The Future of Plant Hunting?

Crug Farm exhibit - Chelsea 2014  All the plants were grown from seed collected by them in the wild

Crug Farm exhibit – Chelsea 2014
All the plants were grown from seed collected by them in the wild

I started to write this blog post by saying that politics and policy have little impact on my gardening world but as soon as I wrote those words I realised what a nonsense they are.  Of course politics and policy have an impact.  You only have to look at the rhetoric you encounter when you mention peat and using it in the garden to realise that even when we potter in our gardens we can’t escape Whitehall, the EU or campaign groups.

In fact horticulture seems to have featured a lot in the News recently with the controversial Garden Bridge in London and Boris Johnson’s controversial ping-pong approach to funding and the reduction of funding for Kew Gardens, one of the most revered botanical gardens in the world.  Last year there was concern about proposed EU legislation that had the potential to reduce the range of seed available to gardeners by insisting that any plant distributors wanted to sell seed  had to have the seed registered, at no small cost.  This would obviously significantly impact on the growing number of small seed distributors in this country and it seems that the vehemence of the UK and Dutch gardening world may be stopped or delayed this legislation coming into force.

 

This week I learnt about the The Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilisation (Nagoya Protocol).  At my local HPS meeting Bob Brown of Cotswold Garden Flowers was telling us about the protocol which has arisen out of the  UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) which all countries, except the US, have signed up to, ratified in the UK in 1994 (I’m not 100% sure if it is indeed all countries). The Convention was drawn up to protect biodiversity and to ensure sustainable use of genetic resources.  Under it the native plants (or animals, insects, etc – for the purposes of this post I will use the term plants) of a country are that country’s property, the country has sovereign rights, and this means that any commercial benefits deriving from them are the property of that country. You can see the logic behind this if you consider the possible financial gains from the production of a native plant should it be discovered to have some amazing medicinal use. The Convention has been hard to enforce and so the Protocol has been agreed with the legislation coming into force in the UK in October 2014.  Under the Protocol you need to have the country’s government’s permission to sell/benefit from the use of that country’s plants.
When you start to really think about this the ramifications have the potential to be hugely significant to a mere amateur gardener such as myself.  In recent years I have bought wild collected seeds from an Eastern European seed collector and I have bought plants from a number of nursery men/plant hunters which have presumably be grown from wild collected seed.  The UK’s floral diversity can be directly attributable to centuries of plant collectors exploring the world, our native flora has been diluted for so long it is hard to say what is actually a native UK plant.
Chatting on twitter with some plant hunters and a representative of Plant Heritage it seems that the consequences of the Protocol in the UK are not yet clear.  There are useful summaries on the RHS website and on the Plant Heritage blog.  Current expectation is that the enforcement of the protocol will be dealt with by the National Measurements Office (I didn’t know we had such a body) and it is expected that there will be a light touch.  However, it is possible that if you plan to sell non-native plants you will need to be able to show that they were available commercially prior to October 2014 and if not you will need to have, or be able to refer to, the documentation and records to show that the plant’s native government gave permission for the plant material to be collected.
For me this seems to herald a curtailing in the not too distant future of the tradition of plant hunting which some of us gardeners follow vicariously savouring the results with those special acquisitions. It also means that some overseas suppliers may have to curtail their export of native plant seed outside their country if they are relying on collecting it in the wild.  As to the impact on the various seed exchanges which include wild collected seed – well the jury is well and truly out on that one.
During my twitter conversation it was even muted that as the Protocol stipulates that you cannot share information about the native plants then this could be interpreted to mean that anyone delivering a talk on a plant hunting trip would be in breach of the protocol.  How on earth would anyone police such a rule, it seems completely unenforceable to me!?
It will be interesting to watch the horticultural world to see if there are indeed the repercussions that some are worried about. If there are then we may find that the diversity of plants we have access to stops – would this be such a bad thing, I really don’t know but it makes for an interesting conversation when you get some passionate plants people together.

The Impossibly Pretty Project

Stone House Cottage, Kidderminster

Stone House Cottage, Kidderminster

I find it impossible to achieve things unless I have a goal, deadline, incentive and I have got progressively worse over the years.  Over the last few years I have had some sort of yearly major project in the garden whether it was a new seating area, digging up the lawn, making space for the workshop – there has been something.  I have now run out of places to dig up and to be honest I am quite happy with the layout of the garden although the jury is still out on whether the grass path will stay grass or not (the cat would prefer grass) and at the end of last year I was twitching about a lack of project.  When I wrote a post at the start of the year, although I didn’t make any new year resolutions, I did say that I planned to enter more alpine shows and I think on reflection this was instead of having a project – something to aim for, some to achieve.

