A PLANT that comes into its own at this time of year is the Mahonia “Winter Sun”.

It is so named for its beautiful yellow flower spikes that rise above the long arching stems with their glossy-green, holly-like leaves through the cold winter months, bringing a ray of sunshine into the winter garden. Not only are the flowers bright and sunny, they are highly fragrant and similar in scent to Lily-of-the-Valley.

This mid-sized, hardy evergreen shrub will grow to 4m x 2.5m height and spread and will bring a shady corner of the garden to life all year round. Mine is in a pot at the back of the house and is now about three metres tall. Tall mahonias that become bare at the base are easily restored by cutting back the stems to about 15cm (6in) from the ground in late winter to early spring.

While most mahonias have sharp spikes on the leaves, you can also buy Mahonia Soft Caress which is the first mahonia of its kind with spine-free leaves, which means it can be planted near to paths or doorways without the fear of being prickled as you might with traditional Mahonia varieties that have holly-like leaves.

If you brush past these, there will be no worries about any scratches, opening up many new planting positions and ideas where you may not have considered Mahonia in the past. ‘Soft Caress’ is also compact and dwarf in nature. I have a single one in a large trough behind the house.

December 1 sees my real Christmas tree delivered to my door, ready to be decorated for the festive season. When you purchase a fresh Christmas tree, double-check that the seller makes a cut straight across the base of the trunk to aid water absorption. This gets rid of any dried-over resin that might block the tree from absorbing water.

Once home, if you’re not putting your tree up right away, place it in a bucket of water. Storing real trees in a bucket of water in an unheated garage or area that’s protected from wind and freezing temperatures is always advised.

Once ready to bring it inside, make another one-inch cut off the bottom of the trunk and place it in a sturdy stand that holds at least one gallon of water. If your holder contains less, just check daily to make sure that it does not completely run dry, by topping up with water. You can see me and my artificial Christmas trees at 6.35pm on C5 on Saturday in a programme entitled “Incredible Christmas trees – How to decorate them”.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk