Saturday, 10 December 2011

Holly...

As Christmas comes around again each year, so too does the urge to decorate our homes with seasonal greenery. Christmas trees of course bring the living wood inside, but there are older traditions relating to evergreens and their power in the depths of winter. The Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe and Yew are all reminders of a pagan, pre-christian connection to myth, legend and beliefs long forgotten. Alive still in the depths of the darkest, coldest months when all other plants are seemingly dead. They have long celebrated the renewal of life and turn of year at the winter solstice.


2011 has been a good berrying year here for holly, and according to folklore that in turn brings a hard winter. Perhaps it relates more to good weather at flowering time, but with snow and sub zero temperatures coming early to Lakeland the prediction certainly seems to have come true this time. At Levens Hall, we gather branches of this along with our other native evergreens to decorate in seasonal style...





Wreaths are a speciality, their large wire frames hidden by being built up slowly with layers of sphagnum moss tightly bound on by thin wire. This gives the framework onto which the other components are pinned with stubs of stiffer wire. A broad ruff of conifer foliage is first placed at the rear, then concentric rings of prickly plain green holly shoots followed by a smaller central whorl of darker, softer irish yew. They are finished with balancing tufts of golden variegated holly and extra clumps of berries. They are neither quick nor easy to make, but are a magnificent tribute to a traditional craft.

We also often create an imposing evergreen over-mantel above the main fireplace in the great hall. A long beam with a broad central boss and matching swags, entirely created from Holly. The finished article is a fine festive centerpiece with a grandeur and scale to match its imposing surroundings.

Fortunately for us, holly berries are not the tastiest fruits of the forest for our overwintering birds. Unless conditions are particularly grim, they may be left altogether and can sometimes be seen still in May as the following year’s small white flowers are produced. Trees can either be male or female and where we collect ours from the local estate woodlands there are plenty of both. But, if you are planting one in the garden make sure it is a female form if you plan to gather festive greenery with plenty of ripe red berries...


1 comment:

  1. The berries do look good this year. We're off to the nearby woods to gather some holly and ivy for the house.

    ReplyDelete

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