December Calendar Photos

– Posted in: Garden Photography
Poinsettia nursery

Poinsettia - Euphorbia pulcherrima in commercial greenhouse,

December is now the most commonly requested calendar photo by my various publishers.  This is because many calendars now include 13 months, adding December of the year it is sold to the 12 months of the upcoming year.

So, for my posting here, I thought it might be fun to show the variety of photos I have used to illustrate December.   There are some obvious choices such as Poinsettia but for a gardener’s calendar I want to go beyond the obvious, so I try to include images with some subtleties that might appeal to a discriminating gardener.

Poinsettia leaf bract

Poinsettia 'Monet Twilight'

For instance nearly all Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are grown in California, originating with Paul Ecke Ranch which gives me the opportunity to show a different sort of December photo – in  greenhouse.  And then there are all the Poinsettia cultivars !  Gardeners are at once fascinated and appalled by this, but there is no denying that the breeders are having fun with plant genetics.

Poinsettias are such a popular subject because they are so showy and red at a time of year when we do not expect much from our gardens.  I posted last year about Red and Green at Christmas, going into a bit of the garden origins  of red at Christmas.  I did not know then that the photo of Cornus kousa with red berries I had just photographed for the blog would be in a calendar so soon.

Red winter berries of Cornus kousa

Red winter berries of Cornus kousa

Toyon or Christmas Berry,Heteromeles arbutifolia

Toyon or Christmas Berry

Red berries can make for classic Christmas time photos, and in fact, our California native Toyon shrub (Heteromeles arbutifolia) is called Christmas berry.  The woods around me are usually full of berries this time of year, though this year I seem to see far more Madrone berries than Toyon. This shot, of the berries isolated against the dark intreior of the tree really makes the redness stand out.

Pyracantha berries are also quite showy and they continue to be until they shrivel in the spring.  Not many birds like them as I hear they make them drunk.  Hmmm – seems perfect for an avian holiday party.  I loved finding this virtually wild pyracantha in front of a grove of poplars wth yellow fall color.  Strong color is always a good consideration when planning a calendar submission.

Red Pyracantha berries in winter garden

Red Pyracantha berries in winter garden

The 2011 Inspired Flower and Garden calendar from True Image is one that has two December photos, and since the photos are all my own I got to pick which I wanted.  To go with the Cornus kousa photo earlier, I chose an unexpected companion, one without much bright color – Leucadendron salignum ‘Winter Red’.

Leucadendron salignum 'Winter Red'

Leucadendron salignum 'Winter Red'

Being a California photographer has many blessings but I am very aware that we are not typical of the rest of the gardening world.  Our Mediterranean climate and plant palette give new meaning to seasonality, especially in context of our mild rainy winters.  I am never really sure what to send a publisher when I am asked for winter photos and usually end up simply  hoping for a good location caption.

But calendar photos almost by definition scream out “You can’t do this at home”, and are for those who just want to dream. If you have been following my fellow Gardening Gone Wild cohort Debra Lee Baldwin’s previous and most clever post  “The 12 Days of Cactus”, you know we here are not expecting the rest of the gardening world to do what we can do in California.

California drought tolerant succulent garden with Golden barrel cactus

Southern California succulent garden in winter

Not only do I routinely include succulent photos for my December calendar submissions, I am increasingly comfortable showing grass gardens in our California winters.  One of my very favorites, taken from my book “The American Meadow Garden” is Dave Fross’ meadow at Native Son’s Nursery.  I stylized this particular version.

Dave's December Meadow

But we do have some more typical winter scenes here in Northern California, where it gets cold enough for good fall color and deciduous trees.  The fantastic gardens at Filoli provide inspiration for gardeners year around but unfortunately are closed in winter.  By the time the Ginkgo trees turn butter yellow in December most visitors never get to see it.

Ginkgo trees in fall color Filoli gardens

Ginkgo trees in fall color Filoli gardens

And Filoli’s amazing Camperdown Elms make wonderful photos.  This one was the favorite one at my October ‘Picture the Enduring Garden’ lecture at San Francisco Botanical Garden and I made a print for every one at the lecture.

Camperdown elm tree in winter - Filoli garden

Camperdown elm tree in winter - Filoli

Christmas wreath Swag with cinammon sticks

Swag with cinammon sticks

A classic motif for gardeners to express themselves in winter is with wreaths and swags to decorate windows and doors.  Several years ago I visited Colonial Williamsburg in December and was amazed at the diversity of these winter decorations all made from natural materials.

These wreaths show some of the classic materials we can find in winter gardens such as evergreens, pine cones, seed heads (aren’t the lotus pods exquisite?), and dried flowers.  But I found wonderful local materials in several wreaths using the likes of oyster shells, large dried leaves of tobacco, and pheasant feathers.

