Melanie Dool’s gardening column in association with Orchardstown Garden Centre
WE never seem to have enough Christmas decorations, and the shops are awash with a huge variety of ornamental and brightly coloured items. At least we have a great choice on which types to have in our homes and it is down to individual and personal tastes on what to do.
For us, we are not far removed from being traditional and enjoy bringing in a selection of natural plant materials which we use in making up our own decorations but we do use a number of artificial additives to spice up the creations. There is no great expertise involved and it is rewarding to make up some festive decorations and it is easier now that the materials for most displays are all based on a simple structure.
The start of most decorations begins with a base which could be a plant saucer or oasis tray which comes in many shapes and sizes, and into which a block of oasis is placed and secured by a line of floristry tape. Green oasis is soaked in water and then used for living or mixed plant arrangements while the grey oasis is used for dry and artificial arrangements only. You can place a candle holder in the centre and then you are ready to add your various decorative materials around and when completed place a candle in the holder. All those saucers, trays, oasis, tapes are available in garden centres.
I do realise that there is limited time available to head out into the countryside, woods and beaches, and gather some materials for decorations but I have always advocated combining it with walking and getting some fresh air. It is like foraging for wild food, and once you have been out a few times, you will soon know where to find suitable materials. Pieces of driftwood and other sea worn articles are readily found on a number of beaches, while some of the local woods will provide a variety of cones, twigs, moss, ivy and possibly some holly.
There is not an abundance of garden plants that will provide you with some material for decorations during Christmas but when you start to look, you will see enough possibilities to help create some seasonal displays. Our potential material can come from a number of plants that provide flowers, foliage and berries and the available list is longer than you think but while outdoor decorations are long lasting, fresh plant displays indoors do suffer from the dry atmosphere and need misting and any faded bits can be removed and replaced with fresh material as needed.
Acacia or Mimosa has beautiful fine foliage as does French Eucalyptus which has steel blue foliage coupled with a pleasant menthol smell. Other plants for foliar treats include Aucuba ‘Crotonifolia’, Elaeagnus, Euonymus, Griselinia ‘Variegata’ and ‘Bantry Bay’, Hedera (Ivy) coloured types, Ilex (Holly) ‘Handsworth New Silver’, ‘Golden King’, Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’, Luma (Myrtle) ‘Glanleam’, Mahonia ‘Charity’, M aquifolium ‘Atropurpurea’, Pittosporum ‘Purpurea’, ‘Garnetii’ and ‘Elizabeth’,
Nandina ‘Firepower’ and Phormium.
Flowers or berries
Winter flowering plants have to be hardy to withstand the weather conditions or able to recover quickly and flower after frost or snow and berried plants can devoured by birds before some can be used for decorating. I will list a few plants that have either flowers (F) or berries (B). The autumn cherry is a good choice as it flowers from November until April. Aucuba (B), Callicarpa (B), Cotoneaster (B), Erica (F), Hebe (F), Hydrangea (F-some coloured others faded), Ilex (Holly) (B), Mahonia (F), Pernettya (B), Salvia ‘Amistad’ (F), Skimmia (F & B) and Viburnum tinus and fragrans (F).
TIP OF THE WEEK
There are very few plants that like to be installed during the wet cold winter months but they include garlic and winter onions sets which need to be set by the next few months and rhubarb which can be planted until the end of February. Suitable garlic varieties include Germidour, Marco and Thermidrome, while the best Rhubarb variety is still Timperley Early.
We are using our vegetables that are still in the ground and they include leeks, carrots, beetroot, sprouts and hardy parsnips which become more flavoursome when subjected to the winter weather.
The last of the leaves have fallen and are left to rot in areas where they can benefit soil fertility, but we remove them from paths and similar hard surfaces and place them in the compost heap.