Is anyone else feeling ready to move on from baubles and tinsel? They are, of course, re-usable but after hauling them out of the Christmas Box for 30 years or so, it feels as though life has moved on a bit, doesn’t it?
It might be the cost of living… it might be climate change, who knows? But we’re definitely feeling the attraction of winding the clock back to when we decorated our homes for free from our gardens and the countryside. We don’t ALL have the same approach though….
Ivy. I have such mixed feelings about ivy – it plays havoc with old stone walls, and can ruin the look of statuesque trees I think, but it’s SO important for wildlife and for its ‘green curtaining’ effect that I couldn’t be without it. We bring great swags of ivy into the house at Christmas, giving the stems a good long drink first in a bucket of water. This gives them a sporting chance of making it through to New Year – unlike the rest of us whose ‘good long drink’ is generally not so healthy……
Mistletoe (Viscum album). It is quite difficult to grow a tree in western Normandy that doesn’t have mistletoe on it! In our garden, its favourite host is an old apple tree, but little sprigs of it have sprouted on an Amelanchier, a poplar, a hawthorn, a pear tree and even the espaliered crab apple trees!
For the Druids, it was a symbol of fertility (hence all that kissing malarkey) because of its ability to flower in the bitterest winter. It’s important in a wildlife garden too – the berries are poisonous for humans but the mistle thrushes and other birds gorge on them. Viscum album means ‘white sticky stuff’ (!) and the birds wipe their sticky beaks (plus seeds) on another tree, and the cycle begins again.
Honesty. The Latin name of this biennial plant is Lunaria annua, and that refers to the lovely moon-shaped discs (Luna = moon, do keep up) that follow the bright flowers of late spring. Why it’s called ‘honesty’ is not so clear, but rather ironically might refer to the clarity and translucence of these discs. Anyhow, they are long-lasting, and extraordinarily pretty in a Christmas arrangement inside. Lots of people spray them silver or gold but I prefer them au naturel.
Rosehips. If you didn’t assiduously deadhead all your roses, you may well have some gorgeous rosehips to arrange for the Christmas table centrepiece. Many rose species are known for their fabulous hips (move over, Beyoncé!) but don’t spurn ordinary ones too.
Time to find out what oddities Laura is decorating her house with this year. Just hope that Caroline is not dusting off her fluorescent talking reindeer again…
Actually we’re pretty old school when it comes to Christmas decorations – no need to go and buy anything – just raid your garden for boughs and plants.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium). Holly is always our mainstay, though I’ve always longed for a holly with more russety coloured berries. While I was was languishing in bed this week with a nasty dose of Covid I read about a new cultivar with orange berries named ’Chris Whittle’ – the similarity of its name to Sir Chris Whitty seemed, to my feverish brain, like fate, and he is now a member of the family.
Over the years we have experimented with ways of picking holly early whilst it’s still got berries. Storing it in a bucket of water in the garden shed seemed a good plan, but the resident mice thought so too and stripped it bare. So this year we’re trying it in a black bin bag left out on the lawn (???? apparently it works – we’ll keep you posted).
Helleborus ’Cinnamon Snow’ . Like a Christmas rose’s much bigger and more glamorous cousin, I bought Cinnamon Snow in the post christmas sell off at our local branch of a well-known DIY chain (oh OK, Homebase) suspecting the plants had been forced for the Christmas market and probably wouldn’t flower this year until February. Not a bit of it, its sat happily in its pot through a baking summer and is now covered in blooms ready for the big day. We’ve already had a dress rehearsal…and the result is our feature picture this week
The Christmas Tangerine, Citrus deliciousa. These used to come individually wrapped in tissue paper in the green-grocers around Christmas time. I’m lucky enough to have a small tree of this species, also known as the willow-leaved mandarin (a tangerine being a specific sort of mandarin orange). Other citrus seem to flower and fruit randomly, and often at the same time throughout the year, but this little chap flowers all in one go in the early summer, with its sweet little fruits always ripening around Christmas time.
Florist’s chrysanthemums. British cut flowers are justly having a resurgence and chrysanthemums have that spicy sharp scent that mingles so well with the other earthy scents of Christmas. My earlier flowering hardy chrysanthemums have done so well this year in pots, brought under glass once the weather turns, that I’m going to have a shot at Sarah Raven’s ’Christmas Collection’ of florist’s chrysanthemums next year and have ordered them already.
They’ll arrive as rooted cuttings in the spring, grown-on outdoors then brought under glass to flower over Christmas. So you can see I’ve been indulging in a bit of retail therapy from my sickbed. But both Chris Whittle and Sarah Raven orders were sponsored by garden vouchers from my sisters, whose unusual generosity I think was triggered by me having to spend my birthday isolating in bed, with only the company of a hot water bottle and a box of paracetemol.
Yes Laura’s impression of Tiny Tim did pull briefly on our heart strings, but that stopped as soon as we discovered she’d been perky enough to crank up the laptop and bag those bargains!
Rowan berries – Any species of sorbus (rowan tree) flourishes here in the Scottish Highlands. They ward off witches which is always handy but some species, in this case ‘Pink Pagoda’, have additional benefits. Their beautiful berries remain suspended from their enchanting lichen-covered branches (an indication of our clear air – sorry I can’t help bragging) through minus-whatever in a most bewitching way. Brought indoors, they’re sublime!
Amaryllis. I’ve been a veritable Scrooge this year, cutting more corners than The Grinch would have dared thought possible, and quite enjoying it. Being relatively better off last year, I splashed out on a nursery-grown amaryllis bulb, anticipating its contribution to a lovely Christmas display. It turned out to be horticultural equivalent of a dysfunctional teenager. At the risk of appearing rude, WTF?
By contrast just look at the two bulbs I got for a tenner from Tesco this year! Perfect in deportment and timing. I’m going to be the toast of the Amaryllis-growers Christmas party. Hosannahs all round for this king of the indoor Christmas plants keeping alive the belief that the best things in life come free – or very nearly!
Top tip: If yours look like flowering too soon, follow my example and exile them to whatever room equates to an icy downstairs loo – it stops ’em in their tracks!
Top Plug: All the candles that feature in today’s blog are available in our shop here.
Louise has chosen another plant that is still putting its best foot forward, despite the plunge in temperatures, click on the box below to fund out what it is.
(And if you’d like a few more ideas for a lovely indoor arrangement for Christmas, have a look at this piece by Louise on December flowers.) Have you got some ideas to add? We’d love to hear them in the comment box below…
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