Festive flourishes: foliage and flowers for Christmas

by Rhiannon James

credit: pizzodisevo

Christmas is the perfect time to bring the house to life with the rich scents, colours and textures of winter plants. We asked the experts how they’re planning to deck the halls for the festive season.


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“There are lots of great plants to give us all a bit of extra colour at Christmas, such as orchids, cyclamen and the ever-popular poinsettia. I won’t be using any of these though. Being a romantic soul, I will be decorating with the first sprigs from the mistletoe I planted three years ago. While we tend to think of mistletoe on oaks and apples, I’ve used a medlar growing on hawthorn rootstock. A small amount of mistletoe is not going to kill off your favourite tree and adds a very traditional dimension to the festive season. I really did feel like a hunter-gatherer collecting it from the garden even if I only needed nail scissors to harvest my first crop.”

David Lewis, Head Gardener at Kensington Roof Gardens (www.roofgardens.virgin.com)





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“Christmas is a time of tradition and for as long as I can remember a few sprigs of highly-scented Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ have made it into a vase and on to the Christmas dining table at home. It doesn’t have hugely showy blooms, but in a small room the cut flowers give off a heady, spicy scent that to me at least, is definitely Christmas. It will only last a day or so in a vase before disintegrating, but I can always cut more through the winter, whenever there’s a mild spell of weather and I fancy a blast of nostalgia in the house.”

Kate Gould, garden designer, (www.kategouldgardens.com)




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“I do like to throw a curve ball when it comes to my Christmas tree. Houseplants are a vital part of any home and I have one that doubles up as the perfect alternative to the traditional tree. Howea belmoreana is a very unfussy houseplant. If it’s kept out of direct sunlight but in a bright spot and watered liberally in the growing months but sparingly through the dark ones, this plant gives very little trouble and looks the business when adorned with tinsel, baubles and chocolate money. If you want to use it year after year, you should give it some slow-release fertiliser each spring and it will also enjoy a few liquid feeds during the summer. If you want to avoid those brown leaf ends that are so common on houseplants, don’t stand it close to a radiator or any other heat source or draft.”

Chris Collins, Blue Peter gardener (www.chriscollins.org.uk)




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“The plant I love to use over Christmas is jasmine. It smells divine and looks really Christmassy with its sprinkling of tiny white flowers. It looks fantastic on mantelpieces if you use a lot of plants together and undo them from their wire so they trail all over the fireplace – not if there’s a fire on of course! Everyone loves poinsettias and although the classic ones are red, they are constantly coming up with great new colours – I saw some tiny pink ones in the market that were really lovely. The other great plant is of course, the Christmas rose or hellebore. You can pot them and dot them all along the dinner table.”

Mairead Curtin, co-owner of Rebel Rebel (www.rebelrebel.co.uk)




credits: Ripplestone Garden & Quinn Dombrowski

“I have a very basic Christmas wreath frame stored in my loft. It comes out every year and I just go into the garden, or around the area where I live, looking for red berries, rosehips and ivy leaves. I add these to the wreath in an informal way and hang it on my front door with a red ribbon. I don’t think you can beat a red and green combination for Christmas and it’s all free. I have also planted Sarcococca (Christmas box) in my front garden; it flowers at this time of year and the scent is to die for – it surprises passers-by no end. I like to light some large outdoor candles and leave them outside when it gets dark. I stole this idea from a visit to Norway, where lots of people do this to create a cosy and welcoming atmosphere, like in a children’s book.”

Ana Sanchez-Martin, garden designer, (www.germinatedesign.com)



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“I love cyclamen – they’re so pretty. At home, I like to group them together in silver mirrored containers. It gives a very festive, sophisticated look and creates a beautiful effect on a dining table, mantelpiece or occasional table. Hyacinths are also great plants to use – they bring warmth and of course, that unforgettable scent. I put them in glass vases so the roots are exposed, to create a rustic feel. Try planting them in a variety of glass containers of different shapes and heights and put them in living areas and guest bedrooms. Just be careful not to go too overboard, the smell can sometimes be a little overpowering. I am particularly partial to hyacinths because for me, they have a dual meaning – a touch of winter with the hint of spring! Amaryllis are crowd-pleasing bulbs and also look good displayed in glass vases. They add drama to the Christmas table and they’re relatively long-lasting – they’ll keep going right up to the New Year celebrations.”

Ian Drummond, Creative Director at Indoor Garden Design (www.indoorgardendesign.com)


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“I often use poinsettia plug plants – they are available in some nurseries in either red or white, usually for about £1 each. They will have perhaps one or two flowers each and can be used individually or grouped together en masse to create a high-impact decoration. Buy ten, fifteen or twenty plants to use for table decorations or on the mantelpiece. They will last well into the spring and can even be potted up and kept.”

Andrew Wilson, garden designer, author and chief assessor for the Royal Horticultural Society (www.wmstudio.co.uk)





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“Rosehips make a great addition to wreaths. They can either be woven in on themselves, creating a simple open circle or added to laurel or cedar branches.”

Sara Jane Rothwell, garden designer (www.londongardendesigner.com)









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