AS we look on at the last of the leaves floating to the ground and the deciduous trees stand bare for the dormant season, we begin to turn our attentions to Christmas time (we are into December, it is officially allowed from now on!) and indoor decorations for the festive season. Using foliage and dried flowers and other bits and pieces from the garden make the garlands, wreaths and flower arrangements more meaningful and personal.
There are so many things that can be used to add that special touch in addition to ‘decking the halls with boughs of holly’.
Hydrangeas are without a doubt one of the most useful shrubs to grow in the garden. They just love our climate with summertime rain suiting their needs completely and our milder winters enabling them to get to a large size quickly. They generally create a low mound shape which can be restriced in size by pruning and left to their own devices the mop head types can get to over 2m in height. They do prefer some shelter from harsh winds however they are frost hardy and do not require protection during the winter months. They flower from late summer until late autumn providing blooms of various shades of pink, white, blue and purple, great as cut flowers. The stems have been known to root while in a vase of water, so willing are these plants to propagate.
Best of all at this time of the year the dried flower heads of Hydrangeas can be cut and used in Christmas decorations. The best way to dry the flower heads is to leave them growing on the plant until they start to naturally dry out themselves, you will know this by feeling the flower heads and they will crunch a bit to the touch. On a dry and bright day cut the dried flower heads, leaving some of the stem attached and tie a few together, hang them upside down in a cool, dry shed and they will be ready to use after a week or so. They are beautiful their natural faded brown colour and some will have a reddish or pink tinge to them depending on the stage that they start to dry out. They can be enhanced by spraying them first with a matt black spray paint and then with a red or purple colour over this or whatever colour scheme fits with your decoration. This is a tip learned from Mags Riordan of Bumble bee flower farm a few years back when doing a Christmas decoration workshop.
There are lots of local flower farmers making and selling ready made wreaths and kits requiring assembly if you want to make up your own this Christmas. Among them is Bumblebee Flower Farm based near Drimoleague, Hanako Flowersmith based in Inchigeelagh, The Square Garden based in Kilworth and The Flowersmith Studio based in Cloghroe. It is great to see local buisness providing locally made and grown in many cases products. Knowing that the materials have been sourced on our doorstep is reassuring and we have so much beautiful foliage and dried materials that can be foraged during the autumn and winter months to create a seasonal display with pops of colour added if desired.
Berries are in demand right now with strong competition from the birds with the colder mornings these last few days making ground foraging difficult. The birds are more deserving of these colourful energy sources and pops of colour can be added to Christmas decorations with a ribbon as easily if pickings are slim.
The amount of berries present on holly and cotoneaster does vary every year depending upon how mild the weather is in the run up to the festive season and how well pollinated flowers were earlier in the summer, what berries resulted.
Plenty of foliage to choose from with the trimmings from the Christmas tree a good option for use as a base for wreaths or other decoration around the house. Using the colourful stems of willows and dogwoods to make the circular base of a wreath is an option as is the use of birch branches, they make a wonderful rustic start and it can be decorated as much or as minimally as desired.
There are loads of ideas to be inspired by on social media and plenty of material that can be collected in your own garden.
Pine cones smell delicious and have a beautiful texture and colour, the dried flower heads of poppies, phlomis, miscanthus and honesty give a different texture and colour to any arrangement.
The glaucous young leaves of Eucalyptus give a lovely lift to any arrangement and it can be useful to coppice these trees that get to enormous heights quite quickly if left to their own devices.
The shiny heart shaped leaves of the mature stems of ivy and it’s beautiful black seed heads give a seasonal touch and last very well for a few weeks.
When making your own wreath using fresh foliage it is best to leave doing so until a week or two before Christmas as the foliage will dry out and wither if done too early. Much of the foliage used will last well for a few weeks and as wreaths are generally displayed outside on the front of the door this will help the longevity of the arrangement.