cones on the branches that partly fall apart, leaving the core standing. Depending on the species it can grow in a narrow pillar shape or in a classic Christmas tree form.

Telling them apart
When people talk about a Christmas tree, it might be a pine tree or a spruce or fir. A pine tree has long soft needles, and bears pine cones as fruit. A spruce or fir has short, hard needles and fir cones. An easy way to differentiate: if there’s a single needle growing out of the branch, it’s a spruce or fir (‘single’ with an S for spruce). If there are a pair growing from the same spot, it’s a pine tree (‘pair’ with a P for pine). 

Spruce or fir tree?
With spruce part of the bark comes away when a needle is pulled off. So spruces always have a flag on the loose needle. That is not the case with fir tree, where the needle’s fixing point resembles a suction pad.

3 reasons for picking a festive pine

  • Spruces and fir trees instantly make a winter garden greener and more beautiful.
  • You can also enjoy the elegant greenery throughout the rest of the year.
  • Spruces and fir trees combine beautifully with November’s Red Classics.

“Freshly cut Christmas trees smelling of stars and snow and pine resin – inhale deeply and fill your soul with wintry night.”
John Geddes – A Familiar Rain

Sustainable in December
If you want to celebrate Christmas with your spruce or fir for years to come, make sure that your tree has a substantial root ball when you buy it. If it’s going to be indoors for a while, place it in a pot with water and shrub food so that it suffers as little as possible from the dry indoor climate. To ensure that the transition is not too dramatic, only put it outside during a frost-free period. Planting it nice and deep and pampering it with some extra water and food will help ensure that a spruce or fir tree roots happily in the garden.  

Stylish Christmas patio
Mix up different species and sizes of spruce and fir tree so that the different shapes contrast nicely. The container can be understated: brown, black or grey emphasise the natural aspect of the trees and makes them look extra green. These colours also fit with the style trend in which restraint and clarity in the garden are important. With individual spruces and firs trees you can easily add November’s Red Classics as Christmas approaches to create a festive look. And in January you can quickly and easily prepare them for the start of 2020 with plants such as white grape hyacinths, snowdrops, hyacinths and Helleborus.

Why are pine trees so closely associated with December?
That comes from ancient Germanic traditions. Festive pines are the only trees that stay green in the winter. Centuries ago the Germanic people displayed a green tree during midwinter (the shortest day of the year), often in the middle of their settlement. This was then decorated with dried apples and chains made of straw and dried flowers. The green tree was a reminder that the days would get longer from that point on and that spring was on its way. The need for greenery in December is so ingrained and goes so far back that Christianity smoothly absorbed the heathen traditions into the celebration of Christmas. Just to be clear: whatever happened in Bethlehem, it did not involve a pine tree.

Poinsettia: Houseplant of the Month for December

The poinsettia’s cheerful colours are just what you need in the dark days before Christmas and the arrival of 2020.

Theatrical character
When you first notice about the poinsettia are the beautifully coloured leaves. They’re often thought to be the flowers, but are actually bracts that form a star shape around the true flowers, which are small and yellow in the heart. It’s an instant mood maker for the holidays and thereafter, because this winter bloomer provides a colourful start to 2020 in fabulous pastel shades.

Poinsettia delights

  • It has got dark early, the candles are lit, a beautiful poinsettia on display – how much more snug could things get?
  • Poinsettia (also known as the Christmas star) comes in red and white, but also in cream, claret, lemon, pink, salmon and purple.
  • This winter bloomer comes in all sizes from XS to XXXL.
  • Poinsettia is perfect for creating a bit of a festive mood without making it too Christmassy straightaway.
  • Share the joy: traditionally December 12th is the day when you give someone a poinsettia as a gift.

How did this star become so associated with Christmas?
According to a Mexican legend a poor girl picked some herbs from the roadside and used it to make a bouquet to give to the baby Jesus on Christmas night. That night the posy started to bloom with red and green flowers, which the Church considered to be a Christmas miracle. The ‘Flores de Noche Buena’ is associated with Christmas in many countries.

