Give your traditional Christmas decor a boost with colourful flowering house plants and greenery from the garden, says Adrienne Wild
Decorating homes with holly and ivy has always been part of Britain’s winter traditions. The Pagans used them primarily to ward off evil and bring hope and good fortune. But for centuries, they’ve been given top billing as Christmas decorations.
Any fresh greenery found in your own garden can be transformed into decorations such as wreaths, swags and garlands. Add in a few thin branches, twisted into bowers, and you can hang sprigs of mistletoe, too.
Hanging mistletoe during the festive season is probably Druid in origin, but it’s become a popular tradition all around the world, along with having a Christmas kiss underneath it!
This parasitic plant can be found growing in the branches old trees, so keep your eyes peeled for free supplies.
Wreaths, which traditionally represent the circle of life, are commonly used to glam up
the front door and give visitors a cheery welcome.
But why not have one indoors as well, and make more of them with the addition of pine cones, unusual seedpods, dried leaves, shiny berries and red-twig dogwood branches? You can make one in minutes by simply tying dogwood stems into a ring and filling with tails of ivy and glitzy baubles.
At Christmas, flowering house plants can always be relied on for last-minute decorations. They come in rich, jewel-like colours and unlike a bunch of cut flowers, are guaranteed to last.
For weeks of uninterrupted pleasure, it’s important to buy specimens that have lots of unopened flower buds and give them plenty of tender, loving care.
Cyclamen is a must-have at Christmas time. The flowers, which are lightly fragrant, come in a range of colours – mostly shades of pink, red, white and purple – on long stalks above big heart-shaped leaves in variegated shades of green and silver.
For seasonal good-looks plant a mini white-flowered variety in a white ceramic pot for an unfussy, elegant display or put a row of them on the windowsill to create the impression of a white Christmas. For lasting blooms stand the plants in a well-lit, cool room – remove them from windowsills at night to prevent them from getting a chill.
To water, stand the plant in a saucer of water and when the surface of the compost is moist remove the saucer and allow excess moisture to drain.
Poinsettias can also be relied on for impact. As well as the bright red variety there are unusual forms like those trained as standards as well as varieties which have white, cream
or salmon bracts and some with flesh-pink leaves and cream edges.
When buying a poinsettia look for plants with little or no yellow pollen showing on the flower clusters in the centre of the coloured bracts, as plants that have shed their pollen will soon fade and drop their bracts.
The milky sap of poinsettias is, however, toxic and may also cause skin irritation, so might best be avoided if you have pets or young children.
Overwatering, lack of light and cold draughts will shorten the plant’s life, so find them pride of place in a bright spot near a window in the living room and they should last for months.
Christmas cactus has graceful arching stems made of flat leaves that produce ruffled lobster-like silky flowers in shades of red, pink, orange or white at their tips during the Christmas period and beyond. Stand them on a plinth or plant them in a hanging basket for a chandelier effect.
Plants flourish in a temperature of around 20°C and the compost must be kept almost dry except when the blooms are fully open, when you can water more liberally.
They are long-lasting plants and it’s possible for a treasured plant to become a family heirloom!
Hyacinths’ stunning blooms, which come in shades of blue, pink, red, yellow-cream, tangerine and white, will freshen the air with an intoxicating, sensual scent. For maximum impact, arrange them en masse in bowls – either the same colour or a blend of shades – in a cool, bright spot.
Add a touch of glamour by dressing the compost with sphagnum moss or Spanish moss or coloured glass beads.
It’s important to keep the compost moist at all times, but avoid overwatering as the flower bells will turn brown.
Amaryllis or hippeastrum are hot on the heels of poinsettias as Britain’s favourite Christmas plant, so if you like to follow the trends and are planning a white Christmas’ theme, look out for a fashionable white variety such as ‘Snow Queen’ to give your room wow factor.
Generally you can expect one or two stems per amaryllis bulb, although it’s not unusual for large bulbs to produce as many as three stems and up to six exotic-looking lily-like blooms.
To double the impact, stand the plant in front of a mirror. The flowers should last for several weeks if you stand the pot in a sunny window in a warm room – around 20°C is ideal.
Into the new year
The succulent leaves of Flaming Katy, or Kalanchoe, mean that it can cope with some neglect water-wise, providing that it’s kept in a bright spot. For the most effective display, use them massed together on a low table.
They come with brightly coloured flowers in red, ivory, yellow and orange, and will look sensational lined up on a south-facing windowsill.
You can give old-fashioned plants, such as Indian azaleas, a new look and make them more imposing by displaying them in tall, modern ceramic vases. Look for a vase where the neck is the same width of the pot so that the plant fits snug, otherwise you’ll have to fill a vase with aggregate.
For impact, use a pair of pots to flank the fireplace or arrange three plants in different height vases to decorate the corner of a room.
Azalea flowers, which come in almost every shade of red and pink, should last well into the
New Year if you put them in a light and fairly cool position and take care of them. It’s good to use rainwater as these are ericaceous plants and hate lime.