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Home and Garden: How to decorate your garden for Christmas

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This year we have a new set of Christmas tree lights and the glow from them is dazzling.

The 600 bulbs strung from the branches are like a constellation of tiny stars and they are doing a fine job of chasing away the encroaching darkness of this week’s winter solstice.

Smothering our homes in decorations is one way of fending off the gloom but, after tucking into turkey and mince pies, the best way to mark the festive season is by getting outdoors.

Dozens of Scotland’s top gardens are open throughout December and January and this is one of the most exciting times to visit them.

If you are lucky you might find the pond in St Andrews Botanic Garden frozen over or spot red squirrels in the bare branches at Crarae or one of the other great west-coast gardens.

And, if you think there’s nothing to see, you couldn’t be more wrong. It was during a Christmas walk at Culzean Castle that I discovered the beauty of winter-flowering clematis.

In other gardens I’ve been stopped in my tracks on cold days by the perfume of daphne and viburnum and I’m always ready to be delighted by the sight of yellow jasmine in flower, particularly if there’s a robin perched on top.

They may have shut their doors for the season but many of the historic castles in Aberdeenshire still welcome visitors to their estates over winter.

A tramp through the Old Wood of Drum or around the policies at Fyvie Castle is just the tonic after days spent cooped up indoors and it’s a great way of meeting up with friends and family in safety over the holiday period.

If you fancy exploring, then Discover Scottish Gardens has added a days out section to its website which allows you to see what’s open and plan ahead for family-friendly gardens and disabled access.

You can even search for gardens that welcome dogs if you don’t want to leave your pets behind.

What you might discover is that gardens in winter have a unique beauty and that colourful dogwood stems, richly-textured bark and the scent of pine needles more than compensate for any lack of flowers.

The gardens of Brodick Castle on Arran enjoy the mild atmosphere of the Gulf Stream so you can find rhododendrons in bloom in December, even when the top of Goat Fell is dusted with snow. And you might spot the first stirrings of the bulbs that will flower in spring.

So, once you’ve eaten up the leftovers and binged on Christmas movies, why not explore some of Scotland’s fantastic gardens?

And if you are anything like me then you will come back reinvigorated and with a long list of winter-interest plants to grow at home.

Frozen ponds, robins, the sweet scent of pine…The magic of a seasonal visit to Scotland’s finest gardens, by horticultural expert Agnes Stevenson