Get ready to deck the halls – Floral decoration for the holidays
I’ve been out and about over the past couple of weeks doing Christmas floral decoration demonstrations round Hillier Garden Centres. In a way it’s been a bit of a nostalgic journey; I originally did Christmas demos like these more than twenty five years ago! I do lots of talks, lectures and demos but I have to admit it’s been fun getting my hand in again with the floral foam and some cut plant material. I always make a real wreath for Christmas at home and I do the occasional wedding and funeral. When it comes to Christmas of course there is plenty more bling around to worth with, but I still gravitate towards a very natural palette.
At Christmas demos the audience usually wants some stars and glitter, but I have to admit I often think a wreath or door spray looks at its best when only the foliage is in place before the sparkly bits are added. I’ve had some wonderful Nordmann and noble fir to worth with this year; it is now widely available in bunches, so there’s no need to save the straggly bits from the bottom of your Christmas tree.
In my wreath for our front porch at home I’ve just used noble fir with mistletoe and a few evergreens from the garden. The small dark green leaves of Osmanthus x burkwoodii are a nice contract to the fir. To lighten the arrangement I’ve used a small amount of Pittosporum tenuifolium ‘Irene Patterson’ this is a more compact variety than some with dark stems and small, shining waved leaves of pale green suffused with white. The effect is clean and crisp and perfect for the season. I’ve picked up on the dark stems of the pittosporum with the blue-black berries of Viburnum tinus. I have to admit these are some that were left over from my last trip to the flower wholesalers. Then my favourite ingredient: pieces of twig with duck-egg blue lichen. I love the shaggy form of it with the bristling needles and shining leaves.
Wreaths, door sprays and table centres at demonstrations have been very orange and cinnamon inspired. Dried orange slices and whole dried oranges and limes seem to be very ‘in’ this year. again they suit the season and combine beautifully with cinnamon sticks and bay leaves. My table centrepiece using just a few bay leaves, a little green pittosporum and a gold candle as the base has been the favourite. This couldn’t be easier to do on any plate or large saucer. You just arrange a little foliage, add some dried orange slices and about three whole dried oranges, add some cinnamon sticks tied in small bundles with raffia and then heap on fresh clementines. What could be more practical: a table centrepiece you can eat?
I also used the dried oranges and cinnamon sticks in a door spray of noble fir and cherry laurel. Fortunately I had to prune a large specimen of Prunus laurocerasus ‘Marbled White’ in the garden. This has the classic large laurel leaves but suffused with white. It is lighter and brighter than ordinary laurel and seems to work really well with the blue-green foliage of the fir. I clustered the oranges and cinnamon sticks into the centre of the door spray and added a few sprigs cut Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ to give it some depth of colour. I think clusters of cones, orange slices, or any other adornment look better than distributing them throughout a decoration. This is particularly true when making wreaths. I think many people dot the ingredients around too much rather than clumping them together and creating some impact.
Of course you can create wonderful decorations using plants instead of cut material. Helleborus niger, the Christmas rose is a favourite and there are some wonderful varieties available which really do flower at Christmas. ‘Verboom Beauty’ is an amazingly floriferous type that is widely used in Europe as an indoor decoration which can be planted in the garden afterwards. Even small plants are just crammed with buds waiting to pop. I chose a simple wooden box and combined my Helleborus niger ‘Verboom Beauty’ with a couple of small ivies and two little Gaultheria procumbens. With its dark green leaves, tiny white flowers and round scarlet berries this little creeping evergreen just captures Christmas. I didn’t bother to plant them in the box; I’m just using them this way over the holiday. Instead I added some grey-green reindeer moss and a couple of fircones; easy and so effective.
If you want a really good Christmas rose that you can use indoors and then plant out, or one to keep on the doorstep over the festive period Helleborus niger ‘Wintergold’ is a good choice. It has fine dark green foliage and clear white, beautifully poised blooms with golden stamens. This is a Gold Collection hellebore from the German breeder Heuger, so it is a fine garden plant as well as a lovely indoor decoration.
I must say getting stuck in and creating a few naturally based decorations did get me inspired to make an effort at home. Although I say it myself the front porch looks really rather festive. I do hope you will have a go too, whether you just go for a few seasonal plants or make your own decoration from evergreens cut from your garden. Happy Christmas, Happy Holiday.