Mexican herb
Poinsettia originates from Mexico and Central America, where it grows as a herbaceous shrub that can reach a height of 4 metres. The plant blooms outdoors from November to February, and the bush is bare in summer. The Aztecs considered the plant to be holy; they called it Cuitla-xochitl.

“My poinsettia did not turn scarlet until I planted it in new surroundings. Colour is not something one has, colour is bestowed on one by others.” 
Arthur Japin – The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi

Poinsettia with style
After an intense year it’s nice to conclude 2019 beautifully and gently with poinsettias in candy colours. Place them in knitted pot covers in order to emphasise the friendly look, or decorate the pots with baubles for a lively, modern festive feeling. The larger specimens look best on the floor or on a low table so that you can particularly look down onto the attractive bracts. The smaller poinsettias should be spread throughout the room: friendliness and cheerful colours everywhere for a beautiful, luxurious grand finale to 2019. 

How to keep it looking beautiful

  • Poinsettia is sensitive to cold. Wrap it up nice and warm for the journey home after buying.
  • The plant likes a light spot without bright sunshine.
  • The soil should always be slightly damp.
  • The plant cannot cope with draughts or very warm locations, such as above the radiator or next to a crackling log fire.
  • Some plant food once a fortnight is appreciated
  • If your poinsettia’s leaves turn yellow and drop off, you should place the plant in a cooler and lighter spot and increase the humidity. That should perk it back up.

Red Classics: plants of the month for November

Days getting shorter? A bit of cheer and passion in the form of holly, Skimmia and Leucothoe is just what you need at this time of year.

Being in the red was never so delightful
In the dark days before December the garden is gradually settling into its hibernation. By adding Red Classics there is still plenty to see and experience when you look outside. Holly, Skimmia and Leucothoe offer flowers, berries and fabulous coloured foliage in a spectrum from pink to bright red. Those colours not only counteract November’s often grey days, but can also be used to create some natural festive cheer in the garden next month.

3 bets on red

Holly offers evergreen leaves and bright red berries, and is a decorative shrub that provides some shine when the days are getting shorter. 

Skimmia has green leaves and sparkling berries. The plant brings colour to autumn and winter, is green in the spring and treats you with fragrant flowers in late summer.

Leucothoe is the chameleon amongst ornamental shrubs and changes colour in autumn from green to yellow, pink, red and purple. And those beautiful leaves stay in place all winter long.

Red from all corners of the world
Holly grows in regions with a temperate climate, from high in the mountains to the coasts of Asia, Europe, North Africa, North and South America. In the wild Skimmia grows in the forests of China and other parts of Asia such as the Himalayas. And Leucothoe is particularly native to mountainous forest areas from North America through to the Far East

Red classics – this is why

  • Red has an instant effect: it adds drama to the sightlines in your garden in the right way.
  • Red Classics fit perfectly with the orange and yellow that is appearing on the plants and trees around them.
  • Holly, Skimmia and Leucothoe are also an attractive feature during the rest of the year thanks to their surprising shapes.

Garden trend: recycle
Red Classics look wonderfully contemporary in a restrained, clear arrangement at various heights. The containers can reference recycling – such as metal barrels or zinc containers – in order to reflect the sustainability trend. It’s a matter of looking at what you already have in order to use it in a new way. The colours are understated: black, white, grey, brown and matt blue to offset the powerful green and red of the Red Classics.

“If I could tell you about red, I would sing to you of fire sweet like cherries, burning like cinnamon, smelling like a rose in the sun.”
Dixie Dawn Miller Goode

How to maintain their beauty

  • Holly prefers to be in full sun to partial shade, Leucothoe in partial shade with a couple of hours sun, and Skimmia’s berries develop best in the shade.
  • Red Classics do best on well-draining soil and do not like to be moved: give them their own spot from the start.
  • Leucothoe need slightly more water than the other two.
  • Only prune holly and Skimmia if necessary, prune Leucothoe after flowering in June before its autumn display.
  • All the Red Classics become more beautiful every year.