Hampton Court Garden, Herefordshire

Hampton Court Garden, Herefordshire

However, over the last month my mind has become increasingly full of images and ideas for planting the garden gleaned from books, television, magazines, talks.  Over the Christmas break I tackled the teetering pile of magazines and scrap booked images and ideas I liked and when I flick through the scrap-book there is a definite style and colour palette that appeals to me – I suppose this is what they mean by a ‘mood board’. But I really don’t like formulaic planting whether it’s a limited planting scheme with plants repeated or very linear, as I tried in the front garden. I don’t like what a friend of mine calls ‘planting by numbers’ which she says some designers are guilty of and which we both agree leads to a soulless garden.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Another friend introduced me recently as a knowledgeable plants-women.  I challenge that description as I know from the gardening clubs I go to how limited my knowledge it but I am passionate about plants.  I love the quirky, the pretty, wonderful foliage, interesting flowers.  I get a thrill out of seeing a plant push its way through the ground in the Spring or a seedling appear or a fern frond unfurl.  But I get distracted particularly with social media – ooh what’s that plant, where can I get it, where can I grow it and so I have a garden and greenhouse full of interesting plants but the parts do not make a great whole and this is the problem.  The friend who dislikes planting by numbers and I discussed this recently.  She too is  plants-women, very knowledgeable, and her approach is that her garden is her space to do as she wishes and if the plants look a little bitty then so be it and I applaud that attitude.

Bryan's Ground, Herefordshire

Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire

However, and there is always an however, I don’t think this approach is working for me.  I feel constantly frustrated with the garden and so I have distracted myself with digging up more bits or entering shows.  I am frustrated because I strive for my garden to be a floriferous oasis, to be stunning, for the borders to look wonderful just like the magazines.  Of course these images have been created by people with a wealth of experience, sometimes with professional help, but also with passion and incredibly horticultural prowess and this I think is the key to it.  I need to garden better, to spend time in the garden, maintaining it, tending the plant, understanding how they grow.  A nursery woman I know always says that the remedy to most garden pests is to garden better i.e. if you grow strong plants they are less susceptible to pest damage and I think she is right.  I have recently been reading about a number of my gardening heroes all who have stunning gardens and all who are amazing plants-women but they have learnt their skills through hard work over a long length of time.

Bryan's Ground, Herefordshire

Bryan’s Ground, Herefordshire

So, a plan is forming in my mind, a sort of project – it doesn’t have a particular object as an outcome, it won’t be achieved this year, or probably for some years.  It is more an aspiration or objective and the other evening on the way home the phrase ‘The Impossibly Pretty Project’ came into my mind and days later I still like it.  The name can be taken two ways.  You sometimes hear the expression ‘impossibly pretty’ used in the sense that it impossible for something/someone to be as pretty as they/it are but also you could read it in the sense that the project will be impossible – although I hope not. The images on this post are of various gardens I love and enjoy and you will see there is a certain look that appeals to me which I suppose is something between a Cottage Garden and the archetypal English Country Garden.  I particularly like the herbaceous borders and this is where I get stuck.  I don’t want to create a herbaceous border in the true sense of the word but it is the herbaceous part of a mixed border that I struggle with.  I have the trees and shrubs but I struggle to work out how to make the perennials, biennials, annuals and bulbs to work together.

East Lambrook Gardens, Somerset

East Lambrook Gardens, Somerset

Whilst I like interesting foliage I will never be comfortable in an exotic style garden as if I list my favourite plants the list starts: Peonies, Iris, Roses, Daffodils, Primulas, Aquilegias hardly the components of an exotic garden.  Having created the Hardy Exotic Boarder which I like I have realised that the plants don’t excite me as much as the above.  I want to create a sense of enclosure, of privacy, and escapism.  As a basis to this I need to build up the shrubby planting around the boundaries but with the distant view of the Malvern still there.  Then I want to learn how to plant my borders properly and this is the real challenge.  I can grow plants but I am just rubbish at combining them.  I don’t think I do too bad with colours and textures and having a slight artistic bent I can understand that but it is how to get a fulsome appearance without the plants all smothering each other one way or another.  I think the key to this, as I have said, is being more hands on – staking properly and dividing regularly but also learning how each plant grows and how it will impact on its neighbours.

