I love how the festive season gives us license to let loose and be creative in all sorts of areas. Some people bejewel their homes with fairy lights; most tackle the interior in some way to evoke Christmas for family and guests. We are also lucky to have the option to embrace traditional colours and themes, or be inspired by our Pacific home. Our native red and green Christmas tree, the pohutukawa, blooms thoughtfully at just the right time of year, a perfect replacement for English holly with its red berries.
Our family visited the UK many years ago. An enduring, magical memory was seeing a woman from a rural Welsh estate with a basket on the back of her bike filled with fresh branches of holly to decorate the house. Last year, I did the Aotearoa version, plucking sprigs of pohutukawa from my parent's harbourside garden, to be used as soft arrangements au naturel beside low candles on the table.
Aromatherapy For me, the scent of pine is a must at Christmas. Without it I don't get that little buzz of childlike excitement come December. Intriguingly, the properties of pine essential oil include helping to energise, relieve mental stress and elevate mood. Sounds like something we all need at this time of year.
I've been eyeing a wilding pine that sprouted from fresh mulch several years ago in the garden at work. While the tree was smaller, we could throw tinsel at it as an honorary Christmas tree.
This year, I got a little nervous as it was getting up there, at 4m high, and decided it had to go, despite a certain fondness and respect for its efforts. I kept the apex which looks like a triffid in our house as it touches the ceiling.
I brought small pine branches home for my neighbour, knowing she has a large artificial tree. A former florist, she combined the scented foliage with white Christmas lilies and red poinsettia. This will add a natural pine scent to her house. Another tip she suggested is to add a few drops of cinnamon essential oil to wooden ornaments on the tree for extra Christmassy scent.
Flowers in season There are plenty of other options blooming in our early summer gardens with which to make fresh, inexpensive floral statements around the house. Christmas lilies are blooming now, or you can buy stems to complement home-grown flowers and foliage. Tall, strongly-scented lilies suit being on hall tables or on the lounge mantelpiece, where their perfume will inhabit the space nicely.
For the dining table, it generally works best if the vases and stems are shorter to ensure your guests can chat to each other across the table. This also reduces the likelihood of knocking anything over while passing food platters around. Strong floral scents are best kept further away, too.
For simple elegance, a dining table might feature mildly-scented hydrangeas cut as low "snowballs', combined with white or cream roses and green foliage on a unifying table runner. Pohutukawa flowers are perfect on the table with their short stems, and the fragrance is subtle. For a Pacific theme add simple smooth stones or paua shells. Flax flowers are blooming now, and they can be used for dramatic height in a corner or hall.
White Phaleonopsis (moth orchid) are flowering now, as are begonias with their rich reds. Consider buying a potted flowering plant and disguise the plastic base by winding flax leaves or fabric around it, or use a glazed pot. Create an island cluster around your plant on a large coffee table with a few pine cones, a candle on a saucer or tile, stems of foliage and an assortment of Christmas treats.
Decorative ediblesEdibles can be used for cornucopian effect by grouping red and purple fruit together as a feast for the eyes. Cherries, grapes, plums and strawberries will look a treat on a platter with red candles and nuts in their shells. Decorative items such as artichoke buds and red chillies add a point of interest, as do contrasting coloured fruit such as limes. Stems of green herbs such as rosemary, sage and bay are fairly resistant to wilting and serve as a scented foliage addition in a flower arrangement. They would also be suitable for use in a display on the main dinner table.
Garden craft A useful plant in the garden at Christmas time is wisteria. This climbing vigorous plant requires regularly cutting back to ensure the long shoots don't cause trouble. Use these flexible shoots to create a wreath by winding them around in a circle and adding strands by weaving in and out until it bulks up. Use this woven piece as a base to insert hardy foliage such as shoots of pine or sprigs of pohutukawa. Tie a broad red ribbon to the top.
The wreath can be hung on the front door, or used as a central island in your table, with candles, flowers or fruit.