Go cold turkey on the consumerist Christmas this year and create handmade festive decorations and gifts from your garden’s natural baubles…
With the festive jingles and supermarket queues upon us – it’s worth taking a leaf (quite literally) out of the Victorian Christmas when seeking an antidote to all the materialism.
While the Victorians ‘invented’ the concept of a Christmas tree – ever since Prince Albert put one up in Windsor Palace – they didn’t decorate with tinsel or fairy lights of course: instead they used festive foliage and edible produce from the garden.
From holly and ivy to rosehips and crab apples, the Victorians brought the outside inside during the festive season and throughout the 1800s, people would gather greenery, squirrel away seed heads and preserve produce for the Christmas tree and table.
Mistletoe balls would hang from doors and ceilings, ready in wait for romantic couples (with the number of kisses allowed dependent on the number of berries) and ivy leaves were sown onto thick ribbons and used to adorn banisters and draped over mantelpieces.
While the notion of homemade decorations has got lost among all the giftwrap and glitter – they really are worth investing in.
Costing pennies to make and recycling what’s around you, Christmas crafts from the garden can involve the whole family and become part of a really special annual tradition.
Collecting your bounty
Your garden or allotment plot can offer an abundant selection of foliage, seed heads and even edibles to craft with, even in December.
If you get time to prepare ahead, you can collect colourful autumn leaves and dry them between newspaper in a press (or make your own by sandwiching them between two heavy books) and these can be stuck on to wire and ribbons for gorgeously colourful decorations.
Seedheads and dried flower heads such as old man’s beard, artichoke, allium, hydrangea or fennel are easy to keep for long periods once dried, especially if you cut a good bit of the stem and store them upside down. They look stunning sprayed silver or gold and grouped together in vases or in bowls of pot pourri. Once sprayed they can be reused year after year.
If you’re planning on making your own wreath, keep cuttings in water until you need them so they’re really fresh and use layers of garden wire to make a circle with gaps for poking material through.
Build up the evergreen layers gradually, securing each piece with wire, and think of the wreath as a clock face adding other elements such as berries or chillis at increments. Small overlapping bunches of dried flowers or herbs work well, or you can add each spray of foliage at a 45-degree angle.
If you pop cut stems in to the wreath so they stick out of the base, you can give the whole wreath a dunk in water to refresh the stems, or simply mist regularly with a water bottle.
But why limit yourself to foliage? Edibles such as Brussels sprouts might not be a favourite at the dinner table, but they make a really eye catching wreath if layered together and sprayed with a thin layer of varnish to keep them fresh.
Bunches of evergreen herbs such as rosemary and bay can also be collected and used to make fragrant bouquets, or twirled around wreaths with ribbons for use as candleholders and table centerpieces.
Make garlands or necklaces of orange and red rose hips for the staircase or instead of tinsel on the tree.
And forget the cranberry sauce; add fabulous festive colour with cranberries layered with white pebbles and green foliage in hurricane vases, or float them on top of water in a bowl alongside tea lights. And how about red chillis? They’ll give a fiery kick to wreaths and bouquets.
In fact, your garden pruning and harvesting will bring a whole new meaning to ‘decking the halls’!
How to make an ‘edible’ wreath
If you have any crab apples left over from jelly making this year, use them in a cheerful Christmas door wreath…
You will need:
Thick garden wire
Assorted baubles (optional)
Gold spray paint (optional)
- Cut a piece of wire to your required wreath size, with a little extra to make the hooks at the end.
- Thread your crab apples on to the wire by piercing them gently through the ends, interspersed with the decorations of your choice such as tiny bows of ribbon or colourful baubles.
- You can also spray every other apple with spray paint for a more luxurious effect.
- Once all your apples, bows and baubles are on the wire, bend the ends in to a hook using your pliers and hook the ends together.
- Add a ribbon to the top to hide the hook or hang up as is on your front door.
Three for the tree
Forget the tinsel and baubles; decorate your tree naturally with these homemade gems…
1. Mini garlands. Collect together cranberries, rosehips or dried chillies and, piercing them gently, string them onto thin garden wire. You could even bend the wire into a festive shape such as a star. Bend the ends into a hook, or add a loop of ribbon, and hang on the tree.
2. Nutty gift. Use walnuts as tiny gift boxes. Crack open your nut very carefully by poking a sharp knife into one end and wiggling it left and right until the walnut splits into two complete halves. Take out the contents and spray the inside and out with festive spray paint. Once dry, pop a few small chocolates or trinkets inside the walnut and glue a loop of ribbon to the inside top (this loop will be sandwiched between the two halves and used to hang it up). Push the two halves together and wrap ribbon around the centre tightly to seal, finishing with a bow.
3. Fruit pomanda. Dried fruit, pinecones and herbs and spices such as bay leaves and cinnamon sticks are a fragrant way to perk up your tree. Hole-punch leaves and use a skewer to create holes in thicker items and loop a few bits together using pretty twine. Think about using slices of dried fruit too. Dried orange, lemon and lime slices retain their vivid colour and are almost translucent as they catch the light. Slice them, pat dry and bake in singe layer on a baking tray for 2-3 hours at the oven’s lowest temperature.
Two for the table…
Deck the dinner table with garden-inspired decorations that are almost good enough to eat!
Frui-Tea lights. Take a fresh orange or apple from your garden stores and using a corer, take out the middle portion so you can add a candle. Stud the peel with whole cloves for a festive look. Sliced citrus fruit also makes a delightful pot pourri (perfect for banishing boiled sprout smells at the table!) alongside cinnamon sticks and fresh herbs.
Artichoke art. Sculptural artichoke flowerheads look stunning when dried, especially if they are spray-painted with gold or glittery paint. They can easily be turned into individual name holders by inserting name cards among the crispy leaves, or you can carefully remove the central leaves and flower stamens to make room for a candle.
Originally published in Vegetarian Living, 2016