A Country Style Christmas Wreath

A Country Style Christmas Wreath

At this time of year, it’s good to take time out from the frantic Christmas rush and clear your head. My favourites are to get out into the fresh air and to do something creative, so what better than taking a pair of secateurs and snipping some greenery to make a Christmas wreath. While I greatly admire the glory and perfection of a florist’s wreath, I’m more than happy with a simple, country style wreath using foraged plants. I don’t mind if it’s a little wonky and isn’t made with the season’s must have flowers, as it’s as much about the gathering and making as it is about the finished wreath.

 

How to make a rustic Christmas wreath

 

If you’d like to make a country style foraged Christmas wreath, here’s what to do.

 

making Christmas wreath with fresh foliage

BASE

Cut a few willow whippy branches of willow and twist and twine them together to make a circle. Tie them with string if you think your circle might spring apart. Alternatively, buy a wire ring which has the advantage of being round and won’t fall to pieces.

GREENERY

The trimmings from your Christmas tree are excellent foliage for your wreath. I presume you trim and shape your Christmas tree? Snip a little off the back to make it fit close to the wall? Prune back any wayward branches? Haven’t you read our tips for decorating your Christmas tree? Some people worry about cutting anything off their tree, but I always do, just to give it a good shape. Also, the offcuts are very useful.

As well as your Christmas tree trimmings, cut some holly, ivy, bay leaves, rosemary, thyme or anything green about 20 – 30 centimetres long. The larger your base, the longer your stems will need to be.

Binding foliage for country style Christmas wreath

Using florists wire, bind the greenery to your base. Place a few stems on the base, wind the wire around to hold them firm and then lay the next stems on top to hide the wire and continue to wind the wire round the stems and base, working your way around the circle. When you get back to the beginning, gently lift the heads of the first stems, bind the final stems and then drop the first heads back down to cover the wire. Cut and secure the end of the wire.

DECORATIVES

Collect some pretty seed heads, berries (fake or real), fruit, feathers, baubles or anything else that takes your fancy and poke and weave them into the wreath by slipping them under the wire. If you can’t do this, wire them in separately or stick them on with a hot glue gun. This is the chance to cover any bits of wire that may be showing.

FINISHING OFF

Choose how you want to hang your wreath. Are you decorating it with a ribbon? Will the ribbon hang at the top or the bottom? Decisions, decisions. Either wind the ribbon around and tie a bow or make a ribbon bow and attach it to the wreath with wire or glue. If your ribbon is at the bottom, make a hanging loop at the top with a piece of twine or ribbon.

Find a door, hang your wreath …

Christmas wreath from the hedgerow

… stand back and admire.

Simple triangle shaped Christmas wreath

Of course, you don’t have to make a circular wreath. Tie some sticks together in a triangle shape and decorate as little or as much as you like.

twiggy heart shaped wreath

Make a heart shaped wreath.

Giant Christmas wreath hanging from ceiling

Make a giant wreath and hang it from the ceiling. Using the same technique, but on a larger scale, this wreath is a metre across and dangles from above.

If you don’t have the time or the greenery, buy a plain fir wreath and personalise it with your own decorations.

Whichever you choose, have fun.

Advent Calendars

Do you hang up an Advent calendar at the beginning of December? Perhaps you make your own and lovingly fill it with tiny gifts or burn an Advent candle. Maybe you prefer to take part in the #FoodBankAdvent reverse advent calendar.

Advent calendars used to be so simple when they were just a bit of cardboard printed with a snowy scene dotted with tiny doors that were opened every day to reveal a picture. I can still remember the anticipation of opening the door each day and being unable to resist sneaking a peak, ahead of time, at the nativity scene behind the double doors of the twenty fourth. It was easy to open the doors without anyone noticing as we were only allowed to fold, not tear, the doors so that after Christmas the calendar could be put away and brought out the following December. Because that’s what you did in the days before our present throwaway society.

 

These days, Advent calendars seem to be less about marking the days until Christmas and more about conspicuous consumption. Toys, sweets and jewellery fill children’s Advent calendars while some adults need a luxury treat every day of December with Advent calendars containing gin, perfume, make-up and probably anything you can think of. One year, we tried a Drink Advent, the idea being to have a different drink each evening. Not all alcoholic, I hasten to add. It all started so well with hot chocolate, gin cocktails, lemonade and mulled wine. By the tenth, we were flagging and in the middle of December gave the whole thing up. If only I’d had the forethought to plan ahead and written a list.

