Making a beautiful christmas wreath

Things you will need:
  • A wreath base - pre-padded is easiest and best, I find it is easiest if you work with it dry and soak it if you want to once you are finished. I use 12" diameter.
  • Florist wire - thin enough to twist easily. I cut mine into easy to use pieces about 30cm long. Also some thicker wire for hanging and adding accessories.

  • Foliage (Pine, Spruce, Cedar, Fir, Holly, (plain and variegated) Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Bay, Lavender, Tree Heather are all great, but just work with what you have around) think about your colour scheme before you start, silvers, golds, greens, try to stick to it as you go and the finished result is so much nicer
  • Ribbon, berries, pine cones ( sprayed gold or silver if you fancy it), cinnamon sticks, dried orange slices, flowers etc..

  • Secateurs

  • Gloves to protect your fingers - thin enough to give you flexibility, but thick enough to stop the worst of the prickles, I use gloves that they use on the oil rigs and they are awesome.

  • A large cup of tea and a radio ( Although the tea will soon be full of pine needles)

Start by building up a small bunch of foliage in your hand, As you can see in the photos below, I lay down the pine or spruce first, this gives a lovely spray that will cover the base. On top lay down some holly, lining up the spine of the holly with the spine of the underlying spruce, then build up from there with more colour, texture and bulk until you are holding a lovely little bunch in your hand.

If you are adding berries, do so last as they will be hidden by leaves.

Hold off on adding cones or flowers or ribbon until the end.

Take your small bunch and lay it along the curve of the wreath, don't worry if the excess stems lay off one side, they are easily cut off once you have tied the bunch on, but what you don't want is too much of the foliage hanging over, try and keep the majority of the bunch along the line of the wreath base.

Take a piece of wire and lay it over a point where it will tightly hold all the stems together, bend it round both sides of the wreath, trying to tuck it behind leaves so it is as invisible as possible. Turn the wreath over and twist the wire tightly together on the back. Cut off the ends or just bend them in out off the way.

Trim off the excess stems and then start on your second bunch.
In this example, I have continued the same foliage all the way round, but sometimes I alternate what i put in the first and second bunches, IE : berries on one, juniper on the next, Or eucalyptus on one, pytsphorum on the next. Yet I suggest you keep your base and your holly selection similar all the way round for a nice overall effect. Once you have you second bunch ready, place it carefully down so it covers the stems and the wire of the first bunch and continues round the curve of the wreath.
Continue the same process all the way round the wreath, it takes me 8-10 little bunch to cover the whole circle. You can do it in less if you are going for a more loose and sprayed out wreath, but i like mine tight and neat.
When you are adding the final bunch, trim the ends before you slot it in, then lift up the flap of foliage from the first bunch you laid down and carefully slide in the last bunch so the whole wreath is complete and there is no distinguishable gaps, stems or wire.

Observe your wreath from a critical arms length, trim any little bits that need tidied, then decide if you want to add more accessories.
To add pine cones, I use a thicker piece of wire, wind it around under the spines of the cone and then spike the remaining wire through the base to pull the cone tight into the spot you have chosen.

Remember that any extras you add will look more pleasing to the eye in 3's or 5's.

If you have plastic berries that you want to add, it is simple to make a 'pick' - lay a few berries out on their wires, twist the wires together and then attach the whole with a piece of thicker wire and spike it through the base. Plastic flowers and ribbons are simple to add in the same manner.

Be inventive, use tiny Xmas decorations, wrap thin ribbon all the way around the wreath, hang a star in the centre, spray the whole thing with sparkles ..........

To make a simple hook to hang your wreath up, choose where you want the top to be, and at this point on the back, thread a piece of the thicker wire through the wreath to make a loop, twist the ends tightly and it should be ready for you to show off and hang on your door.

You could try a few other shapes made with chicken wire filled with moss, such as the hearts above and the crescent bough below, made on the frame of a coathanger which makes a great alternative decoration for your door over christmas.

Good Luck - Merry Christmas :o)

Making an easy wreath bow

For years and years I have been shredding my fingers on holly and making wreaths for the Christmas farmers' markets. During this time I have picked up a bunch of knowledge on what foliage works best and lasts longest, which colours look great together and how not to get wire under your fingernails.

So now that my speed and technique have improved, I thought I would pass on a wee bit of experience to anyone else venturing into the spiky but rewarding world of making your own wreaths. It is especially nice when you use all the greenery from your own garden.
I am running a workshop at the Nursery on Sunday, so I will post up the final 'How to..' when I take some photos that night, but till then I though I would put down a few tips on making the accessories, firstly the bows.
Now there are people out there, who can do a wee bit of dexterous origami with a piece of ribbon and wham bam hey presto, they have a tight neat bow, but i am not one of them, and find my attempts come out rather lopsided and loose. Therefore I have made my own method which is quick and neat and holds up to the tough Scottish weather.

