Deck the halls this year with greenery from your garden, says Jane Moore
It’s absolutely no use me talking ‘proper’ gardening to you this month. You might hope that you’ll get some real gardening done and you just might do it – we’ll manage a few bits and bobs here at The Bath Priory, I’m sure. But we won’t start anything major: that replanting job, moving that established shrub from here to there or scarifying the lawn. Why? Because you and I both know that December is just a giant run up to Christmas and New Year. You might deny it, rail against it even, but let’s all accept the inevitable and just get on with it.
My advice this month is to treat your garden as a florist would: snipping, gathering and arranging as if you were Sarah Raven herself. With this in mind I have enlisted the help of The Priory’s super florist Deb England to give me some tips and tricks to make it all look just that bit more professional. Left to my own devices I would probably just gather a few red stemmed dogwoods in a vase and call it a day but Deb has encouraged me to go that bit further and hopefully the results will speak for themselves.
Windows and Doors
We’re starting outside first and I’m happy, totally within my comfort zone. I’m sure Deb has done this on purpose but I’m not complaining. First impressions count and we’re tackling pots by the front door and window boxes.
For me, that’s all important as my house opens straight onto the street so that little window box is all I have to show off my prowess. Just as well it’s so easy to make a good little show with seasonal specials such as baby cyclamen, little berried skimmias, solanums and so on, augmented with perennial stalwarts such as gold and silver ivies, little box plants, conifers and variegated hollies for larger pots.
Deb says: “Pick a theme like red cyclamen and gold ivy and stick to it. Too many colours and different plants and it all becomes a jumble.”
If you don’t fancy getting involved with making a wreath for your front door, Deb has a simpler suggestion. “Just arrange a nice bunch of your favourite foliage so it will hang nicely on the door, pointing upside down,” she says. “Then add some baubles or cones and a huge great ribbon to hide all the gathering, twine and gubbins and hang it up. Job done.”
“Making a small arrangement such as a table centrepiece is often harder than a big, bold arrangement like a mantelpiece,” says Deb, confidently sweeping away the ornaments on the mantelpiece.
We’ve moved indoors at The Priory this time as I don’t have a mantelpiece at home – although Deb has helpfully suggested I make up a basket of pine cones and twiggy stars and such like to place next to my woodburning stove when it’s not in use.
“Think about proportions and divide up the space so it balances,” says Deb. “Don’t be afraid to play around with ideas and have some fun but get this first bit right and it will all follow on from there.”
She’s using that florists’ favourite Oasis to give the scheme some longevity. Two of the water retaining spongy rectangular blocks in trays provide the base for all the foliage we have collected, sprigs of evergreen viburnum, sarcococca or Christmas box, ruscus or butchers broom augmented with some bought eucalyptus make a framework within 10 minutes. We also used the lovely heart shaped leaves of epimedium which was new to Deb.
“You want a nice mix of textures and colours to provide a base for the colourful bits and pieces,” says Deb. She added that the epimedium was especially good for covering up the Oasis while the butchers broom and Christmas box softened the scheme.
“Don’t fill up every bit of space with foliage,” counsels Deb. Ah, that’s always my mistake. “You have to leave enough room for the other things without it becoming too crowded,” she adds.
Then comes the fun bit: adding berries in the form of orange pyracantha, which Deb wasn’t too keen on due to its thorns, although hypericum, skimmia and other berried shrubs would work just as well. Then we added the fruit. Fruit?
“Fruit is such an easy, cheap way to make an arrangement look fresh and colourful,” exclaims Deb at my sceptical expression. And sure enough, those tangerines really pick up the orange of the pyracantha berries. Shiny red and green apples, lemons and limes, nuts and pine cones all have their possibilities along with tea light glasses and big pillar candles.
“You don’t need to light the candles for them to look lovely. It is important to be ‘flame aware’ with candles,” she says.Use found items such as ivy and readily available fruit for pops of colour
Keep It Simple
If you don’t want to get too carried away, then Deb advises just having a go. “You don’t need to go mad and spend a fortune on flowers,” says Deb. “Swags of ivy cut from the garden look great draping a mantelpiece or an empty fire grate. Add a few candles and pots of cyclamen for colour and you can simply leave it at that.”
Another easy idea Deb suggests is to use a collection of vases and containers of different sizes but the same colours to make a display. Stick to glass and silver vases or terracotta pots and fill them with cut foliage such as holly, viburnum and aucuba japonica, clusters of red dogwood stems and perhaps a handful of cut flowers such as red chrysanthemums or amaryllis.
Table centrepieces could be a pretty pot filled with a few sprigs of sarcococca, variegated holly or ivy and a gold candle; or a red candle on a glass dish of cranberries, conifer and tiny pine cones. Yes fruit again.
“It’s cheap and most people have it to hand,” says Deb. “The main thing is to have some fun. If it dies, then chuck it in the composting bin, and use the fruit for making some mulled wine.”
Oasis and other floristry bits and pieces are available from Prior Park Garden Centre.
Deb England, Bespoke Floral Design, tel: 01454 776653, mob: 07795 848988, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jane Moore is the award-winning gardening columnist and head gardener at The Bath Priory Hotel. Follow her on Twitter: @janethegardener