December is mostly a blur of holiday gatherings and work. I don’t usually spend tons of time in my garden. However, around the middle of the month I often regret not planting more cool-weather annuals and I undertake a frenzied weekend of gardening, adding violas and pansies, snapdragons and calendula. If I feel really inspired, I’ll add more daffodils to the garden. If I don’t do this, come March I’ll wish I had. It isn’t too late to plant if you want to ensure color throughout the winter and into spring. In addition to the last minute annual planting, here’s what I’m doing in my garden this month.

Planting Winter Container Gardens

My husband and I spent the weekend in Charleston and I spent my Sunday run snapping photos of all of the window boxes on the houses South of Broad. Some of the pictures are blurry—that’s what happens when you try to run and garden snoop at the same time—but the ones that turned out are fantastic inspiration for winter container gardening where I live. They’re just a touch warmer there, and can get away with a few subtropicals that would melt in my yard. This window box full of alyssum, pansies, snapdragons, and a sheared boxwood will work in all zone 7 and 8 gardens until the most bitter frost. (You can always tuck cut greens and berries in around the evergreen boxwood until the weather warms enough for re-planting.)

A container in my friend’s garden is filled with Swiss chard, snapdragons, and Stipa (Mexican feather grass). It does double-duty, as the Swiss chard is an edible!

A perfect container for the cool season in zone 7 and 8 gardens. Using a woody plant ensures you don’t have to replant the entire container every season.

Harvesting and Cooking with Greens
‘Tis the season for greens! Mustard greens, kale, collards, lettuce, Swiss chard, and arugula are all growing like gangbusters right now. What is one to do with all of the greens? It’s time to get creative and use them in innovative ways. I throw a handful of torn greens (I like the pieces to be about 1 inch square) in every batch of soup I make. They add tons of vitamins. I was visiting a friend who grows a lot of greens and she sautéed them in a bit of olive oil with some garlic and then made fantastic BLTs for our lunch. The “L” was replaced by the greens, and it was all delicious!

The winter BLT with sautéed greens.

Mustard greens are a bit bitter unless you cook them. This picture shows mustard at an ideal size for harvesting and sautéing. .

Enjoying my Camellias

There are two main species of camellias in my garden: Sasanquas, which bloom in the fall, and Japonicas, which bloom in the winter. My Sasanquas are going nuts right now. I pruned them fairly significantly in the spring to open up the plants and allow more light to reach the interior of the plants and they’re rewarding me for that work. You can plant camellias all winter. Prune them and fertilize them right after they flower. With a little planning, you can select and grow camellias that bloom at different times, resulting in a consistent camellia bloom between the two species from October through May.

One of my Sasanqua camellias absolutely covered in blooms.

Magnolia Plantation outside of Charleston, South Carolina, has one of the largest collections of camellias in a southern public garden. The Sasanquas are all in bloom right now—a spectacular sight if you’re in the area.