So here we go - step by step, with three different colours so you can easily see what's what, though of course you use whatever you like. My ribbon is not cloth, but some florist plasticy style malarky that is very easy to tear to size length ways.
The longest piece(Red) is twice as long as you want your finished bow to be, ie: cut a big long piece for a big bow, or a wee piece for a wee bow, though there is a limit to how small you can get without it becoming ridiculously fiddly.
The second longest (Green) is going to be the tails of the bow, so again judge accordingly, but i find about 2/3 the size of the main piece is about right.
The wee piece (Gold) is to cover over the centre of the bow at the end, so as long as there is sufficient to tie, it doesn't need to be much.
And a wee piece of wire, thin and pliable is best, again I have some florist stuff, but e-bay is a great resource for cheap crafty stuff.
Fold the longest piece in half so the ends over lap and the holding the overlap in the centre of the bow, concertina the ribbon together till it is gathered tightly in the centre, but flaring out at the ends, it may take a wee bit of practise to get it the way you want, but i find the more folds the better for the end result.
(note my dirty gardeners fingernails - very attractive)
When you have it folded tight, use the piece of wire to wrap around the central point to bind it together, leave a tail of a few cm of wire sticking out the bottom.

Take your medium sized piece of ribbon and cut out a triangle off each end to make the points on the end of the tails, then pinch the ribbon together at the half way point and tie it in with piece of wire so it fits nicely under the bow, again jiggle it about until it lies the way you want and the wire is all wrapped round making the whole thing secure. You could stop at this stage and have a nice wee bow to use for decoration, wreaths etc, but to cover the wire and make the whole think even nicer, i use the smallest piece to cover over the join, tying it round the back and snipping off the ends. And you are done - Tah Dahhh!!!

Another wee piece of wire on the back to attach it to whatever you like, or string to hang it, or glue to stick it - go crazy!

Love your Leaves

With the deluge of rain and the hurricane like winds that Scotland has been bestowed this weekend, the leaves are all well and truely down.

For some with small gardens or few trees, leaves are no issue and they are free to enjoy the beautiful colours and fantabulous crunching sounds, but for us and for many others, picking up the leaves is a necessary and slightly tedious autumn task.

For ourselves this is not garden vanity, on the many woodland paths that we have, the layer of wet leaves can get rather slushy, slippery and dangerous for our customers, and on the borders they can form such a dense layer that it can hinder growth of plants. A further side benefit of clearing up your leaves; other than the excellent leaf-mold it creates; is the removal of a means of possible transfer of disease.
- Remember that compost from leaves can be very weed free, but you can sometimes get birch, ash or elder seedlings coming up.

Here are a few guidelines that may help you in your own garden gathering.

* In a small garden, add leaves in layers to your compost heap, with your other autumn gatherings, big clumps will not break down well.

* In a big garden, gather your soft leaves (Elder, Birch, Hazel, Ash..) in their own bin for 12 months, then use as a soil improver or in your own compost mixes. Harder leaves (Oak, Beech, Alder, Holly)will take two years to break down sufficiantly.

*Be careful when raking or hoeing in Autumn, as snowdrops and narcissus are just below the surface and can be damaged.

*Those who had a little autumn forethought can haul in the nets they spread earlier over ponds and add the contents to the compost heap, it is a good idea to re-net, as the wind blow can bring more leaves back in. The rest of us must either drain and clean the pond or get busy with the waders and the rake.
- And while we are on the subject of ponds, plants in established ponds can get lifted and divided, give away the excess, or pot some up and protect them from frost and they will go down a charm at the spring charity sales.

*While clearing up leaves it can be a good time to clean up dead stems, I tend to prefer to do this in late Feb, early March as it gives some winter protection if the weather is hard, but many people prefer now to get it over with.

* With only XX amount of days to Christmas, the fine holly berries may well be a temptation to birds before you are ready for them, so protect some bunches with fleece or net bags.

Scandinavian Invasion

Redwings, Blackbirds, Thrushes and Fieldfairs arrived from Scandinavia over night and we woke to a garden exploding with the movements of birds.

All our trees laden with glowing autumn berries were covered in hungry beaks and i wished i had the forethought to set up a camera to get a time delay sequence as the berries vanished at astonishing speed and branches which were so laden they had been boughed over almost touching the ground in the morning , were by the afternoon free of all their weight and bouncing up to the sky.

I watched the fluttering of wings and tails for hours, on this amazing sunny autumn day, fascinated as they swooped and dived, gorging themselves whilst all the time nervously watching there surroundings and vanishing like lightening whenever they sensed human movement. This made photographing them a wee bit tricky, so i had to take surreptitious blurry shots through the kitchen window.

Venturing outside, they vanished, hiding away in the foliage of the pines and bracken until I had gone by.

I used the scarce sunlight to go round the garden taking some photographs of the last vestiges of autumn colour and found the beautiful Red Admirals had also come back out from their temporary hibernation to bask on the ivy in the sun. If you look closely at the photo above you can see over 15 butterflies - just beautiful!

Farmers Markets - The Buildup To Christmas

Most Saturdays, Hamish loads up the Trailer with a luchous assortment of plants and drives to various farmers markets around the Highlands. There is one in Dingwall on the second Saturday of each month, one on the Inverness high street (7th Nov; 5th Dec; 19th December ) and Elgin on the third Saturday of each month.
The plants are seasonally selected, with a selection of the best the nursery has to offer on display, as well as some old favourites among the shrubs and perrenials and any wee gems that Hamish chooses to sneek in.

