A Natural Christmas

Decorating our homes for Christmas has been around for centuries. A modern day Christmas tends to come via a shipping container from China – plastic robins, glitter-encrusted reindeer and mass manufactured tinsel made on the other side of the world. In fact, there’s a whole city in China called Yiwu devoted to making the Christmas decorations for us in the West. There was a time however when decorations were a simpler affair and our ancestors had to rely on what was growing in the hedgerows. Evergreens in particular were revered for their seemingly mystical ability to stay green throughout the winter, hence the vast amount of folklore surrounding holly, ivy and mistletoe. 

Thanks to 19th century plant hunters gardeners today have many more plants to choose from which offer winter interest. So, if you fancy a more natural approach to the festive season with decorations which can be composted after the New Year here are my top tips.

  • Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without holly, ivy and mistletoe. Try looking for variegated hollies and ivies for an extra splash of colour. If you don’t have your own mistletoe you can buy it online and have it delivered to your door. Kiss Me Mistletoe cuts bunches from its organic orchards in Worcestershire. kissmemistletoe.co.uk
  • Most gardeners will have some euonymus in their garden – the white variegated varieties work particularly well in wreaths and winter flower arrangements. Pittosporums, box and privet can be easily incorporated into a garden adding interest and potential for seasonal pickings.
  • There are a surprising number of plants which flower during the bleakest months. Their blooms tend to be small so they don’t get damaged by inclement weather, but they more than make up for this with their perfume. Highly scented to attract the few remaining pollinating insects flying around on mild winter’s days, a couple of stems will fill a room with delicious fragrance. Try growing winter-flowering honeysuckle, Viburnum x bodnantense, sweet box, wintersweet and mahonia.
  • Several types of bulbs can be planted up in autumn to provide indoor winter flowers. Paper white narcissi can be in flower in just five weeks from planting the bulb, and with their intoxicating perfume and elegant white blooms they are a must for Christmas. Hyacinths for forcing can be grown in bowls, and what about the exotic hippeastrum, better known as amaryllis. It might be too late to grow your own for this year but you can find all these plants already potted in garden centres, nurseries and florists in the run up to Christmas. Make a note in you diary next summer to buy these bulbs when you’re ordering your tulips and daffodils.
  • Most, if not all, the flowers for sale in December will have been flown in from abroad, but it is still possible to have British grown blooms even in winter. The mild climate of the Isles of Scilly, 30 miles off the tip of Cornwall, means highly scented narcissi can be grown from October through to April. Order a box of flowers online and have them delivered to your door. scentednarcissi.co.uk
  • Have a look around the garden or on a walk for pretty berries, rosehips, pine cones and attractive looking lichen-covered twigs. Take an identification book to make sure you don’t pick something poisonous and only take small amounts, leaving plenty for the wildlife to enjoy.
  • Keep your natural material out of the way of pets and young children as some plants, even common plants can be dangerous if eaten.