I once had to sit in a yew tree with a smoke machine and press a button at the required moment so that a great bellow of smoke would appear. It was a pretty awful job, as more smoke seemed to come out of the back of the machine than the front. I came out thoroughly preserved by the end of the take.
This was the same year that as researchers for the Christmas special, Clare and I spent a good month or so, after work, sitting on the office floor creating Christmas decorations from the garden. Clare even perfected frost-tipped seed heads (sugar water and into the freezer).
People would mutter darkly that we weren’t Blue Peter as they had to skirt around our ever increasing pile of poppy heads shimmering in gold dust, teasels that sparkled with glitter, pine cones dusted in snow and huge piles of fairy lights.
We tied and sprayed, glued and glittered all manner of garden debris into really quite charming decorations. Both our mother’s still have some of these decoration. And I can say, hand on heart that I was truly proud of the end credit that had a tree covered in our decorations.
The opening shot was of Monty striding across a lawn frosted in the Gardeners’ World logo. We laid down the plastic template and prayed it would get cold enough. On the actually night, it froze perfectly and the next morning I tiptoed across the lawn to remove the template.
To say we went over the top, is to miss the point, television is a funny game, but the one thing that is for sure is after a year of working with the same crew, the same bad jokes and endless cups of tea, it does begin to feel like family. And although it might have been misguided, we took our task to make the garden look like Christmas seriously because it was, if a little make believe, just like the real thing.
Every year I still make those same decorations though I have forgone the glue gun and glitter for more natural materials that will break down.
Instead of ribbons and fishing line (invisible if you’re going for the ‘it’s magic’ look) I use phormium leaves to tie hanging tree ornamentals. New Zealand flax as the name suggests is a wonderful material that can be prized into the finest strands. You take a leaf and pull gently from the edges and you will see that with a little effort you can pull string-like strands apart and tie up poppy or teasel seed heads. It’s incredibly strong stuff. These are perfect for naturalistic decorations, the colours compliment the blondes and browns of dried seed heads and will eventually biodegrade back to where it came from, so to speak.
“For a little red I collect some tiny red crab apples from the park.”
For a little red I collect some tiny red crab apples from the park that persist on the branches right into January and hanging these as baubles, they have incredible strong stalks that you can tie off and they take a while before they rot. I like to use dried chillies and holly berries as well to make it a little more festive.
I have never bought a tree and don’t intend to start. Last year I used a hazel branch stuck in a pot of sand. I admit that is a slightly eccentric take on a Christmas tree, but it worked well enough and when I was bored of it went straight onto the compost to feed next year’s Christmas dinner.
Alys Fowler is a writer and broadcaster. Read more of Alys’s Gardening blog posts.