This last market, the showoffs were the stunning orange flowers of the crocosmias, the wonderful feathery white flowers of the Saxifrage fortunii and amazing Desfontania spinosa (Chilean Holly)

We also did well on our great value six packs of polyanthus and winter pansies.

Now that we are leading up to Christmas we put in some plants that make ideal gifts and if we are feeling particulary festive attach some big red bows.
Tomorrow we are at the Inverness farmers market - Here's hoping for a good day with no rain and sufficient warmth that i will still be able to feel my toes after 8 hours standing on cold concrete. Do I aim too high?

St Columba's Font Stone - An Abriachan Mystery

At Abriachan we have the wonderful and not very widely known St Columba’s Font Stone
Under the shady branches of the hazel trees, this mysterious hole sunk into granite schist, sits, surrounded in tales of religion and magic.
If you were to ask around and you’ll find no two people readily agree on the origins or intended use of this man-made hollow.
The most common tale attributes its beginnings to St. Columba, who passed our way in the 6th century.

Was it the base for a cross?
Was the water within used to anoint and purify?

Is there some darker and more pagan usage hidden in the mists of time?
Certainly, there is a belief that the water is of benefit to women in childbirth, and even until recent years, a few drops have been know to be added to baptismal bowls of infants!
There are also less romantic notions, that it is simply a foundation stone of a house, used to support the central wooden roof pole–or more functional still, a partially constructed millstone. You can see it is still attached to a much larger rock, maybe a work in progress

Decide for yourself! – For whilst its purpose may have faded into history, the stone still commands a mystical presence, adding to the wealth of folk-law and myth that penetrates Scotland.

A final thought – The hole, unattached to any underground spring, and sunk in the most impermeable of stone, has never been known to run dry! Even in the driest summers.

West can be frequently caught red handed slurping the water out of the stone - he just doesn't appreciate history.  However he is already several years over the average Vizla age, so maybe he's on to something.

Accidental Artichokes For Tea

We ate this years crop of Artichokes last night and mighty delicious they were too.

Dad had not intended to plant any of our own, put he threw the few remaining pots from the selling beds into the ground and ignored them from then on. The heads were large, the meat melting, the lemon and garlic butter a perfect accompaniment, I have urged him to plant a whole bed of them next year and perhaps with a little more love we may get an even larger, even more delicious crop.

However, Mum declared that she was not that impressed and that it seemed to her the perfect food if you were on a diet as it took, "so long to eat the darned thing"

The Polytunnel Saga

At around 11.30 on New Year's Eve over ten years ago, while I rugging up in preparation for going out first footing on the Abriachan hill, Dad was in the bottom polytunnel tucking in some of the more delicate plants with fleece.
There was a hell of a gale blowing and the wind was roaring down the Loch and through the trees, whipping up the snow and slamming into the house. We have several huge fir trees that grow tight together in the wee Kilianan graveyard that nestles at the bottom of our garden, and they were being whipped back and forth by huge gusts of chilling wind until one huge breath caught one of the firs of guard and snapped the huge trunk sending the whole top half of over 30ft crashing down right on top of the tunnel where Dad stood.
He avoided being squashed like a pancake by only a few feet, the branches tore through the plastic of the tunnel and crushed the metal struts all around him, leaving him unharmed but a little surprised in the remains.
Years on, and the tunnel had been well patched up and repaired, though it was never quite the same again. This year, the hard wearing plastic was once more full of holes, though this time from age and weather more than sudden storm damage. So instead of replacing the plastic once again, Dad has decided to relocate the tunnel up the hill to a fresh sunny spot where he will be able to fill it with plants that require a little more light and warmth.
The trees in the graveyard now have a gaping hole where the tree fell, though as you can see in the lovely photograph above, it still looks rather grand.
So, for the last week, my fabulous Australian boyfriend and Dad have been flattening out a fresh spot, digging the required trenches and then rejigging the whole shebang to fit into the new spot.

Taking it Sloe

Every year we try to find the time, we try to rustle up some sloe gin, and it is unbelievably delicious. It is wonderful how such a sour berry with little initial promise can flavour gin so perfectly, taking away the harsh alcoholic edge and making the most mellow fruity scrumptious warming winter drink I have ever come across.
This year the crop is outstanding, I have never seen such an enormous amount of sloe berries on the trees and it makes for relatively easy picking. The long spines that normally slow the whole process down are less of an issue when you can grab a whole handful of berries in one go and substantially decreases the picking to swearing ratio. One of our oldest birches was brought down by Hamish and his chainsaw this week, it had sadly given up the ghost in the summer and we thought it wise to bring her down before the winter winds did it for us and perhaps damaged the shed and anyone standing close by in the process. So now we have a gap in the garden and a big pile of birch wood for burning.
Whenever something dies in the garden it is a great opportunity to look at the space that it creates and think about new ideas, and maybe a makeover for the area around it.
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