Christmas decorations: natural selection
Use the harvest from your garden to create subtle decorations, says Elspeth Thompson .
The kitchen table looks like a larger version of the little nature displays my daughter and I have been creating throughout the year. In the run-up to making our own natural Christmas decorations we went foraging mad on our daily dog walks and on trips around the garden.
We gathered glossy red rose hips, glowing orange Chinese lanterns (some in skeletal form), fragrant bay leaves and delicate dried seed heads – everything from alliums and eryngiums to whorls of wispy old man’s beard and branches of wind-battered sea kale from the beach.
Some of the seed heads were sprayed silver, while others retain their natural colours. Then, when the paint was dry, they were carefully wound and woven together to make a range of pretty homemade decorations that I think are just as beautiful, if not more so, than anything in the shops. These are a few of our favourites:
- A single allium seed head – the dramatic football-sized Allium schubertii if you have it, although the smaller A. christophii and ‘Purple Sensation’ will do fine – strung in front of a window where the light can throw wonderful shadows, or even as the ”star’’ to crown the tree.
- A delicate garland of single seed heads (Chinese lanterns, silvered Jerusalem sage, poppies, skeleton leaves and so on) strung two or three inches apart on silver string or wire and hung above a fireplace, in front of a window or, in our case, along the shelves of our kitchen dresser.
- Plain pine cones, strung at 3in intervals on good-quality twine, with red-and-white-checked ribbons tied in bows in between, look good hung down walls or interwoven with greenery as part of a table decoration.
- Sprigs of aromatic leaves and herbs – bay, rosemary, sage, thyme and anything else you can lay your hands on – arranged around a fat church candle on a deep fluted baking dish to make a scented table centrepiece. (Place a little water in the base to keep the foliage fresh.)
- ”Necklaces’’ of red rosehips strung on wire and either formed into small rings or heart shapes for hanging on the tree, or left long and looped around chandeliers and candelabra. Miniature wreaths of rosemary bound with wire and wound in red ribbon also work well.
- Recycled jam jars used as tealight holders with narrow ribbon loops around the neck and a ring of dried leaves (preferably yellow or scarlet) stuck around the outside. For safety’s sake, ensure leaves do not stick up above the rim (trim from the bottom if too long) and place jars on a tile or small saucer when lit.
- Bare or lichen-covered twigs (here’s a use for your winter prunings) arranged in a tall glass vase, and hung with glass night-light holders and a flock of pretty tin, felt or knitted birds. (We have this in our porch, interwoven with a string of LED fairy lights and tin birds from Cox & Cox: www.coxandcox.co.uk; 0844 8580744). When lighting candles, make sure there are no twigs or birds directly above the flame and never leave unattended.
- Lengths of trailing ivy and evergreen foliage – again, a good use for prunings – twisted into swags for looping along mantelpieces or winding round banisters. Lay all your greenery out along the floor in a long line of 6-8ft or so (the different lengths can overlap) and tie it together, twisting slightly as you go, with fine florists’ wire to make a chunkier green ”rope’’. This can look great on its own, but is even better with tiny fairy lights, glass chandelier drops, sprayed silver seed heads (see above) and even flowers from the garden, tied or tucked in between.
We’ve also made a lot of small, multi-purpose decorations using the sprayed seed heads, bay leaves, berries and whorls of old man’s beard, bunched together in different combinations (no more than three different components for each), secured with wire or ribbon with a loop for hanging. These work well as natural tree decorations, but can also be used as napkin rings or place markers or, with the addition of a card luggage label, for wrapping up presents. For the Christmas Fair at my daughter’s school for the past two years a friend and I have had a stall selling the above – with a table and little chairs at the end for any children who want to sit down for a bit and make their own. Any left unsold will end up back at home, either strung from the branches of our bare branch ”tree’’ in the porch or tied around the necks of jars and bottles of homemade jam and sloe gin.
Favourite of all of our Christmas decorations that come in from the garden, however, is a small potted conifer that I bought Mary for her second Christmas and have been nurturing since, between its festive sojourns inside. About 8in tall when we bought it four years ago, it is now around 2½ft and, thanks to a little judicious pruning every now and then, a pleasing miniature cone shape. Set on the table outside her room, this tree does not come in for the natural treatment – as I write its foliage is being all but buried by Mary under a ton of silver tinsel and gaudy baubles. A timely reminder that attempts to make Christmas too tasteful are almost bound to backfire…
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