Reverse Advent Calendar

Reverse Advent Calendar fpr #FoodBankAdvent

Last year, Ruth set up a Foodbank donation point in the Christmas shop and I was intrigued by a little boy and his mother who brought in two bulging carrier bags filled with food. They explained that they’d done a Reverse Advent Calendar, putting something into a bag for the Foodbank for each day.

I’d always been a bit sceptical about the food donations as it seems an inefficient way to collect, with all the running around to donation points and sorting out food, some of which may be inappropriate or unsafe (such as cans of soup that are nearly fifty years old); giving money seemed more useful as it could be used to buy the right things, in bulk. But having spoken to that little boy, I realised how inclusive it is to donate food. He’d helped choose what to donate and had obviously discussed with his mother why they were doing it. Talking with others who came in to donate, we agreed that picking out food (and other basic essentials), particularly when we’re doing our own Christmas food shopping, makes us think about other people’s situations in a way that dropping a few coins into a collection tin could never do.

Our local Foodbank is one of over 400 foodbanks giving emergency food and support to people in crisis across the UK in the network run by The Trussell Trust and we have a donation point in the Christmas Shop. If you want to make a donation to your local foodbank, they probably have a list of things that they need each month and a special Christmas list. The Braintree area Foodbank’s  Christmas list includes tins of meat, Christmas cakes, biscuit selections, tubs of sweets, mince pies and bottles of squash as well as toiletries such as toilet rolls, shampoo, shower gel, wet wipes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, which should be donated by the beginning of December.

How many days until Christmas festive dog

We’ll each add our twenty-four things to the big collection box by the end of this week and then, because we need a little excitement in our lives, we’ll count down to Christmas using this little fellow. And possibly hang up an Advent calendar too.

 

When should you buy a Christmas tree?

When should you buy a Christmas tree?

When should you buy your fresh Christmas tree? That rather depends where you’re buying it.

Is November too early to buy a Christmas tree?

Some garden centres are urging you to rush out this weekend (25th November) to buy your tree from them; their trees are already in store and they argue that it’s better to buy one this weekend and keep it at home rather than buy one in December that’s been drying out in the garden centre for weeks. If you follow their advice, make sure you have somewhere cool and safe to store your tree.

Wait until December to buy your Christmas tree

We back the British Christmas Tree Growers Association whose advice is to wait until  December to get a fresher tree. Many large-scale growers cut and despatch the trees for their biggest wholesale customers first and then cut for smaller wholesale orders and their own shops. Small scale growers, like us, continue to cut throughout December and at some Christmas tree farms you can even go into the field and select a tree that will be cut down while you wait.

Buying a Christmas tree from your local Christmas tree farm
Knowledgeable staff at Slamseys will help you find the best tree for your home.

If you want a standard five to six feet high tree, hang on until 9th or 10th December, particularly if you plan to take it inside straight away. If you’re buying from a Christmas tree farm, you may be able to get a fresher tree by leaving it even later. We cut trees to replenish our stock throughout December, so you might get a very fresh tree if you turn up the Saturday before Christmas.

Read our Six Tips for Choosing a Wonderful Christmas Tree

How to look after your Christmas Tree

No matter when or where you buy your Christmas tree, you should cut a slice from the bottom of the tree (so it can take up water), remove the netting and stand the tree outside in a bucket of water overnight before you take it inside. Once inside, the tree should be put into a stand that holds water and kept regularly watered to stop it drying out.

how to keep your Christmas tree looking wonderful

However, not everybody has a saw or a safe place to stand a Christmas tree outside and our customers regularly tell us that when they get the tree home, everyone is so excited that they take it inside straight away, don’t take off the bottom of the trunk and quite often forget to water it. You’re pushing your luck to do that with a tree bought in November if you’re expecting it to look good on Christmas Day but you’ll get away with it if you buy your tree in mid-December.

When is the best time to take the Christmas tree inside?

