How can I make my garden containers more festive?

Geoff Stonebanks shares his festive tips and plants for garden containers.

You can add a festive theme to your garden by adding winter flowers and foliage to your pots and planters.

Containers for the garden at Christmas give you the chance to be creative. So many plants and shrubs lend themselves to engender that festive look. Obvious choices are holly and ivy and I’ve certainly got plenty of both at Driftwood. Standard holly shrubs look really cool in containers throughout the year but come into their own at Christmas with their gorgeous red berries. Ivy does have a bit of a reputation for covering the floors and walls of gardens with its creeping vines but is actually a very popular plant during the Christmas period. This is because its distinctively-shaped, rich green leaves are often a key component of floral wreaths and other festive decorations. Not only that, but ivy leaves are also said to represent the shape of Christ’s crown of thorns. I remember as a teenager, decorating my parents’ pub in Oxfordshire, I’d cut down holly and ivy and spray it with gold and silver and decorate the pub with these natural decorations.

Winter camellia

Another lovely shrub that captures the festive spirit too is the winter flowering Camellia sasanqua. I’ve had one for several years now, bought in memory of a friend and it has pride of place in a large container in the patio at the back of the house. It is a wonderful addition to any winter garden, who wouldn’t want to enjoy its fabulous bright red fragrant blooms on Christmas Day?

An early flowering Christmas camellia adds its festive hues to the garden. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Mine is Camellia sasanqua ‘Yuletide’ which has large flowers with beautiful golden yellow stamens that really stand out against the dark-green, glossy evergreen foliage. As it flowers from November to January it’s an excellent camellia to stand outside to welcome visitors. The big bonus is that it requires virtually no maintenance. I’ve planted it on its own in the pot but it will also look spectacular when under-planted with white flowering plants such as cyclamen and snowdrops.

Festive bird tree

Some years, I also invest in a small Christmas tree for the back of the house. I place it in full view from the kitchen and decorate it with food for the birds to enjoy. You can also get the family involved in making the decorations too.

Christmas trees aren’t just for indoors. This one is decorated for the birds. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Another pretty Christmas plant in the garden, that I find has worked quite well for me in a container, is the Christmas rose (Helleborus niger). It is a winter-blooming evergreen perennial with large, bowl-shaped, glistening white flowers. The flowers open around Christmas time and are perfect to brighten the shady areas of the garden. What’s more they can make good cut flowers too, that’s if you really want to destroy the display in the garden.

The Christmas rose, helleborus
Helleborus Niger. Image: Adobe Stock

Here’s an idea I came across recently, not one I’ve tried as yet. Rosemary is also commonly used in Christmas displays and decorations. In fact, it’s been used during the festive season since as far back as the 16th century. Its pretty white, pink, blue, and purple flowers add a hint of colour and interest, but its thin needle-like leaves will also enable the rosemary plant to be pruned into the shape of a Christmas tree! Maybe one to try this season!

The perfect Christmas houseplant

A great festive plant for the house is the lovely Christmas cacti. Its botanical name is Schlumbergera and it flowers throughout December provided its need for cooler temperatures and regulated light/darkness levels are adopted by late autumn. This makes it a great addition to the home in winter, as well as the fact that it’s relatively easy to care for, providing it receives the right amount of water and light exposure. Beware giving too much water as the newly formed buds will drop off before they develop and flower. I have one that belonged to my grandparents who both died in the 1960’s. It’s still going strong today and is an integral part of my Christmas decorations.

Geoff has rescued this Christmas cactus and kept it flowering for decades. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

Christmas tree addict

As for the rest of my decorations in the house, as some readers may know, I have collected them over many years and it can take me over a week to put them up. This year I have over 30 trees of various sizes and they were featured on ITV Meridian on 7th December and I’ll be talking about them live on Sky News Breakfast on Christmas morning at 0910 and will be live on a daytime national TV programme, from home, on Thursday 14th December. See more details at

There are dozens of festive trees in Geoff’s home. Image: Geoff Stonebanks

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