Much as I have loved the mild weather we have had so far this autumn and winter, it hasn’t felt particularly seasonal. We have had only two real frosts up to now and I have had to keep reminding myself that it’s December and Christmas is not far away at all. I’m torn really, I’m not a lover of the cold, but I am a sucker for a Christmas that looks like the images on the cards – all snow-covered houses, frosty trees and smiley snowmen. I know the reality is somewhat different, our transport system grinds to a halt and our hospitals fill with people who have fallen over but two of the loveliest Christmases we’ve had were recent white Christmases. We were snowed in at my parents for one of them. We played scrabble, we read, made an enormous snowman and warmed ourselves in front of the fire. The other time we were at home. The countryside around us was under several inches of snow and looked like wintery perfection. We saw people skiing in the Brecon Beacons, watched birds skate on the frozen canal and followed animal tracks in the snow. Of course, once it’s no longer pristine white and turns to slush it loses its appeal, even for me. But, for just a few days everything looks magically different. And I think that’s why I love it so much, a touch of frost and a sprinkling of snow transforms the dull and drab landscape of our typical winters.
With little sign of a white Christmas this year I have been thinking of other ways to create that festive spirit. Upstairs, in my spare room, I have boxes of goodies, reminders of the summer that has gone. Dried flowers, seed heads and grasses are joined by bits and pieces I have foraged over the autumn. I have always loved using natural decorations, particularly at Christmas. I used to just pick up cones and wind-fall branches when I was out on walks but over the last couple of years I have started to grow plants specifically for drying and decorating. The collection has grown bigger each year, so much so I have often ended up wondering what to do with it all.
Last year I was asked to do some flower arrangements for a dinner at Kate Humble’s rural skills farm. Problem was it was February and very much winter. Lets just say I was so very glad I hadn’t composted my honesty seed heads, grasses and teasels, as I had been planning to do the previous week. Jam jars of dried posies were delivered to them which were dotted about the tables, the honesty sparkling in the candle light.
This year my stocks of dried material were even bigger. I couldn’t get into the shed at one point I had so many bundles of drying plant material dangling from the roof. And the gas man looked more than a little puzzled by the collection of plants hanging in the airing cupboard. Using dried material is a really useful way to decorate for Christmas in advance. Much as I would love swags of evergreens around the house throughout December, shrivelled, dry leaves wouldn’t be so appealing by Christmas. So I use my dried material throughout November and December and then add in the fresh pickings in the days leading up to Christmas Day.
If you would like to see some more of my ideas for natural Christmas decorations, both dried and fresh, you might like to take a look at this month’s The Simple Things magazine which is out now. There were ideas in last month’s issue too which is still available to buy online. So the feature could be ready to be published in time the photographs were taken at the start of October. Wellyman LOVES Christmas, so I was surprised on the day of the shoot at how restrained he was. He didn’t greet the editor and photographer in a reindeer onesie with Wham’s Last Christmas blaring out, and instead settled for making Christmas tree-shaped biscuits, with a quick play of some carols on the piano. It was great fun making all of the decorations and fascinating to see the process of putting together a magazine feature. If you get the chance to see the outcome I hope you like it.
There are also a few ideas over on Wellyman’s own blog Pianolearner.