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Wollerton Old Hall, Shropshire

Although I have read lots of books on the subject of gardening and planting including Christopher Lloyd, Margery Fish, Beth Chatto and David Culp I think I need to learn from the actual gardens I love.  This has obviously been something deep in my sub-conscious for a while as I have already booked myself on a days planting course at Great Dixter, when I also plan to visit Sissinghurst and a couple of other gardens which I think will inspire me.  I am off to Dublin and Cork in July on a trip visiting gardens many owned by plant lovers so they should give me ideas to address my magpie tendencies and I have a few other trips in mind during the year to key gardens.  I have also started a list of gardens for next year to continue my education.

It is nice to feel as though I have a direction and a purpose. I’m not trying to replicate a specific garden or border but to plant my borders with the plants I love in such a way that they are shown to their best advantage and the whole things looks fabulous and charming.  In the back of my mind are the gardens on the recent ITV series Britains Best Back Gardens many of which were remarkable, floriferous and should the passion of the owners – this is what I am hoping to achieve.

My Garden this Weekend – 25th January 2015

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With a little sunshine this weekend and a slight increase in the temperatures the first hellebores are starting to open.  This is the plant that hooked me on hellebores some 7 years ago.  I used to use it as my avatar on twitter and Blotanical.  It is one of the Ashwood hybrids and I love the yellow and red combination.

Galanthus Selborne Green Tips

Galanthus Selborne Green Tips

 

The mystery snowdrop has opened and I am none the wiser.  I know where and when I bought it but I can find nothing written down in my notebooks or on the blog about what it is.  Ho-hum

At last I have found the label for the snowdrop – Galanthus Selborne Green Tip

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Although I like the special snowdrops I have bought I still feel more anticipation at waiting for the clumps of ordinary Galanthus nivalis to open.  I also have the double Galanthus nivalis Flora Pleno which is already beginning to spread despite only being planted just over a year ago.

Eranthis hyemalis

Eranthis hyemalis

Eranthis grunling

Eranthis grunling

Eranthis schwefelglanz

Eranthis schwefelglanz

My eranthis are beginning to appear around the garden which is pleasing as some were only added a year ago.  Unlike the snowdrops I can tell the difference between these three.  Eranthis hyemalis is the ordinary one, schwefelglanz is a pale yellow and grunling has green stripes to the flowers. I think there are some more which I would like to collect, I heard tell of a double the other day so I will be seeking those out.

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The very first daffodils in the garden are about to open.  I have no idea what variety they are, they came with the garden but they always flower early.  This picture amused me as I think they look like two geese or ducks – but then I may have a strange imagination.

I did find some time to do a few gardening tasks over the weekend although I found after an hour outside my toes were quite frozen despite several layers of socks.  I am pleased that I tidied up the driveway border in the front garden and also the Big Border.  The garden is looking more ready for Spring than it has in any other year which is satisfying although there are still some areas that I need to tackle but these will involve more heavy duty work and some shrub rearranging.  Today I mulched the woodland border just managing to get the wood bark down before the bulbs had emerge too much making it tricky.  Like many gardeners I have spent some time over the winter thinking about the garden and planning what I want to grow and plant over the coming season.

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I am going through a period of working through various emotions and trying to work out, as much as is possible, what I would like to achieve in various aspects of my life.  I suspect this need to have a plan or objective is due to several uncertainties in my life that I have no control over at the moment.  One of the things I can control and plan is what I want to do in the garden over the coming season and what will make me happy.  I have mentioned over the last month how I have been inspired by some television programmes and books and I feel that I have a much clearer idea in my head of how I want the garden to develop, finally.  Part of this is re-engaging with my old love of growing plants from seed and in particular some annuals that I haven’t grown for years including rudbeckia and zinnias.  My pocket diary this year has the saying ‘Do more of what makes you happy’ on the front and I have taken this as my motto for the year.   I spent yesterday evening sorting through my box of seed packets and sorting out what I hope to sow this year and when, for no other reason than the flowers make me happy – no planning for shows etc.

