Nature Calendar: December in the British Garden
December is the month of least sun but not necessarily of the coldest weather.
A few hardystill brave the elements, including Adonis amurensis and the little Iris unguicularis, which will continue to bloom intermittently throughout the winter. Several hardy varieties of crocus can be seen already in sheltered positions. The tiny Monardella macrantha, with its scarlet flowers, and the yellow heads of Sternbergia lutea angustifolia make a gay and colourful show.
In woods and fields there are few flowers, and trees are bare. It is at this time of year that the things usually overlooked are noticed: the shape of trees and the tracery of branches against the sky, the mosaic patterns of bark, the colour of twigs, and the shape of buds. Fungi grow in the woods, chiefly on dead wood. Several mosses send up fruiting stems and are often mistaken for flowers.
SHRUBS AND TREES
The white flowers of the cider gum tree Eucalyptus gunnii are conspicuous. Prunus subhirtella autumnalis is still in bloom, and Chimonanthus praecox has fragrant yellow and purple flowers. Two rhododendrons are flowering now, the evergreen Rhododendron Lee’s Scarlet, and the deciduous R. mucronulatum, which has large purple blooms. A wide variety of evergreen foliage is available for Christmas decoration.
Holly berries are characteristic of this sea-son, but there are others just as colourful, including those ofand hooheri. Several varieties of cotoneaster and still have berries.
Many birds come to the bird-table and water bowl. Starlings and house sparrows crowd out the other birds, and even rooks and jackdaws will sneak up if no one is within sight. When it is very cold, the local robin will accept others from adjoining territories without serious threat; male blackbirds seem to spend more time chasing one another than feeding; and tits, though gregarious, do not always agree when feeding close together. Song thrushes and hedge sparrows, on the other hand, slip in quietly and unobtrusively to snatch the scraps of food.
The nuthatch, great tit and skylark will be heard singing before the end of the year.
Dancing swarms of winter gnats appear on damp, still days, and even on cold days providing there is no wind.
Although many mammals hibernate during the winter, others remain quite active, though little is seen of them.
In really cold weather, the stoat may change the colour of its coat and become white, except for the tip of its tail. The mountain hare, found chiefly in northern parts of the British Isles, also turns white in winter. The otter loves cold weather, even snow, and though it usually produces its young in the spring, some maybe born as early as December.