Calathea: Houseplant of the Month for November

Incredible: a plant that literally shares your life and tells you when it’s time to go to sleep.

Variegated or plain. Wavy, ribbed or smooth. Oval or pointy. Beautiful symmetrical markings or a bit freehand. Even marked with an eye, if you want to be kept under observation. If you’re looking for unusual leaves, Calathea is the houseplant of your dreams. And that’s before we even mentioned the bright orange flower that towers above the ‘Crocata’ cultivar like a torch.

Morning stretch
It’s not just limited to photogenic leaves. Calathea also has a day and night rhythm. When it gets dark, it closes its leaves and the plant shows the dark red underside of the leaf. And in the morning the leaf opens up again, ready for a new day.

Calathea has a strong air purifying effect and contributes to a pleasant climate indoors

Low light – no problem
Calathea grows in the jungles of the Amazon region in South America: in the shady layer beneath the dense vegetation, to be precise. For that reason the plant can also do well in a spot where it’s not particularly light, such as the bathroom, hall or bedroom. The local population often use the sturdy leaves as packaging material: instead of being wrapped in newspaper, fresh fish is wrapped in Calathea leaves there.

Calathea is not harmful to pets … but pets can be harmful for Calathea

New beginning
In the language of plants Calathea symbolises a new beginning. That meaning is derived from the expression ‘to turn over a new leaf’, which is what the plant does when it gets dark. That makes it the ideal gift for a new home, a job or a new start.

Integrated greenery
Calathea fits perfectly with the interiors trend in which plants are playing an ever greater role in the home. Not only as decoration, but also to improve the air in your home, to absorb moisture and possibly even as an energy supplier. Calathea’s strength lies in the abundant green foliage. This means that the plant is very good at converting CO2 to oxygen and purifying the air. 

You could easily put six different Calatheas together: all different, but still linked

How to keep them looking beautiful

  • With its jungle background Calathea likes to be placed in filtered sunlight between 15-23°C.
  • There are not many plants that are happy in front of a north-facing window, but this is one of them.
  • The soil can feel slightly damp, but there should be no standing water in the planter.
  • It doesn’t need to be as humid as in a rainforest, but regular misting would be appreciated.
  • Some plant food once a fortnight in summer, do not feed in winter.
  • In the winter Calathea can also cope with less water because the plant is hibernating.
  • You can cut off brown or withered leaves.
  • Repot every couple of years, preferably in spring.

Not on but in the table
To display Calathea on trend on your Instagram, style it as part of the interior. So not on the table, but in the table. In knitted pots that bear a remarkable resemblance to the blanket that you curl up under on the sofa. Or very surprising as a kokedama hanging plant in the living room. That presentation also reinforces what is unique about Calathea: it’s not just beautiful to look at, but it really shares your life.

Green Covering: Houseplants of the Month for October

Cool in summer, warm in winter and green throughout the year: a living roof with plants like rockfoil, stonecrop and sempervivum is not only sustainable, but also lovely to look at.

Moving towards carbon neutral
Living roofs are attractive to look at and are a useful addition to the natural environment. They increase the biodiversity your area and purify the air because the plants absorb and filter carbon emissions. A living roof attracts insects (and therefore birds as well), is sustainable and also insulates: not just in terms of temperature, but also muffling external noise. Because the plants take up water, you are less likely to suffer flooding in the event of heavy rain. It requires virtually no maintenance, and almost every roof is suitable for it. The Green Covering plants are also suitable for small roofs such as a lean-to, shed or birdhouse, and for vertical wall gardens.

These are the Green Covering plants

Stonecrop produces white, yellow and red flowers. In addition to the well-known ground-covering species there are also a few species that grow a bit taller.

