Orange Christmas lanterns

December 22nd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Chinese lanterns in a Christmas display ©Carol Parfitt/

Do you ever get tired of the same old Christmas plants? Holly, ivy, the dreaded poinsettia? I recently wrote a piece about alternatives we can grow ourselves on the RHS website and I thought I’d highlight a couple of them here.

Chinese lanterns (Physalis), for example, are spectacular both in the garden and in the house. The summer flowers are tiny and not really worth bothering with but by autumn they miraculously develop into glorious fruits with bright orange papery sheaths, all along the stems.

Pick them by cutting them down to soil level, then you’ll have a good length of stem to intertwine with evergreens from the garden or hedgerow.

The only problem is that to say they’re vigorous is an understatement. But they’ll take being planted in poor soil and be a little better behaved.

Cardoons and globe artichokes (Cynara) have a different appeal. The flowerheads are like huge thistles, magnets for bees and butterflies in summer, and standing out dramatically against the sky. Unexpectedly, the huge silvery leaves last well in water.

But, even simply left on the plant, they dry to a lovely autumn brown which with the bold shape is attractive through the autumn. Then, in the run up to Christmas, you can spray them with gold or silver paint for a striking seasonal decoration. I saw some sprayed red once – don’t bother.

The proviso with these is that the foliage, though dramatic, takes up a lot of space in the garden. So site carefully.

But thinking about spraying the cardoons has just reminded me to take a look at the nigellas I hang in the corner of the shed back in October. I’m thinking I’ll spray them silver as well.


Leave a Reply

Is one of our best known gardening writers. A graduate of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Graham was previously Gardening Correspondent of The Observer.
Read more.


Shop Online

Graham’s Books