Christmas decorations from the garden - By Deborah Ballard
Bringing in greenery from the garden makes Christmas, and is far better for the planet than buying artificial decorations. Holly and ivy are traditional, but evergreen branches of eucalyptus, pine, pittosporum, elaeagnus and olearia also look lovely.
Variegated leaves will bring brightness into your arrangements – try Pittosporum tenuifolium Irene Paterson, or one of the variegated hollies – choose silver- or gold-variegated types to match your other decorations, like Ilex aquifolium Argentea Marginata or Ilex x altaclarensis ‘Golden King’ (female, despite the name). The silvery leaves of Eleagnus x ebbingei are also good.
Shrubs and trees with berries are wonderfully festive – if the birds have left any! Hollies are male or female, so if you only have room for one, choose Ilex aquifolium J C van Tol, a self-fertile female. Cotoneasters, prickly pyracanthas and many other shrubs may also be still carrying berries.
Aromatic foliage is also lovely at Christmas – try bringing in branches of eucalyptus, bay and rosemary. And don't forget the scented winter-flowering shrubs, like witch-hazel (try Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Orange Beauty’), wintersweet (Chimonanthus praecox) or Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’, which will bring the most gorgeous scent into the house.
The leafless branches of deciduous trees can look very stylish. Beech twigs are truly elegant, with their slender, pointed buds, and young twigs often retain their beautiful coppery leaves. Birch twigs are also very graceful, and the twisted branches of corkscrew hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) are wonderfully ornamental.
Don't forget the brightly coloured stems of some dogwoods and willows, like Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, C. sericea ‘Flaviramea’, C. sanguinea ‘Magic Flame’ or Salix alba Chermesina. These stems also make wonderful Christmas wreaths for the front door, with seed-heads and berries wired in. Dried seed heads can also add to your indoor arrangements, such as those of ornamental alliums, honesty and poppies; dried hydrangea heads are also lovely.
If you don't have any suitable shrubs in the garden, now is a great time to order and plant some, so you will have plenty to cut in a couple of years. And save seed heads and flowers for drying when at their best in early autumn.
And as cutting down Christmas trees is really bad for the planet, try cutting a shapely bare branch and suspending it from the ceiling, with the cut end propped against a corner. With fairy lights wound round it and decorations hung from the twigs it can look wonderfully stylish – and you can still pile the presents underneath!
- Alan Taylor