The longer you can leave your Christmas tree outside in the cold, standing in a bucket of water, the better it will look on Christmas Day. A Christmas tree that has been kept in a hot room since the end of November will look tired and jaded on Christmas Day, whereas one that is taken in on Christmas Eve will look fresh and glossy. Most people settle for a compromise and take their tree inside in the middle of December.

And then the fun of decorating begins …

Christmas decorations trend 2017  The best day to buy your Christmas Tree | Advice from a Christmas Tree grower

Christmas Decorating Trends 2017

How to Decorate your Christmas Tree

Is it too early to mention Christmas?

Is it too early to mention Christmas?

It does seem premature to mention Christmas at the beginning of November but Christmas celebrations seem to get earlier every year. Fifteen years ago, our best-selling day for Christmas trees was a mid-December Saturday but that’s moved forward to the first weekend of December. Similarly, our commercial customers now want their trees delivered in the third week of November, which seems incredibly early. The world of Christmas decorations is even worse. This morning, an invitation popped through the door to visit the showrooms of one of our suppliers at the beginning of December. To view the Christmas 2018 range of decorations. Yes, 2018. Before we’ve even had Christmas 2017.

Father Christmas and caravan decoration

Our Christmas decorations shop opens on Friday, so over the past couple of weeks, The Barley Barn has been transformed from spartan printmaking classroom to a sparkling Christmassy barn. Consequently, I’m quite glittered out. We ordered our stock back in January, so as we’ve worked our way through the pallet loads of cardboard boxes, we’ve sometimes been surprised by the contents. Usually, it’s a good surprise, though occasionally we wonder what possessed us to order such vast quantities of a product. Mainly we wonder why we’re so attracted to snow globes.

engraved metal Christmas baubles
My favourite Christmas 2017 decorating trend is the modern take on metallic. The popularity of the traditional Christmas mix of red, green and yellow gold has declined over the years, overtaken by cool whites and bright silvers with a splash of red, perhaps influenced by hygge and Scandi style interiors. But this year, metallic colours are back with a vengeance.

copper Christmas baubles with dark blue baubles

Rose gold, copper, pewter and bronze are bigger than ever this year, perhaps fuelled by the fact they’re popping up in interiors everywhere. Did you see Nigella’s copper coloured mixer on her latest TV show? Apparently, John Lewis sold out of copper Kitchen Aid mixers online within ten minutes of the show finishing.

Christmas 2017 metallic decorations are textured and glittery, ranging from dull to super shiny. I love them mixed with deep blues and greys. This may be because we’ve been picking sloes to make sloe gin and the dusky blue of the sloes have been imprinted on my mind. It’s certainly a welcome relief from the minimalistic white of past trends.

Hand-picked sloes for Slamseys Sloe Gin

Have you even started to think about your Christmas decorations? What influences your colour scheme?

These Autumn Days

These Autumn Days

winter wheat crop emerging in field Essex UK

The brown fields of early October are slowly changing colour. Walk the fields with a farmer and you’ll watch them search the field for the first signs of germination, scrabbling around with their hands to see if there’s still a seed there and if it’s starting to shoot.  Soon there’s a slight green tinge to the field as the first green shoots appear and then the rows of tiny wheat plants become clear as you look across the field. This is next year’s harvest.

sloes growing on blackthorn bush
We’re sloe picking. It’s been a fantastic year for plums of every description and the sloes, forerunners of our modern plums, are no exception. The sloes are picked from the blackthorn hedges on the farm and used for making sloe gin, which seems appropriate as the first record of our farm appears in the Domesday Book, where it’s listed as Slamondesheia, which is thought to originate from the Old English meaning enclosure of the sloe tree hill. We still have plenty of sloe bearing blackthorn on the farm and every new hedge that’s planted here includes a good proportion of blackthorn to keep Slamseys Gin well supplied.

sloes on blackthorn hedge showing sharp thorns
Look at the thorns that we reach across to pick the sloes. They’re vicious and always seem to be right in front of the juiciest looking sloes. Sometimes we prune the blackthorn and pick the sloes from the cuttings. It’s certainly easier for Beth to take a pile of blackthorn branches back to the garden and pick off the sloes while one of her boys sleeps in the pram beside her and the other plays in the sandpit. The two year old is adept at raspberry picking but I think it will be a few years before he can pick sloes.

