How does a gardener make her home festive at Christmas? We asked cut-flower queen, teacher, broadcaster, author and podcaster Sarah Raven.

Images: © Jonathan Buckley

Ever since the publication of Sarah Raven’s first book, The Cutting Garden, she has trailblazed a new kind of productive gardening. That was two decades ago, and the roots of her dedication to creating beauty combined with simplicity of achievement have only deepened in that time – all the while, placing an onus on providing environmentally friendly gardens for birds, bees and all pollinators.

As such, she knows better than most how to create festive beauty using natural materials. Sarah believes that every room needs a focal point at Christmas. We can adorn our homes with a festive glow through a mix of colours, flowers, plants, and ornaments. From chandeliers and centrepieces, candles, lights, and vases to real flowers and stylish plant pots and bowls, Sarah has endless tips for creating a truly atmospheric Christmas.

There is no better place to start than with a festive staple: the Christmas wreath. For a cost-effective, sustainable option this year, Sarah recommends looking at what you can forage from the garden.

‘Start with bracken for the base. This common fern is beautiful in a wreath; grab it before it gets too sopping wet, and it’ll give that lovely burnished, honey-blonde colour. Silver birch is wonderful too, and ideal for bending and shaping. Eucalyptus brings a stylish, silver colour to your wreath, while rosemary, as an evergreen, adds brilliant green and a divine festive scent too.’

‘For a bit more oomph, add berries of ivy. Give those leaves a long, cold bath to help preserve freshness right up until Christmas Day. Top your nest-like wreath off with red or amber hydrangeas but add these in late into the season to prevent the colour from draining with the cold weather. Finally, if your creation needs some extra Christmas pizazz, fairy lights will really brighten it.’

Stepping inside, one of Sarah’s favourite Christmas traditions is to create a relaxed and natural-looking tablescape. Most of us decorate the main dining table, but Sarah recommends considering other tables around the house, especially those near the front door, to give your guests a warm, festive welcome.

‘Christmas is a time to be extravagant and embrace the season’s boldness. I really love taking an apple corer, hollowing out a pomegranate, and using the fruit as a candle holder. The weight of it, with its fresh seeds, holds the candlestick nicely, and it’ll last five to six days. This looks great paired with red, singular anemone coronaria or dark, rich crimson amaryllis. For your candles, opt for mossy green tones and Venetian reds.

A Christmas tree doesn’t just have to be a traditional spruce. You can use houseplants or branches to create your own look. Similarly, you don’t have to stick to one standard colour scheme or theme. Sarah recommends taking an innovative approach to your tree this year.

‘My favourite ever tree was decorated with just alliums. I had managed to collect loads and loads through the previous summer, including some whoppers that were about 25cm across or more, as well as a few smaller ones. The different size flowers, dipped into silver paint and dried, made a really striking statement. Aside from the alliums, the only other thing on the tree were the lights. Together, this created a really amazing three-dimensional look. That is the direction I am heading in this year, although I am also going for a gardening, fruit and veg theme with lots of orange slices and even a mini greenhouse bauble.

‘I also love decorating branches of silver birch or twisted willow. These look really lovely as an alternative and space-efficient tree. You can go wild with all sorts of weird and wonderful curiosities to create a treasure trove of a Christmas tree. It really embodies the wonderfulness of the festive season.’

New for this year, Sarah Raven has released four new bonus episodes of her chart-topping gardening podcast Grow, Cook, Eat, Arrange ahead of the Christmas season. The mini-series covers a mix of party-time subjects, from decorations to their favourite festive food.

All four episodes of the ‘grow, cook, eat, arrange’ Christmas mini-series are available now all major podcast platforms. For more top tips, listen to Sarah and Arthur Parkinson’s podcast, Grow, Cook, Eat, Arrange. You can also get Christmas inspiration and shop Sarah’s festive collection – including all images shown here – on her website.

Follow Sarah Raven on @sarahravensgarden and @sarahravenperchhill.

December 2022