Make a Christmas wreath and mini ‘sparklers’ for the tree
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With the cost-of-living crisis and everyone watching every penny, you can still create a magical wonderland in your own home for less than £30. Gardens might be in their winter slumber, but seedheads, evergreens and plants with berries, and other natural materials can be used to make beautiful decorations.
I recently showed on BBC Morning Live how to make a Christmas wreath. You can buy willow circles from most garden centres at this time of the year, or you can make your own circles with pliable stems and branches from silver birch, willow or dogwood. Simply wind them around each other and using string or rubber bands tie them together. Make the circle as large or as small as you like.
Next, you need to go on a garden hunt or a wildlife hunt (with permission from the land owner) to find evergreen leaves from yew, leylandii, conifer, box, viburnum, holly, barberry, Japanese laurel, Camellia, Californian lilac, Mexican orange blossom, rosemary, Elaeagnus, heavenly bamboo and fatsia, to name just a few. These will make up the base layer of your wreath. Cut to size and tie the first piece to the circle, then overlap each time with the next evergreen leaf. Using a mix of evergreens, you can create a dramatic effect. Perhaps think about how and where your wreath is going to hang. If you like the idea of a decorative bottom, then consider adding some fatsia leaves mixed with holly leaves to this area.
If you’re feeling really adventurous you can make your own ‘twine’ by cutting off a phormium leaf and then cutting thin strips from one end to the other. The strands within the leaf have been used for centuries to make string and even rope. Tie the cut slithers of the leaf together, into a single strand. If you have or can find different-coloured phormiums then, in theory, you can create your own coloured string.
If you feel you’re not up for making your own string, then the next layer is your decorative layer. Find seedheads that still look good in the garden now (despite all of the rain, frost and snow). Thistles are a great addition to Christmas wreaths, they can be sprayed with environmentally friendly silver or gold paints, or you can make your own finish using clear glue and edible glitter. Other seedheads to consider are the central cones of rudbeckia, fir cones, pampas grass or other ornamental grasses, such as Miscanthus, sedum or Hylotelephium, achillea and cardoon. In addition, berries add colour add interest to a homemade wreath.
Holly berries are an obvious choice, but also consider the red berries on yew, purple berries of callicarpa (if they’ve stayed on the stems) and either red, orange or yellow berries from cotoneaster and pyracantha. Either leave the berries on the stems or remove them gently and thread some black or green cotton thread through them to create a bunch of berries. These can be added to the wreath with green garden string, raffia or jute string.
Another decorative element, often overlooked, is dried fruits. These look like small jewels among the evergreen leaves. Oranges, satsumas, tangerines, mandarins, lemons, figs and apricots can be used. You can buy dried fruits from most hobby craft shops or you can have a go at making your own.
Pre-heat the oven to 140 degrees Celsius. Thinly slice an orange into circles and place them onto an ovenproof tray, lined with parchment paper, leaving space between them. Alternatively, use the inside plastic bag found in cereal boxes, cut it in half and use this as a greaseproof equivalent.
Place your sliced fruit into the oven with the door slightly open (around 5cm), so air can circulate and bake/dehydrate for three to eight hours, depending on the water content. Each fruit will vary, so keep checking every hour and turn if required. Sliced, dried fruit also looks lovely strung together with garden twine and hung in front of a window.
They act and look like stained-glass, beaming rays of orange and yellow into your living room. For scent a few cinnamon sticks and sprigs or rosemary bundled together with some garden twine will work a treat. Just remember, that adding dried fruit may attract birds to your wreaths. If this is the case I would recommend placing a bird feeder or some suet balls a distance away from your wreath to distract them.
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You cannot have Christmas without sparkling lights and battery-powered, waterproof lights are an easy way to add some sparkle. Weave them between the evergreen base layer and the decorative layer and hide the battery compartment behind the wreath. If you have outdoor power then you can always consider using plug-in lights. Soft white lights will give a lovely warm glow to your wreath, while a mix of coloured lights will create a fun display – and let’s face it, winter can be a gloomy period, so some colour is always a welcome addition.
Finally, you need some ribbon to make a large bow for the bottom of your wreath and perhaps some smaller bows to add to the decorative layer. I like to go large when it comes to the final bow and prefer the type of ribbon with a wire running along the edges, as you can sculpt it into any shape you like. I have also used ribbon with a Nordic pattern in the past, which looks very Christmassy to me.
In addition to wreaths, you can spray paint allium seedheads to create mini ‘sparklers’ for the Christmas tree. Cut off the seedheads with around 5cm of stem attached. Thread some twine through the stems, hang it somewhere outside or in a garage and spray them from all directions. Leave to dry. Remove from the twine, trim the edge of the stem and pierce with some cotton thread tied into a loop. These will make lovely hanging decorations.
I also like the idea of parcels around and on the tree. Take any box, ranging from a matchbox to a shoebox and even larger. Wrap it with any spare bits of wrapping paper, newspaper, plain brown paper or just white printing paper.
Tie a ribbon around it and either hang it on the tree or place it underneath, dependent on size. You can even get the kids involved to paint and draw Christmas patterns on plain paper or even create a Christmas stamp using a potato and some spare paint or sample paint pots that you might have lying around. This is great fun, but can quickly turn messy, so always have a plan in mind before your start. The same potato stamp, or others if you want to get really creative, can be used on folded plain printing paper to create Christmas cards.
I love tying small parcels and dried fruit onto a length of fairy lights, along with some ribbon wrapped around the wire for a decorative garland.
Finally, Christmas trees are not necessarily cheap, so why not have a go at making your own? Take a wooden broom handle and either cement it into a bucket or pot or backfill it with stones to ensure the wooden handle doesn’t move. Next, take a piece of plain white printing paper and curl it under itself to form a cone. Using sticky tape join the edges together. Make as many as you like, but ideally enough to cover the wooden broom handle. If you can use different-sized paper then you can start at the bottom with the larger cones and work your way up with smaller cones until you reach the top. They should sit on top of each other, but the odd drawing pin can be used towards the back to hold the cones in place. It may take a couple of tries but persevere. Then simply decorate with your dried fruit, ribbon, small parcels and some battery lights and you have an instant tree that can be dismantled in January and each item re-purposed.
I always love receiving handmade gifts as it makes Christmas feel more personal, and with very little outlay you can fill your home with Christmas decorations that can either be re-used the following year, added to the compost heap to help the garden next year or simply put into your recycling bin.
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