I didn’t realise it it was floristry. Decorating the pictures frames and fireplace with evergreens was great fun and in our family, an important part of the preparation rituals. Dressing the home with material from the season is deeply ingrained in me, signifying that particular celebration. Easter with primroses, Mayday blossoms, conkers-in-pockets-back-to-school, squash at halloween. Ivy, mistletoe and pine at Christmas of course.
It simply doesn’t make sense to bring in something out of season, grown in another time, another place. Roses at Valentines, strawberries in Winter just is wrong. Just because we can have something seems to miss the point entirely. I like the delayed gratification, it’s all the sweeter waiting for the natural time. And this is why I think decorating with greenery still is very special. With less in the garden at Christmas, thankfully you only need a couple of branches or stems to anchor your home in the season naturally, reflecting your garden, local hedgerows or woods.
It has taken sometime for the evergreen shrubs to mature to the point that I can cut branches each year. When you grow your own plants, you realise, in real time, the investment in growth; each stem is precious. That connection truly creates appreciation in resources and consumption. I have to really consider whether that flowering branch is worth cutting for the table, or better in the garden. Happily, plants grow and cross over their congested branches, so some careful pruning both helps the plant and my desire for decoration.
I don’t go big at Christmas, I nip out, snip the treasures and go delicate.
One of my favourite plants for December is Sarcococca, the ‘Christmas Box’ with such a heavenly fragrance that you can’t believe it comes from this low evergreen. I must have one of these by the door to delight in the coldest of days. Use instead of box for edging. I love mahonia for it’s bright yellow scented flowers with winter jasmine and a favourite, the deciduous winter honeysuckle and similarly winter flowering Daphne smells like a pretty soap. Evergreen climbers are so underestimated; delicate tendrils of akebia and clematis cirhosa, the latter grown up through a tree so you can look up into the spotted bells of the flowers. Then of course there are the forced indoor bulbs of paper whites and amaryllis, indulgent potted plants that will return annually and bring the exotic indoors.
I’ll cut, gather and arrange all of these coupled with a few scented branches arranged in tiny glasses of water, with larger branches of eucalyptus, rosemary, bare knobbly twigs of larch with their tiny lychen covered stems. And as a final flourish, I’ll push in the dried sparkly pearlescent honesty branches and fibre optics of grasses saved from the summer garden. This will do across the fireplace, in-between books on the shelves and in vases. Since it’s Christmas, I might even add a sparkle from vintage glass baubles amongst the foilage!
Plan ahead to create a more beautiful, and natural christmassy display. Filling the senses and celebrating the true season. This year, ask Father Christmas for plants for next year’s decoration and you’ll be able to bring in and celebrate the season every year forward.
In the gardens there is little good to be done. If you need the fresh air, I suggest turning the compost heap and spreading some mulch. Cut back old hellebore leaves to reveal the emerging flowers but on most other plants, it is best to leave them in a hangover heap of the summer, protecting the plants crown and sheltering wildlife.
Enjoy the suspension.
Beneath the soil, there is so much going on. Roots stretching, recuperating and strengthening anchors through the ground. With the worms, fungi and bacteria still working together. Take a nod from the garden - rejuvenate your roots, nourish and prepare for the next season. Gather some treasures and decorate your home, celebrate the midwinter and look forward to busy, longer and brighter days.
Originally published in Cambridge Edition December 2022