Christmas wreath Colonial Williamsburg

Christmas wreath Colonial Williamsburg

Holly leaves make great December photos since many gardeners look to evergreens for winter interest.  With red berries ?  So much the better for this simple but carefully composed image in my garden.  I wish we had snow to really make it feel like winter.  No, actually I am fine without any snow.

variegated holly with winter berries

Variegated holly with winter berries

I finish with this lovely spruce tree covered with red tassels.  I  have not yet used this in any published calendar.  But who know what the new year will bring ?

Wishing all of you good health, much happiness and the beauty of gardens to sustain us.

Red tassles on blue spruce tree at christmas

Red tassles on blue spruce

Saxon Holt
Saxon Holt is the owner of, a garden picture resource for photographs, on-line workshops, and garden photography stories. An award winning photojournalist and Fellow of The Garden Writers Association with more than 25 garden books, he lives and gardens in Northern California. PhotoBotanic - Garden Photography online at
Saxon Holt

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13 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

Frances December 24, 2010, 6:40 am

Hi Saxon, thanks so much for brightening my day with these December shots. Filoli is amazing, what a shame visitors are missing out on that. The tassles give inspiration for next year’s tree decor, stunningly simple.

Thanks Frances. If one is to follow the logic that red and green at Christmas originates with the 13th century Paradise Play, then the tree with red tassels (representing the apples in the garden of Eden) is the most authentic of all these picture to represent Christmas. Though the purpose of my post is December, it is hard to ignore the holiday theme…
Best wishes to you and I look forward to hearing from you in the New Year ! – Saxon

PlantPostings December 24, 2010, 9:33 am

What a beautiful post! Merry Christmas, and all the best to you and yours in 2011!

Thanks PP – and best wishes back atcha ! The days are getting longer the New Year is nigh – Saxon

natalia December 24, 2010, 9:54 am

Beautiful photos!

Thanks for dropping in Natalia …all the way from Russia ? – Saxon

Bracey Tiede December 24, 2010, 2:38 pm

Wow! Stunning photos as usual. I think that Ginkgo trees are my favorite. Merry Christmas.

Thanks Bracey – You have probably seen those Ginkgos in color. Maybe ? Best to you and Richard for a great holiday – Saxon

Janet Loughrey December 24, 2010, 4:23 pm

Beautiful! Thanks for sharing. May 2011 be filled with crystal clear vision and lots of beautiful photos!

Thanks Janet. Not sure I want to get to crystal clear vision – I might not be able to focus (G)
— Saxon

Debra Lee Baldwin December 25, 2010, 12:05 pm

Saxon, what a wonderful post for Christmas day. My favorite is the leucadendron. Those flowers look like flames, and positioning them in the lower left, with one blurred in the background, animates the image. But all the photos are fantastic. Love the ones with brilliant red berries. Everyone should grow variegated holly!

Years ago, when I did a story about poinsettias for the San Diego Union-Tribune, I visited the Ecke greenhouses. The photos I took with my Canon SLR were amazing because of the bright, diffused light. It made me realize the importance of light in photography.

Thanks Debra Lee – Light is everything and indeed shooting in a greenhouse can be like shooting in a studio. But watch out for those greenhouses with moldy green windows. Yucky light. – Saxon

Lona December 25, 2010, 7:54 pm

What a beautiful posting Saxon. Gorgeous pictures! Merry Christmas to you and yours and have a Blessed New Year.

Thanks Lona. I did hope this selection of photos would be a nice way to wrap up the year. Blessings back to you … Saxon

franniesorin December 26, 2010, 3:06 am


What a magnificent offering for this holiday season! The photos are magical. Tough to pick out a fave but I think I’ll have to go with
Camperdown Elm Tree in Fioli.

Saxon Holt December 26, 2010, 10:49 am

Thanks Fran. I love hearing the favorites and confess I am still surprised the Camperdown Elm is so popular. I will send you a print f you like. Ya gotta respond to this Comment for this offer to be valid. (Testing Comment Reply :->) – Saxon

titi December 26, 2010, 1:22 pm

une merveilleuse photo de ces plantes de noel

Merci beaucoup – Saxon

janine robinson December 26, 2010, 8:11 pm

love all these photos! what a great way to express the festive holiday spirit!

Thanks janine ! Hoping the holiday spirit last all month – Saxon

Pam Ferry December 30, 2010, 7:51 pm

The winter Camperdon Elm is my fave !! It is the most beautiful representation of the tree of life that I have seen. Thanks for sharing

Ramona January 4, 2011, 7:43 pm

Thanks Fran for all the beautiful December photos! The Camperdown Elm has such unique form and offers beautiful structure in the winter. The mossy trunk and branches adds a nice touch.

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