Rockfoil grows in decorative rosettes with white, red, pink or purple flowers that do not get taller than 15 cm.

Sempervivum blooms between April and August with pale yellow, white or pink star-shaped flowers that rise some 10 cm above the rosette on palm-like stems – quite a sight!

Stone lovers
Rockfoil and sempervivum particularly occur in mountainous regions such as the Alps, Dolomites and Caucasus, whilst stonecrop grows throughout the northern hemisphere, particularly in dry rocky regions and all in between walls and stones.

Self-sustaining greenery
All the Green Covering plants are succulents. A succulent is a plant that stores water in its roots, stem or leaves in order to get through periods of drought. You can identify them by the thick, fleshy leaves that act as a reservoir. The name succulent comes from the Latin word ‘sucus’, which means ‘sap’.

Roof tip  Green Covering plants are often offered in a mixed mat similar to turf: roll it out, give it some water, leave it to secure itself.

7 steps to a living roof
Step 1 Carefully brush the existing roof clean.
Step 2 Make sure that the drainpipe remains clear by placing a wire guard over it.
Step 3 Place plenty of gravel around the guard so that the soil cannot get washed into it.
Step 4 Roll out a drainage mat on the roof and cut it size.
Step 5 Cover the mat with an artificial substrate for plants.
Step 6 Distribute the plants across the substrate or roll out a ready-made sedum mix mat.
Step 7 Lightly spray your brand-new living roof so that it can absorb moisture.

“Landscape planners will have the opportunity to make sculptured roofscapes, so that cities appear to be verdant hills and valleys. Streets will become shady routes carved through the undergrowth. Roofs will become mountaintops.” Tom Turner


  • Remove weeds and tree seedlings twice a year.
  • If the weather is very dry for a long time, water with a hose.
  • Feed once a year.

How to achieve maximum visual benefit with Green Covering plants
In theory it is possible to create squares or geometric patterns with stonecrop, rockfoil and sempervivum. In practice a random mixture works best. In that way the plants create an attractive relief, the shades of green, pink and purple work well together, and they will rapidly form a dense carpet on a roof.

Help – I don’t have a roof!
If you don’t have a suitable roof, you can also scatter stonecrop, sempervivum and rockfoil around your garden, patio or balcony in bowls and pots. The soft, voluminous look means they look like big green cushions that create a friendly atmosphere. They also provide fresh green accents at the time of year when most greenery is entering hibernation.

Cymbidium: Houseplant of the Month for October

Stunning flowers amidst tall green stalks: meet Cymbidium, the orchid that in no way resembles an orchid.

Gracious and… big!
The stem is concealed in a forest of soft green leaves. The flower stems quickly almost become top-heavy with flowers. Cymbidium flowers for weeks like a torch with red, purple, pink, orange, yellow, green or bicoloured flowers that sometimes have a light pleasant fragrance. This orchid available from mini and normal pot sizes through to an outsize version that makes a gorgeous indoor shrub. Sometimes you even see it as a hanging plant, with some of the green leaves hanging beside the pot. What makes Cymbidium particularly desirable is that it’s a seasonal product that’s only available in the autumn and winter. 

5 reasons for picking Cymbidium
• The foliage means that Cymbidium offers you a lot of plant.
• The orchid flowers profusely for a long time, and just keeps on looking beautiful.
• It’s a houseplant with total wow factor.
• Easy to live with – can fill a difficult spot.
• Cymbidium helps keep the air indoors clean.

At home in the Himalayas
Cymbidium looks tropical, but is actually a cool character. The orchid is accustomed to surviving on the southern slopes of the Himalayas. Even on that rocky nutrient-poor soil, in cold nights and in bright light it’s able to produce its mysterious, elegant flowers. So it’s a true survivor.