Rustic measuring stick leaning on Christmas tree

A high tech measuring stick in the Christmas trees. Orders for large trees are coming in from local churches, businesses and parish councils so the trees are chosen, measured and marked ready for cutting down next month. We sold our first Christmas tree of the year in the middle of September and will cut down several this month; all for photo shoots rather than super-excited house decorating. Well, that’s what they told us.

Notley Yoga at Slamseys
The sign outside the Yoga Studio in the yard. In the build up to December, it might be an idea if we all took heed of the advice and stepped inside the door. Instead, we hurry past averting our eyes from the bodies within.

circle using sloes, hips, haws, ivy flowers and leaves
There’s also been a little faffing around with berries and leaves. A calming and meditative pastime. Or a useless waste of time. Depending on your point of view.

 

 

Collect, Inspire, Create

Collect, Inspire, Create

Collect, inspire and create in October or should I change the title?

Autumn arrangement of squashes, apples, quince in The Barley Barn at Slamseys

 

We’ve been collecting autumnal things to decorate The Barley Barn and Ruth has been running autumn themed printmaking workshops for which her students bring in things that remind them of autumn to inspire their printmaking. One person got out her great granny’s cookery notes and made some autumnal gingerbread while others have brought in collections of fruits and vegetables, fabrics, ornaments, colour swatches and wonderful sketches. All of these different collections have been used as inspiration for some interesting printmaking and perfectly fulfil the criteria: collect, inspire, create. Continue reading “Collect, Inspire, Create”

Hip, Hip, Hoorah

Hip, Hip, Hoorah

The rosehips in the hedgerows and garden are ready to pick.

autumn rosehips on Generous Gardener rose

There are deep red round rosehips on the Rosa Rugosa and large round, orange rosehips on The Generous Gardener bush in the garden.

rosehips growing in farm hedgerow

Brightly coloured oval rosehips grow in various hedges around the farm.

It seems a shame not to use them somehow. Here’s a few ideas to use these pretty autumnal fruits.

AUTUMNAL DECORATIONS

string of rosehips hanging from door handle

Thread a needle with cotton and push it through each rosehip. Use a tiny piece of twig at the bottom to stop the hips falling off and use it as a hanging decoration or make a mini garland to string across a small window.

 

AUTUMN WREATH

autumn wreath with rosehips and crab apples

Twist a few branches of willow into a circle and add rosehips, crab apples and acorns to make an autumn wreath. Use a ready made wreath if you don’t have any suitable whippy branches.

AUTUMN PUDDING of ROSEHIP FOOL

If you look up recipes for using rosehips, they mostly instruct you to boil them up and strain them through a jelly bag to extract their juice to make syrups, jellies and soups (being acidic, you can use them instead of tomatoes). Alternatively, you can slit open every rosehip, extract the seeds and hairs and use the flesh for making teas, jams or tarts.

However, the easiest way to use rosehips is to make rosehip puree. Give the freshly picked rosehips a good wash and then simmer them in an equal quantity of water for an hour until they’re soft and squidgy. Allow them to cool a little and then put them through a food mill to puree the flesh and sieve out the seeds in one go. Pushing the puree through a fine sieve afterwards makes sure that all the seeds and hairs are removed. If you don’t have a food mill, just sieve them. You can use the rosehip puree to make soup or use them as you would any other fruit puree. I find that 500g of rosehips simmered with 500g of water gives me about 400g of puree.

The best pairing for the rosehip puree is a little sugar and cream so the ideal simple and delicious thing to make is an autumnal Rosehip Fool. Vary the quantities according to numbers; the recipe below will make six generous helpings.

Rosehip Fool

glasses of rosehip fool surrounded by autumnal acorns and berries

240g rosehip puree (see the method above)
3 tablespoons caster sugar
300ml double cream

Whip the cream until it’s soft and floppy. Add the sugar and puree and briefly whip to ensure it’s evenly incorporated. Spoon into six serving dishes.

You can eat this straight away or leave it to settle for a couple of hours in the fridge.

 

autumn wreath of willow with crab apples and rosehips Autumn dessert Rosehip Fool recipe
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