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Noel au naturel

by Rhiannon James

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If you fancy a change from glitz and glitter this Christmas, why not opt for the natural look. The great outdoors is packed with potential decorations at this time of year and many of them are lovely enough to hang straight on the tree.

In the garden, there might be interesting seed heads, berries or cones to collect and it’s worth having a look in local parks and woods too. Flower markets meanwhile, are overflowing with goodies such as dried fruits, berried branches and weird and wonderful seed pods. Most cities have a wholesale market (London’s is New Covent Garden Flower Market, www.newcoventgardenmarket.com/flowers) – they usually open in the middle of the night and close by mid-morning so go early or after a good night out.

If you’re short on searching and shopping time, you can also order materials on the internet – try companies such as Essentially Hops, www.essentiallyhops.co.uk and Martins Dried Flowers, www.martinsdriedflowers.co.uk.

The fun of this approach is making the most of whatever you find, but here are the details of the decorations we made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seed heads

Things you’ll need

1. A selection of dried seed heads. We’ve used alliums and agapanthus but anything sculptural will work. Take a tour around the garden and see what inspires you – you might be surprised at how much there is to choose from.

2. Standard steel pins

3. Superglue

4. Gold braid or ribbon (30cm per seed head)

Step by step

1. Cut most of the flower stem away from the seed head. Then cut a 30cm length of gold braid.

2. Pin both ends of the braid to the remainder of the stem to create a loop.

3. Then, while the braid is pinned in place, glue both ends to the stem and leave to dry. Once the glue has set, you can remove the pin.

 

Festive Garland

Things you’ll need

1. Natural-fibre twine or cord (preferably wired) – we used about four metres

2. A selection of seed pods, fruits and cones – we used Lonchocarpus capassa seed pods (an unexpected discovery), crab apples and pine cones, all bought from the flower market. Dried fruit and nuts would also work well.

3. Secateurs

4. Curtain wire eyes

5. Florists’ wire

Step by step

1. Start by stretching out and hanging up your twine or cord like a washing line. This will make it easier to see how your garland is shaping up and to attach each element.

2. Screw a curtain wire eye into the centre of the ‘stem’ of a cone. Then wire two or three cones together, using florists’ wire.

3. If you’ve got whole branches of crab apples, cut off bunches of fruit using secateurs. Make the cut close to the point where the side shoot meets the main branch. The small piece of wood you’ve cut off will hold your bunch together and provide a sturdy point to wind wire around.

4. Next, take your seed pods and cut off single pods, pairs or clusters at points where they form an interesting shape.

5. Using more florists’ wire, you can then combine these ingredients into a variety of different mini-decorations.

6. As you make each one, wire it to your length of twine or cord so you can see how your garland is progressing and what gaps you need to fill. If you’re using bunches of fruit, it helps to wind florists’ wire between the different stems a few times to make sure they’re secure.

7. Keep adding mini-decorations until you’ve filled the length of cord or twine, checking that you’ve got a good balance of the different elements, colours and textures.

8. If you have children be careful when using ornamental berries and fruit as many of them are not safe to eat.

 

Baubles

Things you’ll need

1. Floral foam spheres (7cm diameter)

2. Transparent fishing line

3. Buttons

4. Dried pumpkinos

5. Dried lotus pods

6. Superglue

7. 35mm bolts (if you’re using 7cm spheres)

8. A very thin skewer and a craft knife

9. Florists’ wire

Step by step

1. Start by gluing a bolt to each dried pumpkino. Put a small amount of superglue on to the base of the pumpkino and then hold the bolt in place for a few minutes until the glue dries sufficiently for it to stay vertical without support. You may need to cut away some of the natural ripples in the base of the fruit, using a craft knife, to create a flattish base for the bolt. Then, it’s best to leave the pumpkinos overnight to give the glue a chance to dry fully.

2. If you want to, you can attach a length of florists’ wire to each lotus pod to help it to grip the foam. Alternatively, you can just push the stems of the pods into the sphere and wire any pods that show a tendency to fall out later.

3. Then, take a length of fishing line. Thread on a button at one end and tie a knot to keep it in place. Next, push a very thin skewer through the centre of the foam sphere and thread the other end of the fishing line through the hole you’ve made. Make a loop at this end so you can hang your bauble on the tree.

4. Then you’re ready to decorate your bauble. Push your pumpkinos and lotus pods into the sphere, creating an interesting pattern and a good balance of colours as you go. Try to leave a small gap around each pod or pumpkino so you can push it as far as it will go into the foam – this will make each piece more secure.

 

Decorative maize cobs

Things you’ll need

1. Dried maize cobs

2. Transparent fishing line

3. Satin ribbon (10mm width)

Step by step

1. Cut a 60cm length of fishing line. Then take a cob and select the best side to be the front. Tie one end of the fishing line around the top of the cob where it’s joined to the remnants of the husk and make a double knot at the back. Trim off the loose end.

2. Tie a loop at the other end of the line so you can hang the cob on the tree and then trim off the loose end.

3. Wind the line around some of the central strands of the husk to stop the cob hanging at an angle.

4. Finally, take a 50cm length of ribbon and tie a bow around the top of the cob to give a festive finish.

 

Pine cones

Things you’ll need

1. A selection of large bleached pine cones

2. A pack of curtain wire eyes

3. Gold braid or ribbon (30cm per cone)

Step by step

1. Screw a curtain wire eye, as far as it will go, into the centre of the cone’s ‘stem’.

2. Cut a 30cm length of ribbon, thread it through the eye and knot, leaving two decorative ends.

 

Finishing Touches

It’s useful to have a stock of berries or fruits to push into any gaps on the tree when you’ve finished decorating. You can collect these now and hang them up to dry (they look pretty decorative just hanging from some curling ribbon). Alternatively, pick or buy them fresh, closer to Christmas, and pop them straight on the tree.

 

 

 

 

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