“You can get off alcohol, drugs, women, food, and cars, but once you’re hooked on orchids, you’re finished. You never get off orchids… never.”
From: ‘Orchid Fever’

Cymbidium trivia
• Cymbidium is known as the ‘king of the orchids’, thanks to the philosopher Confucius who described it as such.
• Every flower has a hollow arched lip that resembles a boat. ‘Kymbos’ is the Greek word for boat, from which the name Cymbidium derives.
• Cymbidium is a special gift for friends in China; the flower symbolises a valued and respected friendship.

As a houseplant Cymbidium – with its lovely balance between the rich greenery at the bottom and the opulent flowers at the top – fits perfectly with the 2019 style trend which is all about equilibrium. Greenery and colour act as a counterbalance in a home environment that contains more and more technological gadgets. The styling can be powerful: large specimens in robust cachepots as a green statement in the interior.

How to keep them looking beautiful!
• Cymbidium prefers to be in a spot with indirect light.
• Unlike many other orchids, Cymbidium has a real root ball. Immerse it once a fortnight, leave to stand for half an hour, and allow to drain.
• You can add plant food to the immersion water.
• If you have a very large Cymbidium you can give it a splash of water once a week, but not so much that the roots are permanently waterlogged.
• Once Cymbidium has finished flowering cut out the flower stem. Put the plant away in a light and cool spot and it’s quite likely that it will produce another stem.

Indian Summer: plants of the month for September

During an Indian summer the garden exceeds all your expectations, particularly with these five remarkable accent plants that bring even more colour to your life. 

Making summer last a little longer
It’s becoming increasingly common to have an unusual period of warm, dry weather in the northern hemisphere in September and October during which you can still comfortably enjoy your garden. The phenomenon is called an Indian summer, and is characterised by the fabulous changing colours of nature and a lengthening of the garden season. A lot of the plants in your garden will be past their peak, but with Indian Summer plants you can bring new life, new greenery and particularly plenty of colour to the scene. These are late bloomers that only put on their show now with fabulous leaves and spectacular berries, but also plants with staying power that bring colour and excitement to your garden until well into the autumn and the winter. And that golden Indian summer starts now.

5 x Indian Summer at home

Trumpet vine is a climber that flowers profusely in late summer with orange, red and yellow trumpet-shaped flowers. There are also compact varieties for small gardens or to place in pots.

Spindle tree has crimson leaves and vermilion fruit which contain orange seeds. The colder it gets, the more leaves the plant sheds, the better the berries are displayed: they stay on the plant the longest.

Japanese andromeda displays fabulous copper, pink, bronze or golden green foliage in the autumn which fits perfectly with the changing colours of nature.

Beautyberry looks like the last remains of summer are squeezed together into the small burgundy berries that lend colour to the garden until well into the winter. There are also species on which the leaves change colour beautifully.

Smoke tree blooms in plumes that resemble pink clouds, and combines that with eye-catching foliage that can turn red and dark purple.

How Indian is that summer really?
Although this term is widely used, the extension of summer is so remarkable that every country has its own name for it, such as oudewijvenzomer, Altweibersommer, sintmichielszomer, Brittsommar, Babí léto or St. Luke’s summer. The term was first used in an American essay in 1778: it was how the original colonists in America described this remarkable late summer phenomenon which was most intense in the regions where they were living at the time.

“This strangely still pause between summer and autumn, greenery and gold, is one of the best parts of living on earth.”
Victoria Erikson

How to keep Indian Summer plants looking good

  • All Indian Summer plants like a position with some sun, but can also tolerate partial shade.
  • Choose rich, well-draining soil.
  • The plants for an Indian Summer are accent plants that like to have some space to ensure they look their best.
  • Fertilise before the growing season and before the winter.
  • Prune in moderation before the growing season that starts in March.

Indian Summer styling
Allow the Indian Summer plants to shine by keeping the base simple. Black pots, grey containers and a single shiny element create a mood of harmony and clarity that fits well with an enjoyable Indian summer in the garden. The selection makes it possible to create a sheltered garden room with trumpet vine and beautyberry as tall plants and the other three as low and semi-tall container plants. Add a fire bowl, grab some marshmallows, and just relax. 

