Decorating for Christmas

PUBLISHED: 11:41 05 December 2016 | UPDATED: 11:41 05 December 2016

Decorating for Christmas

Decorating for Christmas

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Bring the fresh green scents and colours of Christmas into your home to create a true festive spirit

I love the sparkle of Christmas, the secret packages hidden from loved ones, the mince pies and sausage rolls, and, most of all, I love decorating the house. My husband, Paul, has very strict rules to try to contain my enthusiasm. I’m allowed five boxes in the loft – and five only. He thinks that this should limit my spending on new decorations each year and stop the ‘Christmas take over’. One way to beat him at his own game is to bring the outside in.

I try to bring as much greenery into the house as possible. For me it brings freshness and vitality, and this is how decorating the house started in the first place. Besides the fresh scented Christmas tree, what’s not to love about the glossy green leaves and bright red berries of holly? Perfect Christmas colours.

There are over 400 varieties of holly (Ilex), so if you want to plant your own in the garden you have plenty to choose from. The variety we usually associate with Christmas is Ilex ‘Aquifolium’. It has spiny dark green leaves and bright red berries. Personally I love ‘Silver Queen’, ‘Silver Milkmaid’ or ‘Argentea Marginata’, simply because Mum and I, and our small team at the nursery, make lots of holly wreaths and decorations in December and we like to use these variegated varieties.

The cream edging or flecks lift an arrangement that can otherwise be quite dark and dense. Paul prefers the varieties that are variegated with yellow, such as ‘Golden Van Tol’ and ‘Lawsoniana’, but I feel a little cheated by these varieties as they don’t have prickles. Their leaves are called ‘entire’ and they resemble other evergreen shrubs such as Elaeagnus or Griselinia. Given the state of our cut and pricked hands by Christmas Day, maybe I should overcome this prejudice and use these varieties in the wreaths more often.

When you’re walking in the Suffolk countryside you often see holly growing in the hedgerows, testament to the fact that it can grow almost anywhere, even shade, although it doesn’t like to be too dry. Holly can be grown as hedging or as a tree, which, if left, will grow tall and conical.

One of the most commonly asked questions is how to be sure the plant will have berries. After all, it’s an essential part of the Christmas ‘look’. Holly needs a male and female for berries to form and it is only the female that will bear the berries. Even more confusingly, if a holly is a male variety it often has a female name such as Silver Queen, while the female varieties with berries can have a male name such as Golden King. So it’s always best to check.

You see wild hollies that are naturally pollinated by insects from other bushes nearby. If you live in a rural setting you might be lucky, but you might prefer to be sure and plant both male and female.

Holly berries are an important food source for birds in winter. There’s a theory that when holly is laden with berries it’s because nature knows that it’s going to be a cold winter. The birds will need food later on and so are saving the berries. We send my dad off to cut the holly from the bushes in the fields, so he makes sure he doesn’t take all the berries. After all, we’re enjoying them as decoration, but the birds need them to survive.

I think they have a prior claim! Until you work with holly it’s not always apparent that the berries are not always nestled within the foliage as depicted in pictures. They grow along the main stem, so they can appear sparse in an arrangement. If you’re short of berries you can always substitute with red ribbons, or use bright red carnations, or add red candles.

As Christmas tree growers, we’re noticing that people want to put up their tree earlier and earlier. The joy of greenery is its freshness, so I tend to bring ours in the weekend before Christmas. I always make sure I take it down by Twelfth Night (January 5-6) and then burn it on the fire. Suffolk people can be quite superstitious and I was told that if you don’t do this you will have bad luck. Whether you believe it or not is up to you, but I prefer to err on the safe side! As for my boxes of decorations, I still have five of them, but what Paul doesn’t know is that I use bigger boxes each year.

Paul and Ruth Goudy run Kiln Farm Nursery, Kesgrave, Ipswich

They are members of the British Christmas Tree Growers association, and besides all their usual nursery plants, they sell Christmas trees from November until Christmas Eve.

Open: Monday - Saturday 9am-5pm, Sunday 10am-5pm

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