Your gardening questions answered: What plants can I use for home-made Christmas decorations?

Growing your own plants, such as sweet bay and pittosporum, will provide many options for festive decorating at this time of year

Q: Could you please recommend some species of trees and shrubs that can be used to make natural, home-made Christmas decorations? I love to decorate the house with ivy and holly from the garden, but I’d love some suggestions as to what else I might grow that can be used in the same way? AN, Monkstown, Dublin

A: Making your own Christmas decorations using material harvested freshly from the garden or allotment is hugely rewarding, environmentally friendly and a brilliant way to connect with the natural cycle of the seasons. Many of the plants traditionally used in this way are evergreen species that symbolise the circle of life from birth to death to rebirth, reminding us that a new growing year is only around the corner and that our gardens are still filled with life despite the lateness of the season.

When it comes to selecting species most suitable for your garden, it’s a good idea to concentrate on vigorous medium-sized trees and shrubs with handsome ornamental foliage that won’t resent some winter pruning (or may even benefit from it) and which will also offer interest and shelter throughout the year.

Classic examples include sweet bay (Laurus nobilis), Eucalyptus gunnii, E. nicholii and E. parvula (not only is its silver-grey foliage always a popular choice with florists at this time of year, but eucalyptus also happily tolerates being pollarded or cut back hard to keep it in shape); Ozothamnus “Sussex Silver” (its silver-white, finely cut foliage last very well out of water); yew (Taxus baccata); varieties of pittosporum (also great out of water, suitable examples include the apple-green Pittosporum “Arundel Green”, green-and-white variegated Pittosprum “Silver Queen” and the moody-plum foliage of Pittosporum “Tom Thumb”); Viburnum tinus, a supremely resilient evergreen whose white-pink flowers also appear in winter) Brachyglottis “Sunshine”, whose felty silver-grey leaves are a lovely foil for scarlet flowers and berries; and rosemary (Rosmarinus) for its scent and symbolism.


Evergreens aside, try to find room for one or two plants with interesting bare winter branches such as the corkscrew willow (Salix babylonica “Tortuosa”); contorted hazel (Corylus avellana “Contorta”); birch (Betula pendula); alder (Alnus) and dogwood (Cornus stolonifera); or those whose dead or dried seedheads or fading fruits and berries will add texture and colour to an arrangement such as hydrangeas; certain varieties of clematis (for example, Clematis tangutica and Clematis “Bill McKenzie”); cultivated garden forms of crab apples; species roses and many kinds of ornamental grasses. Many of these plants also offer shelter and food to garden wildlife throughout the tough months of winter, yet another great reason to grow them in your garden.

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon

Fionnuala Fallon is an Irish Times contributor specialising in gardening