Dried Flower Wreath

Dried flower wreath
Dried flower and seed head wreath

The festive period brings a host of opportunities for some crafting. I'm no Kirstie Allsopp but I do love spending a bit of time making a few decorations with cuttings and clippings from the garden and some materials foraged throughout the year.

I have written about displaying seed heads before. For this Christmas wreath, I've used some of the seed heads I collected earlier in the year (poppies, Nigella, Scabious 'Ping Pong' and Crocosmia), along with beech nut cases and a few dried flower heads of feverfew and hydrangea. I've used a bought grape vine wreath for the base. It's great for poking in the stems of dried materials. I haven't used any glue or wire to secure the materials but you could use some to make it a bit more robust.

Fresh flower wreath

I've got some lovely sea-urchin type Chrysanthemums growing in my potting shed (they've been flowering since November and should flower on into January so they are a good choice if you have some space to grow them under cover). They make fantastic additions to foam wreaths (the floral foam provides the cut stems with water), looking like bright baubles over a base of yew, golden ivy, Vibrbum oplus and holly clippings from my garden hedge. You'll need a foam wreath base (I've re-used one from last year but they do have a limited life-span). Give it a good soak in a bath then hang up over the bath taps to drain before placing on some newspaper. It's then a case of poking in the stems of whatever greenery you can find in the garden to cover all the foam before placing your fresh flower stems at intervals around the ring.

Fresh flower Christmas wreath
Fresh flower Christmas wreath with Chysanthemums, ivy, holly, Viburnum opulus and yew

Budget wreath

My final wreath is a simple and cheap option, requiring no pre-bought wreath base. I have simply cut long lengths of trailing ivy from the garden and formed it into a circle, holding here and there with a small amount of thin florist's binding wire (rescued from last year's wreaths). I've then wired in a few holly clippings, poked in the stems of some Viburnum opulus berries and attached three foraged pine cones with the florist wire. Tied up with a length of red ribbon (you could also use garden twine) that I had in my craft stash, this wreath has cost me nothing but if you bought the wire and ribbon it would still cost about £1 to make! (I found some binding wire for £1.99 online but you only need a small amount of it and it can be used in years to come, ditto the ribbon).

Budget Christmas wreath
Festive budget wreath using the minimum of materials

Pressed flowers

I've had great fun pressing flowers from my cutting garden to make into pictures for my walls and have started up an Etsy shop to offer them for sale. They are a great way to enjoy the beauty of flowers all through the year.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower pictures

I saw these tiny frames for sale and thought they'd be ideal for hanging on the Christmas tree. Just a single dried flower or leaf in each frame, looks very effective. Simply glue in place with a tiny dab of clear-drying glue.

Dried flower frames for Christmas tree
Dried flower frames for hanging on the Christmas tree
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Frost has been threatening over the course of the last few weeks and although there has been a slight sheen of white on the rooftops, we've yet to experience a proper frost. Time is ticking then for the last of my annuals which will be killed off once it does arrive. The cosmos, which are highly productive and need almost daily dead-heading, are slowing down and my dahlias are looking very bedraggled. As soon as they are blackened by frost, I will lift them and store the tubers in the potting shed for the winter.

November flowers
Dahlias, Cosmos, Zinnia buds and Borage

My zinnias have lots of buds that seem to take an age to open and I don't think they'll manage it before the weather turns. I'll pick them anyway for their beautiful buds. Zinnias are one of the few flowers that won't open further if picked before they are fully open.

A late-sown Borage is providing very fresh looking fuzzy foliage and delicate blue flowers. My Guara (sometimes known as 'Whirling Butterflies') is a beautiful plant. It's been flowering all summer and is still going strong. Its spires of flowers add a delicate touch to an arrangement.  I am even picking the odd sweet pea, larkspur and cornflower here and there which have been flowering ever since July.

Chrystanthemum for cutting
Autumn-flowering Chrysanthemums 'Littleton Red' and 'Smokey Purple'

What next?

Despite the inevitable loss of the dahlias and annuals at this time of year, there is still plenty to look forward to in the cutting garden over the coming months. There is evergreen foliage in the form of festive Holly and Ivy which can both be brought indoors for simple winter displays. Shrubs like Viburnum tinus and Skimmia japonica, are easy to overlook for most of the year but they shine in the winter months with their scented white flowers and attractive red berries respectively. Autumn bulbs like Nerine, Schizostylis (now Hesperantha) and autumn cyclamen and crocuses are very useful for a splash of autumn colour in the borders. Then there is the anticipation of beautiful Hellebores which can flower from December through into spring and are my favourite winter flowers. There's a great article about the beautiful new varieties on offer in the December issue of Garden's Illustrated magazine - if only I had more space!

Hellebore
Hellebores - great in borders but also do well in pots are are excellent for cutting

Chrysanthemums

This is the first year that I have grown Chrysanthemums and I'm left wondering why I haven't done so sooner. If you pick the right varieties, they can really extend your cut flower season. I've had some lovely flowers from my early flowering varieties 'Littleton Red' and 'Smokey Purple' (see earlier photo) but it is the sea urchin types like this 'Saratov Lilac' (below) that I am really looking forward to coming into flower. There are plenty of buds and some are just breaking but these plants are frost tender so do need bringing in under cover if you want to be able to pick these flowers in November. Mine have been growing in pots and have now been brought into the potting shed where I am hoping they'll be ready to cut soon.

