Our little woodland area is looking lovely at the moment with many small clumps of hardy cyclamen sprinkled around in pink and white. There are precious few flowers around at this time of year so they are a very welcome sight. There are two different kinds of hardy cyclamen common in our gardens. The one out now is usually C. hederifolium (pictured)– literally ‘with leaves like ivy’. Later on the pretty pink and white flowers of C. Coum arrive, so you can have cyclamen in flower from autumn through to early spring. Their favourite spot is in shade underneath trees and shrubs where there is little else growing and they can gently spread around undisturbed. If you get a little one in a pot it is often worth putting in in the ground once it’s finished flowering – but don’t do this with their bigger, more tender relatives, they will curl up their toes and die. Don’t plant too deeply and dig in a little leaf mould or compost if you have it and they will look after themselves and bring you pleasure at this time of year for many seasons to come. Also looking good here at Charnwood is our Mahonia ( pictured). An unprepossessing, easy evergreen shrub also liking woodland conditions, it is coming into flower now with its gorgeous yellow scented spikes in profusion. If you have a shady corner where nothing much will grow, give it a go. It’s a fairly big plant and a bit prickly not unlike a holly so take that into account if you are planting it by a path. Christmas is nearly upon us if you hadn’t noticed! We are just back from a lovely trip to Amsterdam and had a morning perusing the bookshops. The talented and inspirational Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf has written a number of books, many promoting his ‘prairie’ style of planting. I have his ‘Designing with Plants’ but they all seem very good and useful if you like the more naturalistic approach to garden design using perennials and grasses. We also had a look around the tulip museum and I leafed through Anna Pavord’s ‘The Tulip’ – another lovely book with some gorgeous photos. The history of the Tulip is fascinating even if you are not an avid gardener and/or bulb lover. I have her minimally titled and beautifully illustrated ‘Bulb’, which is also a good read. A present I have given to several friends is a pretty tin with some packets of seed inside, carrots and beetroot for the vegetable gardener and sweet peas and calendula for flower lovers. A decent set of secateurs is always welcome and you can never have enough decent string. I know what you are thinking, string doesn’t leap straight into your thoughts when planning gift purchases, but I love the stuff and even keep a ball in the shed for sniffing – strange but harmless? Last time I suggested you set aside somewhere good to sit outside to enjoy your garden in winter so how about a few night light holders for your loved one to light up your dark evenings? Plant a few hardy cyclamen close by or a fragrant mahonia, get yourselves a hot chocolate and relax! I’ll be back in February so stay safe and warm until then and all the best for 2015.