Hardy they come

Is there a New Year plant? Christmas has a host of decorative ones to help celebrate the festive season, but the advent of January seems to have no equivalent. Sometimes the weather is kind enough to encourage snowdrops or other very dwarf bulbs to flower, but there's no guaranteed consistency. What appeared last year may not appear this.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: A garden euphorbia pictured this week.

And yet there are little beacons of brightness that can be relied on to try their best whatever the weather – like the spurges, simple, unsophisticated plants which rarely receive the recognition they deserve for all their efforts in growing and flowering, year in, year out, without asking for any help from the gardener.

Euphorbias should be made compulsory additions to every garden, no matter how big or small. They are so tough, so cheerful (and, yes, some varieties are invasive – their tiny rosettes appear yards away from the parent plants; just pull them up and you’ll find yards of root) and even elegant. Their foliage holds raindrops which, should the winter sun shine, reflect the light like tiny diamonds.

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And despite their ability to go where they shouldn’t, the hardy spurges deserve to be recognised as valuable additions to beds and borders, and even containers.

They may be the little-praised workhorses, relatives of the vibrant poinsettias which make their mark every Christmas, but for many months of the year, evergreen euphorbias are the ones that hold together perennial beds.

In February and March, bracts start to appear and, in April, the leaves are topped with lemon, pale green tints which defy description. In May, the spurges dominate. In June, they still hold their heads above the rest, and it’s only come July that they are eventually pushed into the background.

Spurges are among the most tolerant and versatile plants available to the gardener. They take the rough with the smooth, the rich soil with the poor. No sunless corner is too dark for them – they will grow anywhere and defy all weathers and conditions.

Just beware – these plants come in a huge array of sizes and colours, so it’s important to choose with care the right variety for the right spot. And take care when their stems are cut or broken, they release a white, irritant sap. If you got a decent pair of gardening gloves for Christmas, wear them with pride.