Chrysanthemum
Chrysanthemum 'Saratov Lilac' - this one got knocked off the plant when it was barely open and has gradually unfurled in the vase

Bulbs for the house

Over the last few months, I've been periodically potting up small spring bulbs - Crocus, Iris reticulata and Muscari in small terracotta pots which I keep in the potting shed for flowers a little earlier than if they were planted in the ground outside. When they start to bloom, I'll bring them into the house for some welcome colour in the depths of winter. I love the smell of Hyacinths which are great for forcing into flower in time for Christmas but I find that the scent gives me a terrible headache so I won't be growing any this year. However, I love to grow Narcissus Paperwhite. These are also strongly scented but don't have the same effect on me. They are easy to grow and I have a few pots on the windowsill which are shooting at the moment and should be in flower in about 6 weeks time. I will be planting up a few more to have a succession of flowers throughout the winter. You can store the bulbs in the fridge to retard their growth until you want to pot them. Amaryllis are another popular, easy to grow bulb for growing inside over the winter months.

Paperwhite Narcissi
Narcissus Paperwhite

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Winter Posies

This December is proving to be exceptionally mild here, but it is a time of year when the options for bringing cut flowers into the house is quite limited. I find that just having a few small posies with cuttings such as Rosemary, Box, Holly, Viburnum or early flowering Hellebores helps continue the cutting period. I have a lovely climbing rose which is still flowering and just a few stems bring a welcome splash of colour. I would be a bit lost with my large Viburnum tinus as it has lovely subtle white flowers, green foliage and black berries. Just a jug on it's own brings a taste of the outside in. Viburnum bodnantense has lovely, fragranced flowers and a few cut stems will scent a room and bring cheer. Use small jugs, jam jars, or old paste jars that don't require a lot of stems to create a little display of foliage, flowers or seasonal berries.

Winter posy
Winter posy. Small jugs require only a few stems to create a nice display

Fresh flower wreath

I don't normally advocate the use of artificial floral foam as it doesn't biodegrade and some flowers don't like having their delicate stems forced into oasis and will flop. In this case, though, I wanted a wreath with fresh flowers and without the oasis, they would shrivel so I did buy a pre-prepared oasis ring. Give it a good soak in the bath first  and then lay it flat on newspaper and add foliage around the outer rim first (I've used Yew clippings). Cover the remaining bare foam with your chosen foliage or flowers. Leave a short stem for sticking into the foam. I've used Viburnum tinus, Holly, Euphorbia amygadaloides and Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve'. I like the understated look, but you could easily bling it up with some bows, baubles or berries if you wish. Tie some garden twine or ribbon around the wreath base before adding the plants for hanging. You may need to soak the entire wreath a few times over the Christmas period to keep the flowers looking fresh. This type of wreath is best made nearer to Christmas, say a week before, or you could remove any flowers that have gone over and add replacements for a continual fresh look over a number of weeks.

Fresh Christmas wreath
Christmas wreath with Viburnum tinus and Erysimum flowers.

Hedge-clipping makes

We've been trimming our garden hedges which are a mix of native shrubs like Holly, Viburnum opulus, Yew, Dog Rose, Hawthorn, Willow and Hazel. Rather than throw the clippings away, we made use of them. The spiky Hawthorn clippings have been placed over my newly cleared cutting beds to keep the cats off and my lovely husband, Jamie, fashioned these cute 'Stick Man' figures for our children.

Stick Man
Stick Man!

A few cuttings of Viburnum bodnantense and Willow have been placed in a jug for the buds / catkins to open. Finally, we made a Christmas star from the hazel sticks. So you can see how handy it is to have a hedge!

Natural Christmas Star
Christmas star made from hazel cuttings

Foraged materials

As the year progresses into Winter and the number of flowers to cut dwindles, it's a lovely time to go foraging in the hedgerows for natural materials to make decorations for the house like lichen-covered twigs, pine cones, beech mast, seed pods (Nigella and Poppy) and Autumn leaves which you can press flat. Ideally, collect your foraged material in the Autumn before it is too badly weathered by the cold and rain. I collected assorted sizes of tree cones - pine, fir and alder, along with some beech mast which look like little stars. These materials are great for making Christmas decorations such as dried wreaths and Christmas baubles. You can pick up a cheap hot glue gun for under £10 which will open up a world of crafting opportunities!

This simple Christmas wreath has been made by glueing collected materials to the pre-bought natural wreath base with a hot glue gun. A light spray of silver paint on the alder cones adds a festive feel and a few fresh clippings of Box foliage provide some greenery. You may need to keep adding fresh clippings if it dries out too much over the Christmas period but it only requires a few sprigs to look good. This wreath is designed for indoor use.

Natural Christmas wreath
Christmas wreath with pine, fir and alder cones, beech mast and fresh Box clippings

 

Table Decoration

Finally, an idea for a simple table decoration. Place a simple white candle in a jam jar or small glass pot and hold it in place with fresh cranberries. I sprinkled on a bit of fake snow that I pinched from my children  who'd found an old 'magic snow kit' in the Christmas decoration box that we hadn't used but you could use desiccated coconut or granulated sugar for a similar effect. Add a few sprigs of greenery such as Rosemary, Holly or Box for a festive touch.

Christmas candles
Candles with cranberries and Rosemary

 

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