Gardening with Dave Allan: Christmas Inspirations from Your Garden

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Preparing for Christmas is a highlight of the year. The tree takes center stage in a room adorned with festive sparkles.

Planning and preparing for a distinctly personal display is so satisfying, and like most gardeners, I always want to include additional plants in the layout. They add a delicious fresh scent to a room.

Sadly, looking at the garden as I write, I see that many of my best shots have been fatally crushed by Storm Arwen. So we can’t have ornamental grasses, giant hogweed or astilbe umbels. Seed heads suitable for spray painting are now rare.

To begin with, what should the village hall look like? Should it be filled with sparkling lights, wreaths, and candy or do we want a more minimalist display where less is more and hopefully fewer, maybe bigger, displays will have a bigger impact?

And I have two more problems to add to the mix. Wishing Covid, the whole family including our 2 granddaughters will be there during the holidays as well as my son’s enterprising young cat determined to explore everywhere.

The pungent stems and alluring and slightly poisonous red berries should therefore be kept out of reach.

Blackbirds and thrushes have cleaned holly berries before and this is probably just as good for my granddaughters as they are mildly poisonous, irritating the mouth and causing an upset stomach. One of the girls has a keen eye for red berries.

During the summer, walking in the woods, I remember the excited little soul coming out of his backpack and eagerly pointing at ripe raspberries.

Cotoneaster berries are also mildly poisonous, but hawthorn berries and the last of rose hips are harmless. They will brighten up wreaths and dress up as holly berries.

Most of our conifers, pines, cedars or cypresses are harmless but avoid Leyland cypress for decoration as it can irritate the skin. And never use bay leaf as the leaves are poisonous and cherry bay leaves even emit cyanide.

You will almost certainly have a suitable evergreen tree. Simply cut off the odd, inconspicuous branch to use for wall or window sill decorations, possibly brightened up with the odd bunch of hawthorn berries.

Bare twigs can also work well as decorations, especially hazel, birch, or alder. You might have even picked up some branches or stems after the storm, but watch them carefully.

The beautifully shaped branches are often fan-shaped. Take advantage of their awe-inspiring impact when they serve as a focal point for a most eye-catching display. Take a magnifying glass from them – it’s fascinating. Even a thin stalk has a very textured bark, sometimes smooth, rough, or coiled. Best of all, beautifully patterned lichens can abundantly cover their host. There may be more than one species, as well as young specimens, almost painting the bark a blue-green, until you see their tiny, leaf-like shapes.

Pick and spray paint on the cones of the alder or larch branches and roll tiny battery-powered lights along and through the decoration and, if possible, arrange a lighted backdrop to highlight the display . On a small scale, an arrangement of 3 or 4 small twigs on a mossy base looks great.

And why not loot the herb garden and greenhouse? Choose small jars of fragrant rosemary, thyme, or painted sage and a spray or two of larger plants always enhances a decoration.

Look around the greenhouse with its tender, overwintering residents. I will be using small pots of scented pelargonium cuttings from last year which are now small, bushy plants. And a more unusual pelargonium, ‘Ardwick Cinnamon’ is the perfect candidate with its tiny cinnamon-smelling leaves and even smaller tiny white flowers streaked with pink.

Plant of the week

Pinus strobus ‘Blue Shag’ is a small, spreading form of eastern white pine; reaching 1.5 meters. The fine needles have a typical blue tint.

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