Deck the walls

 

Simple, understated and homemade. These Christmas wreaths are easy to make, here's how . . ., writes FIONNUALA FALLON

Even if it’s something as simple as a swag of ivy tied with a scarlet bow, I’ve always felt that natural Christmas decorations mark the year’s end in a way that tinsel and baubles never can. Part of the enjoyment lies in that annual wintry forage for suitable materials. Bag in hand, secateurs in pocket, I’ll happily spend the best part of a day out of doors, scavenging for sculptural seedheads, crimson berries, delicate twigs and pine cones sticky with resin.

If you’ve never tried making your own natural Christmas decorations, don’t be put off by the idea that it’s too difficult. As long as you keep things simple, it doesn’t require a florist’s specialist skills. That said, you’ll need to arm yourself with a few coils of florists’ wire, florists’ moss (either from your garden or from the flower market, but don’t pick in the wild), tins of metallic spray paint, a pliers, a secateurs and a glue gun. Metal coat-hangers – the kind you get from dry-cleaners – and chicken wire can also be pressed into service, as can any colourful fabric remnants or pretty ribbons that you might have. Then give yourself a couple of hours and some space (a large table is useful, but remember to protect it with a few sheets of old newspaper). I promise that the end results will be wonderfully Christmassy. Not only that, your own homemade natural decorations will have cost you scarcely anything.

Three takes on the traditional Christmas wreath

1. Some festive twiggery

There’s a wonderfully spare quality to a wreath fashioned out of bare wintry twigs tightly twisted together. I especially like using young birch twigs, which are flexible enough not to crack as well as being easy to work with. Start by gathering them into long bundles and then tie each bundle at one end with florists’ wire. Holding the tied end tightly between your knees, gently twist the first bundle. Wire firmly together at 10cm intervals. As you come to the end, add a second bundle of twigs (I leave an overlap of roughly 10-15cm) and wire firmly in place. Continue until you reach the required length and then wire both ends together (keeping a generous overlap) to form a circle. Wire in place.

Given this wreath’s natural simplicity, it’s best to keep any further decoration to a minimum. This year I’m using a long strand of florists pearls woven through the twigs, which glitter in the December sunlight like frozen dewdrops.

2. A mossy wreath

While you can buy the basic circular wire frames for Christmas wreaths from florists’ suppliers, it’s also possible to make your own from chicken wire. Start by shaping a cylinder of chicken wire (two layers thick) then cut it off the roll using a pliers. Gradually compress the cylinder by pulling the wires together so that you’re left with a wire circle. Bend any sharp wires inwards to secure the shape (you also don’t want them to scratch your paintwork) and then gradually cover the wire circle, front and back, with a thick layer of moss. Use a coil of florists wire to wrap it tightly into position. In previous years I’ve covered this mossy circle with a variety of evergreen foliage.

This Christmas, however, I’ve found that I like the look of the bare moss itself. Adorned with a few dried hydrangea flowers, generous handfuls of red berries and some strands of ivy, it reminds me of my favourite wild places.

3. A Nordic-style wreath

This is one of those Christmas decorations that requires a glue gun, so if you’ve never used one before, put aside a few minutes to practice. To make the basic heart shape, take a wire coat-hanger and cut off the hook with a pliers.

Unbend the two sharp corners and then bend sharply in the middle to form the bottom of the heart. Curve both ends of the wire by wrapping around a small bowl and, using a pliers, twist securely together to complete the heart-shape. Using a glue gun, cover this basic wire frame with your plant material of choice (this could be anything from dried leaves, rose-hips, spiny teasels, Chinese lanterns (physalis) or small pine cones to the seedheads of poppies or love-in-the-mist. Tie a simple ribbon bow to the top to finish it off.

For florists’ supplies, try Tip-Top Cash Carry, 49 East Arran Street, Dublin 7 (01-8731844) or branches of Woodies.

DATE FOR YOUR DIARY

February 2nd, 2013: Snowdrop Gala, Balykealey Manor Hotel, Ballon, Co Carlow. Speakers include Dr John Grimshaw, Rod Leeds, Paul Cutler . €60 (if booked before December 31st), including lunch, refreshments, lectures, guided tour of Altamont Gardens and access to plant sales. Contact Robert Miller at sales@altamontplants.com for further details

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