Alys Fowler

Decorating for Christmas

What could be better than homemade decorations and a glass of mulled cider to get into the Christmas spirit?

For a while I did a bit of guerrilla Christmas tree decorating. A bunch of us would dress up a tree in a local park with Christmassy bird feeders, chocolates and tinsel for the birds' nests and then watch with delight as the curious found our treats (we let enough mum’s know that it was us who’d done it so that they could trust our chocolate). But every year I’d lose some of the Christmas baubles or forget where I’d stuffed them for next time and end up buying new stuff. This grated with me, all that plastic and chemicals used to make cheap decorations that didn’t last. It got me thinking that really I should start making decorations that would mostly biodegrade that could be put on the compost at the end, or if you’re my mum carefully wrapped up for next year.

The garden has lots of wonderful things in it that make for great decorations either left simply as they are or dusted with a little glitter or spray-paint. This is the traditional way, decking the halls with boughs of holly. And we’re are all near plenty of spaces where a little judicious picking of this or that could be had. 

Now clearly before we all run out for holly berries it’s worth remembering that these are important food for wildlife and birds. Likewise, seedheads still full of seeds will be gleefully picked over in January when there is little else. Thus if you are picking from a local park (always ask permission first) or wild space I’d mostly go for greenery or pretty dried leaves and seedheads that are clearly spent.

One of simplest and loveliest things to do is to find the sort of autumn leaves that are all ready decomposing so there’s just a skeleton of the midrib and veins and then to use either fishing wire or fine white cotton and tie them on, spaced so that they look like leave tumbling through the air and hang these in a window. If you want to get fancy, you can spray them with frosting so they look like they’ve been caught by ice.

Likewise finding pretty seedheads anything from Allium globes to poppies that can either be sprayed gold or silver or dipped in glitter (spray the seed heads with hairspray and then dust with glitter) and hung in intervals along the string so they make a garland. This can then be hung along a shelf of a bookcase or window or fireplace. If you can find some old man’s beard, the fluffy, wispy seed heads to our native clematis still then try spraying them with a little hairspray to fix the seed head and stop it falling apart.

Christmas garland

Pretty pine cones tied with a green or red ribbon and perhaps a little sprig of pine leaves so they can be hung and makes a great display. The key to this is simplicity, keep everything a simple palette of colours, don’t over pack the material and it will look charming.

If you wish to make a traditional garland, you will need some heavy duty string or light rope. These things get quite heavy when they are finished.  Then find some long pieces of ivy, if you can find pieces that are longer than you string or rope that is great, if not you will just have to weave several pieces together. Initially loosely plate several strands of ivy and string rope to make a base and then start filling in the spaces so you can no longer see the string. You can either keep going with more ivy and I like this very simple look or you can add in other stuff. Holly is an obvious choice, but any evergreen material will do. Remember this will be heavy so you will need secure nails or hooks to hold it in place. It will make an equally good table runner, although the warmer the room the quicker some of the leaves will dry out. You might need to make it closer to Christmas day if you intend to use it in a warm room.

It’s satisfying to make your own decorations. Pinterest and the internet has a wealth of ideas, and nothing is more pleasurable than doing this sort of thing with company. It’s as fun for the kids as it is the adults. To make the whole thing a little more festive, try some mulled cider, too much and your creativity may go the wrong way, but just enough and the good juices will flow.

Mulled ciderMulled Cider Recipe


500ml of apple juice

1 litre of cloudy cider

A glass of brandy

3 sticks of cinnamon

6 cloves

3-4 star anise

A little grating of nutmeg

3 tablespoons of caster sugar or 2 tablespoons of maple syrup


Heat the spices and the apple juice together bringing it to a gentle boil and taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary. Then add the cider and brand and bring back to a simmer, do not boil it or you’ll boil off the alcohol. Taste again and add maple syrup or caster sugar as required.

This recipe works equally as well non-alcoholic, though I tend to add a little orange juice and a slice of orange or Clementine to an alcohol-free version.  Strain the liquid, reserving a cinnamon stick for each glass if you can before serving.