Garden Plant of the Month
Plants for an Indian Summer are the Garden Plants for September 2019. The ‘Garden Plant of the Month’ is an initiative from the Flower Council of Holland. Every month the Flower Council works with representatives of the floriculture sector to choose one or more plants which are particularly popular with consumers, or which are not (yet) particularly well-known but which have the potential to do well in the garden, on the patio or on the balcony.

Large-leaved Ficus: Houseplant of the Month for September

Start the indoor season with a statement plant like large-leaved Ficus, also known as ‘the Bold and the Beautiful’ in the world of plants.

Sometimes size does matter
You’re probably already familiar with Ficus as a strong indoor tree with hundreds of little leaves. Well that plant also comes with XXL leaves on species that can effortlessly reach your ceiling. Primaeval, rugged and decorative, one of these giants will already make an impact in a room on its own. We’ve selected five great Ficuses for September which can provide an instant natural mood now that the indoor season is gradually starting again.

Large leaves as protection
Large-leaved Ficus is trending in home decor as a buffer plant: large and full of foliage, the plant creates a friendly, soft and comfortable atmosphere to counter the harsher world that many people have had enough of. The varieties with pastel shades in their foliage further reinforced that softness, as do round smooth planters, textile-covered pots and pots in delicate pastels.  

Pleasant housemate
Houseplants like ficuses with large leaves improve the air in your home by converting CO2 to oxygen. The large leaves also absorb particulates from the air and store them in their roots where they are broken down and expelled. The green leaves also improve the humidity in your home by evaporating moisture very gradually. A Ficus really is a valuable addition to your home.

Meet the Ficuses

Ficus lyrata is available as an indoor bush and as a standard, and has shiny leaves that resemble a violin. The large, eye-catching veins that bring texture to the leaves particularly stand out.

Ficus elastica has smooth dark green leaves with fine veins that are marked like a feather and reach a length of around 25 cm. It grow straight up and therefore does not take up much space despite the large leaves.

Ficus binnendijkii ‘Alii’ and ‘Amstel King’ have long leaves that are not as wide, but do hang down decoratively. Available as a green pillar and as a standard with a full crown. 

Ficus Cyathistipula has dark green shiny leaves, can produce figs from an early age, and is a heavily branched potential indoor giant that climbs upwards along a stake and therefore grows attractively upright. 

How to keep them looking beautiful

  • Ficus can tolerate both a light spot or partial shade, but not full sun.
  • Once it’s comfortable, leave it where it is. Getting used to a new spot demands a lot of energy from the Ficus.
  • If the plant is in danger of growing crooked, turn it a quarter turn every day.
  • The soil should be slightly damp at all times. Ficus can cope with less water in winter.
  • Give some food once every two weeks.
  • A quick shower or standing outside in summer rain will enhance both the plant and the leaves.
  • Treat the plant to a larger pot and fresh potting soil once a year to keep Ficus in top condition and maintain its growth.

Watering like a pro!

Height of Ficus Summer              Winter
40-100 cm          160-320 ml         120-200 ml
100+ cm              480-960 ml         320-640 ml

Ficus trivia

  • Ficus was one of the first plants to be cultivated in Europe from Asia some 11,000 years ago for agricultural purposes. 
  • In the summer Ficus can be placed on the patio or balcony when the weather is good.
  • Ficus has a special spiritual meaning in both Buddhism and Hinduism, and also has an inspirational, calming feel as a houseplant. 

‘ saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story.’
Sylvia Plath – The Bell Jar

Houseplant of the Month
Large-leaved Ficus is the Houseplant for September 2019. ‘Houseplant of the Month’ is an initiative by the Flower Council of Holland. Every month the Flower Council works with representatives of the floriculture sector to choose a plant which is particularly popular with consumers or is not (yet) well-known but does have the potential to do well in the living room.