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December 2018 column

Updated: Apr 4, 2019

The shortest day of the year makes December the obvious month for many festivals of light.

Christmas and the Roman..

Well before it was known as Christmas, the Roman God of Saturn was honoured at the winter solstice celebrating the festival of Midwinter, Saturnalia. Today still, we feast, light fires and candles to enliven the mood of the darkest month.

Out in the garden, it may look as though plants have retreated, lost leaves and gone to sleep, but the truth is far from that. Some seeds (and Tulips) will need a period of cold weather to allow germination called vernalization. The roots of the hardy annuals, biennials and bulbs we planted earlier in the autumn, grow underground throughout the winter. These plants might look battered above ground but as soon as the soil warmsand the days lengthen, there will be rapid growth and far bigger, earlier flowers. That combined with the swelling leaf and flower buds on trees, bringing much optimism as the ever-true circle of the year is apparent again. In fact, the Christmas Wreath is symbolic of the wheel and reminds us that the cold dark nights will pass into spring again.

There are many plants that shine this month including the traditional evergreens, Holly, Mistletoe, Ivy and Fir trees. Some shrubs are must haves in my garden and plots, due to their delicate flowers and heady scents including Viburnum Tinus, small white and pink flowers, Lonicera Winter Beauty with exquisite tiny blooms and the most delicious scent hanging on semi evergreen branches not to forget Sarcococca, like Viburnum, with the most delicate winter flowers. These together with the first of the winter bulbs and hellebores combine to make an intricated show appropriate to the season.

To bring the essence of the outside in, I love to decorate my home with evergreen branches, symbolising life through the darkness, bringing fresh scents at its most precious and evocative time. We plant bowls of Narcissus Paperwhite every couple of weeks for a brilliant display of bulbs, emerging through the moss and supported by bare branches of hazel and birch. These Narcissus compositions makesgreat presents and can flower in just 5 weeks with very little care.

Inside the home..

I cut armfuls of branches and tuck nuts, seed heads and berries into garlands for a sumptuous table centrepiece or over the fireplace mantle. The mixture of scents makes Christmas for me. Studding oranges with cloves create that exotic atmosphere, lighting candles especially on Midwinter’s Night, 21stDecember when afterwards, the days will begin to lengthen. The slow longer dark days encourage me to beautify our home with generosity, marking each meal with consideration, seekingwarmth and beauty.

On the doors and walls, I am increasingly preferring dried wreaths and creating rings with beech, hazel and birch branches and wiring on cones, dried grasses and seed heads, creating wilder arrangements. In early Autumn, I always look at the reducing garden for material that might dry. I don’t much like clearing the house on Twelfth Night and prefer to retain some natural decoration into January with the hope these wreaths, that I might pop vials of water within the branches for hellebores or bulbs for special days.


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