Winter Pickings

Winter Pickings

I’ve always preferred a more natural look when it comes to Christmas decorations – give me holly and ivy over tinsel any day. Up until relatively recently this was always an aesthetic choice, but as we’ve all become more aware of the impact consumerism is having on the planet, decorating the house for Christmas with evergreens and pretty twigs makes much more sense that buying in plastic garlands and baubles transported across the globe, where one day they’ll end up in landfill.

Most of us have plants in the garden that will provide decorating material, add in a few natural goodies foraged from the woodland floor or some sprigs from a local florist and there’s no reason why your home can’t look beautiful for the festive season. Then, come January, it can all goon the compost heap.

So here’s my guide to the best natural Christmas decorations from your garden and beyond.

Evergreens

Plants which hold onto their leaves have featured in winter festivities for thousands of years, revered by our ancestors for their ability to seemingly defy the cold weather. Native plants like holly and ivy are Christmas classics and are easy to come by, even if you don’t have some in your garden. Keep your eyes peeled on countryside walks, as both are common hedgerow plants. When it comes to garden plants, Viburnumtinus, skimmias and euonymus all work well when included in wreaths,garlands and winter flower arrangements. For fragrance snip some stems of rosemary and thyme. These look lovely in table decorations. You don’t need to be really crafty – a few simple stems of an evergreen tied together with a pretty ribbon and placed on top of napkins will give your table a festive flourish.

Twigs and branches

Bare branches of hazel, willow and birch all have a lovely sculptural quality. They can be used as they are, arranged in tall vases and then adorned with tiny baubles and strings of fairy lights – this can be a great alternative to a Christmas tree if space is tight. Or cut them into smaller sections and added to wreaths and garland for a woodland feel.

If you fancy a splash of colour look to colourful dogwoods or willows with scarlet red, fiery orange or golden yellow stems. When the stems are freshly cut they are very bendy and can be manipulated into all manner of shapes – think wreath bases or star decorations.

Cones

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for me without copious amounts of cones. Most florists will sell them, but you can also forage for them if you’re lucky enough to have pine trees nearby. Look out for larch cones too. These are miniature cones – you’ll often find them still attached to branches lying on the ground. These look particularly lovely when used as present decorations.

Berries

Holly is the most popular festive berry, but there are plenty of garden plants that produce great displays of winter berries. Scour your borders for pyracantha, snow berries, skimmia and the black fruits of ivy.Pick long stems so that you can wire the berries into wreaths or arrange in water with foliage and flowers.

Flowers

It might seem unlikely that you’ll have flowers in your garden at this time of year, but if the weather has been mild, you may have the first primroses and hellebores in flower and plants like scabious still blooming. And winter-flowering shrubs, like winter honeysuckle, Viburnum x bodnantense and skimmias,make fragrant additions to a vase.

Foraging tips:

  • Don’t take from other people’s gardens, nature reserves or protected places.
  • Only take small amounts, leaving plenty for wildlife and others to enjoy.
  • Never uproot plants.
  • Look out for windfall or ask local tree surgeons for leftovers.
  • It can be easy to mistake safe plants for poisonous ones. If in doubt don’t pick.

Be careful when you bring plants indoors especially if you have young children and pets. Make sure they are kept out of reach.

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