Deck the Halls

One of the things I love most about Christmas is festooning our London flat with greenery and flowers. I adore the smell of fresh-cut pine and white lilies, and the idea of bringing the outdoors in. Decorating our open-plan space is a much-anticipated event. To get it all done I like to start as advent gets underway with a few simple, not overly festive arrangements. In an ideal world I’d use only fresh material cut straight from the garden or bought from a good florist, but time and funds rarely allow, so I mix fresh foliage and flowers with artificial elements and rarely is anyone the wiser.

A Nordmann fir, about 14ft tall, will be the centrepiece in our living space
A real Nordmann fir, about 12ft tall, will be the centrepiece in our living space

For now, I am doing my research. One place I always look for inspiration is Williams Sonoma, an upmarket American retailer best known for its beautiful cookshops and moreish peppermint bark confectionery. All through the year they offer a lovely selection of wreaths and garlands made from dried flowers and foliage, but at Christmas they come into their own. Americans like their decorations large and luxurious, which suits me just fine. I love the simplicity of this bay leaf wreath, which would look great in my kitchen all year round.

Williams Sonoma bay leaf wreath
A generous wreath crafted from thousands of aromatic bay leaves

This year I ordered Amaryllis from Living Colour Bulbs and was staggered by the size of the bulbs that arrived. Each one, the size of a cantaloupe melon, had at least two flower stalks emerging from its papery crown. I chose a variety called ‘Royal Velvet’ which has lustrous flowers of the most decadent opera-house red. When they start to flower in a few weeks’ time they will outshine every other decoration in the flat and will be worth the minimal cost and effort. I’ve planted the bulbs tightly in deep ceramic pots (glazed a rich forest green) so that the heavy heads are well supported when they bloom.

A good Amaryllis bulb will produce between two and four sturdy flower heads
A good Amaryllis bulb should produce between two and four sturdy flower heads in a season

To match these sumptuous blooms I am sorely tempted by John Lewis’ Vibrant Vintage Amaryllis Wreath which is artificial, but who cares when the flowers look this realistic? At £25 it’s cheaper than just three good quality bulbs and much easier to care for.

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As I write this post I have a generous bowl of Cyclamen persicum ‘Sterling Wine’ on the kitchen counter beside me, a reminder that Christmas really is coming. The deep magenta flowers are held proud above beautifully marbled foliage and will last for months if watered sparingly and given good light.

Back to Williams Sonoma and a sumptuous wreath combining cedar, eucalyptus, pinecones and berries reminds me of the days when I could pillage my parents’ garden for winter foliage. There’s nothing like getting out in the garden with your secateurs and harvesting great bundles of aromatic conifer and glossy holly to bring indoors. This swirling arrangement celebrates all shades of green with just enough touches of red to make it festive.

This dashing wreath is handcrafted from fresh cedar, eucalyptus, air-dried pinecones and faux berries.
A dashing wreath handcrafted from fresh cedar, eucalyptus, pinecones and faux berries.

We have a lot of brown tones in the flat, which draws me to another wreath made up from one of my favourite foliage plants, Magnolia grandiflora, humble box, fir, pinecones and a white berry known as Texas tallow berry. It turns out that this invasive tree, otherwise known as Triadica sebifera, is an Asian infiltrator and the third most productive vegetable oil crop in the world, after algae and oil palm. Who knew? In any case the white fruits look very pretty against the coppery indumentum of the magnolia and the organza ribbon.

I hope this post has got you thinking creatively and feeling Christmassy. I’d love to hear how you plan to dress your home this season and if you have any top tips to share.

This stunning wreath combines Magnolia grandiflora leaves, box, noble fir, tallow berries (Triadica sebifera) and natural pinecones
This stunning wreath combines Magnolia grandiflora leaves, box, noble fir, tallow berries and pinecones