7 top tips to make your own bargain festive floral display
- Credit: Steven Haywood
Don’t rush to the supermarket for Christmas flower arrangements, there can be plenty of winter floral inspiration in our gardens, discovers CATHERINE COURTENAY
Amelia Cooper-Smith, who runs Amelia’s Flower Farm in South Devon with her husband Giles, is still as busy as ever with her cut flower arrangements, even though when we talk it’s almost November. The long summer days and their floral beauty are gone, but there are still many stunning items that can be used for winter displays.
Everything Amelia grows in the couple’s flower fields, which are walking distance from their home at Combeteignhead, is nurtured by Amelia, from seed to fully grown plant, without the use of pesticides and insecticides, and without being artificially forced. Everything is used in the floral arrangements she makes and sells.
She has plants that are still producing into the winter and in addition she has a good supply of dried flowers to use at this time, including statice, dahlias and many different grasses.
Anything she needs to buy in for the winter months - wax flowers, for example, is carefully sourced from growers she knows.
Amelia would encourage all of us to open our eyes to the creative potential of what’s around us, rather than go for out of season, or forced flowers, which are often flown in from abroad.
Think about late season flowering plants in the garden, she says: “Most of the commercial offerings at this time of year revolve around forced lilies and Alstroemeria which are grown in heated greenhouses, but why not go for chrysanthemums?” They are a natural late autumn flower and bloom up until the end of November. With its big, yet spidery blooms, ‘Avignon Pink’ is a great example.
A plant that’s having a massive cut flower resurgence is the Christmas Rose, or Hellebore. “They are beautiful at this time of year and there are lots of new varieties to choose from. They make a gorgeous winter pot for outside, and they can be used as a cut flower once the flower has set seed. Don’t cut them as soon as they’ve flowered, otherwise they’ll wilt on you!”
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Hydrangeas can be brought in and used fresh or dried, says Amelia. They look lovely even if they are going a bit autumnal. You can use whole flower heads or tiny sections to make an impact in a smaller arrangement. Eryngiums and thistles also add a striking structural effect to winter arrangements.
Another idea is to gather a collection of bulbs, perhaps hyacinth or paper white daffodils, and pot them up into a few different little pots. “Leave them in a garage or shed, somewhere cold and dark and then keep bringing the pots inside, a few at a time. Once one pot has finished blooming, bring out the next one.”
Amelia uses lots of twisted willow twigs to support the bulbs as they grow and add a natural backdrop to the display. Some bulbs, like the hyacinths, flower very quickly when they are brought into a warm house, about three weeks for the prepared bulbs – and they can be planted outside once they’ve finished flowering.
“These early spring bulbs give a beautiful scent and bring a sense of the new season around the corner which follows the dark of winter.”
Foliage is just as important for winter arrangement, but think about evergreens, or Viburnam, or British-grown eucalyptus. Geranium leaves, tinged with autumn red, can also make beautiful displays, as can as few leaves of Heuchera.
For splashes of colour go for rosehips, another favourite of Amelia’s. “They have so many different shapes and colours. Berries and twigs can look beautiful, you don’t have to have big flowers flown in from half way around the world,” she says.
Amelia is one of a growing band of British growers, providing seasonal and sustainable flowers. She still finds it an education though, convincing people they don’t want peonies and tulips in the middle of winter.
“It’s wonderful, because we work with the seasons.” Each week, armfuls of flowers and foliage are cut ready to be made into bouquets that will be delivered within days. What’s available changes every week, but is a constant delight for Amelia, who has always loved having cut flowers in her home. “It’s a representation of what I want my garden to look like,” she says.
Amelia’s tips on creating a festive table display
1) Find a good container - I use old or upcycled concrete or terracotta pots. Anything that you can make watertight will do just fine.
2) The candle can be stuck with florist’s waterproof putty or a waterproof adhesive in the middle at the bottom of the pot.
3) I then use chicken wire (it can be reused time and time again) as a structure to arrange all the stems into. This can be pushed into the pot - the idea is that it acts as support for all the stems and stops them flopping around. I then add some water to around halfway up the pot.
4) Then add a generous layer of sustainably-sourced moss. Moss is protected under licence so it’s important it comes from a reputable source - florists’ wholesalers sell it by the bag. The flowers are then pushed into the moss layer and through to the water.
5) I used a mixture of seasonal foliage and flowers, including eucalyptus, Eryngium, thistles, blue Virburnum berries, wax flowers in pink (Chamelaucium), dried flowers and grasses - including bunny’s tail grass (Lagurus ovatus) and heather.
6) To finish I used a sage green velvet ribbon, tied loosely around the base of the candle. And added some Spanish Moss to the sides for a loose and gathered look.
7) The bigger arrangement was much the same except I didn’t use any chicken wire and added small ivy potted up plants into the planter. I then added lots of moss into which I pushed the stems of the other flowers and foliage.