Christmas seems to come to garden centres ever earlier each year.
Setting aside the year-round Christmas shops which are a feature of some centres, the ‘official’ launch of many Christmas displays is, in many places, late October, with only a few delaying until November is displayed on the calendar before they launch this year’s ‘exciting,’ ‘new’ ranges of lights, candles, decorations, elves, unicorns, fairies, baubles and reindeer … both real and decorative … which are such essential elements in the Christian story of Christmas. Oh, I almost forgot; in the shade of the overburdened-with-baubles Christmas tree there’s a nativity scene, complete with baby, parents, farm animals, shepherds and, lurking just outside the stable, three kings bearing gifts, accompanied … if you pay for the top-of-the-range version … by one or more camels. Yes, yes, the innkeeper in Bethlehem would certainly recognise this cameo were he to be reincarnated!
However, despite my cynicism, I have been round several of our local garden centres, looking at, if not actually admiring, the paraphernalia which is so much part of a contemporary Christmas; and yes, since you ask, I have bought two or three items to add to our huge existing stock, all of which has been carefully packed away in cupboards for the past forty-four or so weeks and some of which will be released from captivity in about five weeks time for a brief period. Tradition!
But one advantage of prowling round garden centres at this time of year is that there are plants to be seen which have been lost to view during the ‘gardening’ months; and one which caught my eye was a charming little plant, suitably potted to be placed indoors but actually in a sheltered outdoor display when I saw it and its siblings. Its label informed me that it was an Echeveria; and, try though I may, I cannot better this Wikipedia description of its appearance: ‘Flowers on short stalks (cymes) arise from compact rosettes of succulent, fleshy, often brightly coloured leaves.’ They came originally from semi-desert areas of Central America, Mexico and north-western South America; so it should come as no surprise to learn that they are happiest in a hot, sunny spot, that they thrive on neglect and that they cope well in drought. There are more than 150 species of Echeveria, many of which make attractive, small, ornamental garden plants; they do well in planters; and some varieties are used as part of carpet bedding schemes during the summer. They grow to a height of between 15cm … say 6 inches in old money … and 50cm … say 18 inches. Those which I admired were quite small and may have been Echeveria ‘Blue Frills’ to judge from their frilled, blue, green foliage with a pink edge – I neglected to take a note of the variety: but, with a huge number to choose from, many of which have been given the Award of Gardening Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, it’s hard to go wrong.
Now, since I saw Echeverias outdoors in late October, albeit in a sheltered location, is the garden centre likely to leave them there as winter draws on? And, although the plants are perhaps half-hardy and will stand a touch of frost, Scottish winter weather is likely to kill them; so I am confident that those which I saw will be indoors by now, thus explaining why they were in decorative pots ready to be moved to the houseplant displays. An evergreen succulent, an Echeveria will add interest in any room and, although it will appreciate a small amount of tender, loving care, it will do remarkably well even if it is largely ignored.
Thank you, premature Christmas displays, for tempting me into garden centres and, by proving to be less than irresistibly attractive, encouraging me to find some live plants to admire and so ameliorate my cynical reaction to your supposed allure. I wonder if Santa Claus might be persuaded to bring me a couple of Echeveria ‘Blue Frills’ as a gift?