Festive greenery is usually all about the earthy colours and naturalistic displays for me. This year, however, I thought it would be nice to mix it up with some seasonally symbolic houseplants. Poinsettias were the first holiday houseplants that sprung to mind, but although I do admire the botanical prowess of those bright-red bracts (colourful leaves rather than petals) and love to see this feature in the wild, I’m not a huge fan of their looks. Plus, as houseplants, they only tend to last one season — that’s a lot of purposefully cultivated poinsettias in the bin (or at best on the compost heap) for not a good enough reason.
The Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera), on the other hand, promises to bloom all the way through Christmas (hence its common name) but also keeps on giving via lush evergreen foliage through the rest of the year. I’m also not a huge fan of most cacti (I always seem to get spiked), but this member of the Cactus genus doesn’t hail from the desert, where it needs those pesky spines to survive, but rather from the humid cloud forests of Brazil, where it grows on trees and rocks. I first fell for this plant while writing The Modern Gardener (out March 2022) thanks to its cascades of succulent, segmented leaves. On delving into its festive name, I learned that its prolific flowering season lasts from late November to late January, which means as long as it’s had an adequate dormancy period (stimulate this by reducing watering for six weeks from early October and moving your plant to a cool spot, ideally under 12 degrees Celsius, that has 12 hours of absolute darkness at night), it’s almost guaranteed to put on a show over Christmas. Each tubular, nectar-rich flower — an evolutionary adaptation designed to attract pollinating hummingbirds — found at the end of leaves (actually flattened stems) also lasts for five to seven days.
There are also a wide range of cultivars, largely belonging to either the Schlumbergera truncata or Schlumbergera x buckleyi groups, in single or bicolour shades of red, pink, lavender, magenta, white, gold, and peach. Great if you’re looking for natural elements to fit with a particular festive colour scheme. I’m particularly drawn to hot pink and white Schlumbergeras, which look eclectically gorgeous in Patch’s blue fractured pots.
Nkuku also sells Aniko ceiling hooks from which to hang your planters, while cast-iron hanging brackets work well for a wall.
Or for a trio of non-hanging loveliness (ideal for rental properties where you can’t drill into the masonry), invest in Graham and Green’s set of three plant stands and layer up your Christmas cactuses with a similarly seasonal mistletoe cactus — the perfect, evergreen way to spread Christmas love, joy, and happiness for seasons to come.
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