Celebrate nature’s evergreen life-force at Christmas
Is there a holly wreath on your door? Or, maybe you’ve got a sprig of mistletoe at the ready to hang up on Christmas Eve? If so, you’re tuning in to a folk memory that goes back to prehistory.
One of the big days of the year for ancient Brits was the Winter Solstice (on December 22 this year) and we’re still celebrating in midwinter too. Lots of Christmas traditions have survived down the centuries and the greenery we use to decorate our houses harks back to pre-Roman Britain.
Most trees and plants die back or lose their leaves in the depths of winter, so for our pagan forebears evergreens seemed magical, especially holly with its shiny leaves, often lit
The story behind festive wreaths is that the combination of entwined holly and ivy would guard against bad luck. It also symbolised fertility, with holly seen as male, and ivy female.
So if you’re hanging a wreath, I hope yours wards off ill-fortune and makes you lucky in love – you never know!
up by a crop of glossy berries. Added to that, holly boughs could be cut down to feed hungry livestock. After it’s wilted for a day or so, holly is edible and nutritious. That was a godsend to anyone trying to keep a horse alive after the last hay had been eaten. So, at the time of the winter solstice, evergreens were brought into the house to ward off evil spirits and to celebrate their life-force’. And we’re still at it.
It pays to grow your own Christmas greenery, not only for raiding at this time of year, but also because both holly and ivy are excellent wildlife garden plants. They offer shelter for birds and animals, provide nectar when in flower, and berries in winter, too.
Ivy plants can be bought for around £1 and are ideal for clothing a drab wall or fence, while holly can be propagated from berries or cuttings and makes the perfect hedging plant.
Mistletoe’s harder to grow, but not impossible. After Christmas, leave the berries in a shed to mature until February. Then squeeze out the sticky pulp (with seeds inside) from the berry and smear it onto a tree branch. Birds move seeds around when they clear the goo off their beaks by rubbing them against bark. It may take some months for the seeds to germinate
– if your holly wreath’s done its job and sent ill-fortune packing!
An abundant array of evergreens and structural foliage ensure the garden isn’tbareinwinter
at its best
This hard-working cottage garden in Suffolk combines beautiful design with artistic skill
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