Burning yule logs is probably a Nordic custom
This was probably originally a Nordic custom and may have been part of the pagan festival celebrating the Winter Solstice, which this year falls on December 22.
Originally, a whole tree would be carried into the house and the base of its trunk lit. Gradually, over the next few days the log would be fed further and further into the fire.
Eventually the whole tree would be burned. Anything left would be kept for a year to light next year’s solstice log. Yule is the name of this celebration and of the whole season. Burning the yule log is a tradition throughout Northern Europe.
In Devon and Somerset, people burned a huge bunch of ash twigs instead. The story goes that shepherds brought twigs and wood to burn to keep Mary, Joseph and Jesus warm.
Over the past few weeks, as we’ve been clearing beds and paths on the shady side of the garden, I’ve collected twigs that have fallen – thanks to high winds there have been plenty of them. Most are from our ash trees and they burn the best.
One of my mum’s favourite Christmas decorations was a log with candles set in, to which she would add sprigs of holly and ivy and a few of her Christmas roses.
So many pagan rituals and customs have been taken over and adapted to form part of our festivities.
Announcing the week, Christmas box, Sarcococca hookeriana humilis, pumps out scent whatever the temperature. You’re sometimes aware of its delicious perfume before you even see it. Flowersare tiny andhidden among the bright green, shiny foliage. An accommodating plant, it’s happy in almost any soil-acid or alkaline, ligh tor heavy -andsunor partial shade, but needs reasonable drainage.
2 This year, the Winter Sotsticefattson December 22 -an old pagan festival celebrating the point at which daytightstarted to get Longer. Evergreens wereimportantin the festivities. They were sy nbols of Life persisting, and hoLLy was the most important. There are hundreds of hoLLies from which to choose and my favourite is a big, old Ilex aquifolium I walk past with my dogs each day.
3 You can’t have holly without ivy to accompany it. There are so many myths about the dangers of planting ivy, but if masonry is sound, ivy actually protects walls from extremes of hot and cold. It’s only when it’s ripped off that problems occur. Meanwhile, it provides shelter for birds and insects, and birds such as wrens and blackbirds build their nests in it. The most useful ivies are forms of Hedera helix, our own indigenous plant, and there are hundreds of varieties.
I used our species plant to decorate our wreath.
4Our Picea abies (Norway spruce) has Lo be Lhe mosL popuLar Lree right now. I hope many of us are trying to keep our Christmas trees going from year to year. Buying a tree with roots is more expensive than a felled tree, but if you keep your tree indoors only until Twelfth Night, water it well and spray it (making sure lights are turned off first!), it should survive. You could sink the whole pot in the ground with its rim below the surface of the soil.
5Helleborus niger, or the Christmas rose, isn’t a rose at all, but is always called one whether it’s depicted on the frontofour Christmas cards or used as decorations on top of our Christmas cake. Mine are growing in the garden. They were given to me by my mum, split from a plant my grandad gave her a long time ago. It’s not as easy to grow as it looks on the front of all those cards, but it’s well worth a try.
6 Boxing Day is a great day for a walk, and at the top of the steps leading down to our Little stream, Lhere’s a big Mahonia japonicashrub. The delicious tity-of-the-vattey scent from the pateyettow flowers frequency persuades you that this is the best direction to go. We brought in as much greenery from the garden as we coutd forChristmas, and mahonia is one of our favourites. Cutting branches for decoration helps with pruning too.
Loppers come in handy for the thick, tough stems.
7 I t’s good to get outside and offset the effects of too many mince pies by some serious planting! It should be something joyful that will get better year-on-year. My last plant of the year (or first of the new year!) is an apple tree, one of several we’re going to plant in our new field. Eventually we intend it to become a little orchard and hope it will also be the site of a few bee-hives. We’re very lucky to have the space. For all of us, planting something is an investment in the future.
7 In 1995, a gardener in Norway was the first man to be convicted of being drunk in charge of a lawnmower as he drove one between two gardens.
8 Wellington boots with individual toes were first modelled by the Japanese garden designer Koji Ninomiya at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1995.
9 Horror film star Boris Karloff loved cricket and gardening and had a pet pig called Violet.
During World War II, to ensure everyone could afford to eat forced rhubarb, the 6
government fixed the price at one old shilling (5p) per pound.
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