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Part of my frustrations come from only seeing the garden at weekends although already this is starting to change and I almost get home in day light.  I have invested in recent years in a number of miniature bulbs, partly with a view to showing, but also because I love their daintiness.  However, I don’t get to see them properly as they are in the greenhouse and its generally dark.  I don’t have the time, working full-time, to perfect the plants for showing and I am someone who needs to do something well if they are going to do it – I hate failing.  I have decided to put showing on the back burner until I can do it properly unless there is a show near home and I happen to have something looking good.  My friend, Dee, posted a picture of iris reticulata on Facebook today on display in her home and I think this is what I want to do more – bring the pots into the house as the bulbs are about to flower.  I have invested in a plunge bed and I hate waste so I have been exploring the possibility of converting it into a heated propagator which it seems is very feasible, thanks to advice from friends on twitter.  This will mean that the annuals etc I want to grow from seed and the cuttings I would like to try taking will get a better start so hopefully all will turn out for the best.

I sometimes think I should rename the blog – The Indecisive Gardener – as I change my mind so much.  I think some of this is due to the overload of images and information you can get via social media so I need to step back a little bit to let my head clear.  I spend a lot of time on social media in the evenings, especially at this time of year, as it’s a distraction and it stops me chewing my fingers (a very bad habit).  I had been doing some embroidery which I have blogged about before but the project I was working on is a little fiddly and I have been avoiding it so I have today ordered some new materials for  new project which should be a good distraction and a calming influence until the evenings are light enough for me to play in the garden after work.

7 Years of Blogging!

Iris unguicularis 'Water Butt'

Iris unguicularis ‘Walter Butt’

Well who would have thought it! I had a message from WordPress this morning congratulating me on 7 years of blogging! If you had asked me the other day how long I had been blogging for my standard answer would have been 5 years but then I never have a very good perception of time.

I remember distinctly starting out on this journey.  It was a cold January and I was bored and frustrated because I wanted to get outside.  I also felt a need to connect with others who shared my interest and I was struggling to find something locally.  I’m sure it was the weekend and I remember reading a gardening magazine which had an article in it about the new phenomena of garden blogs.  Being a real fan of the internet I was intrigued and when I saw the ‘starting a blog tutorial’ on My Tiny Plot I decided to have a go (sadly the tutorial no longer seems to be there).  I remember throwing various names for the blog around in my head for 24 hours, wondering whether I should really have a go, after all what did I know about gardening being a mere novice but My Tiny Plot’s blog was all about learning and sharing successes and failures so why not.

I had to ask my eldest to help me set up the blog – it was really a hand holding exercise but in less than 24 hours I was off.  After about a month of seeking out other gardening blogs and being frustrated because all I seemed to be able to find were UK veg growers and not ornamental gardening blogs I discovered Blotanical which back then was a rapidly growing network of gardening bloggers from across the world.  I relished reading Pam’s Digging blog – all exotic and exciting plants in her Texan garden and Dee’s blog showcasing her beautiful American cottage style garden.  There was so much choice and diversity, plants I have never heard of or seen.  I started to attract readers to my blog, the blog stats rocketed and I haven’t looked back since.

Sadly Blotanical seems to have closed down; a victim of its own success I suppose but those friendships made 7 years ago continue.  Since then I have found UK ornamental gardeners who share my passion for plants, I have met many bloggers including some of my US friends, I have had opportunities that I would never have had before such as helping build a Chelsea show garden, being on the radio etc but most of all I feel I have found my voice and confidence.

Blogging is now part of my life.  Sometimes I think I’ll take a break because I haven’t got anything to say but after a day or two I find myself missing the act of writing even if it’s waffle.  I have found it a great comforter over the last five years helping me work through my grief at losing my sister, Dad and a close work colleague.  At these times there are always readers who offer comfort and support and you find yourself lifted out of the dark despair to feeling more positive and finding a way forward.  I have been inspired with all sorts of ideas over the years and in some ways blogging and reading blogs has given me permission to do what I wish with my garden far more than any television programme or magazine could.

So thank you WordPress and my readers for all your support over the last 7 years….I wonder if I will still be blogging in another 7

My Garden This Weekend – 18th January 2015

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As you can see the garden has had a dose of winter this weekend albeit short-lived with the majority of the snow having melted by Saturday lunchtime. I can’t say I wasn’t disappointed that it was too cold to do anything outside as all I wanted to do yesterday was hide inside.  I have been overcome with a tidal wave of grief which has crept up on me unexpectedly during the week, just like when you don’t notice the tide coming further up the beach.  It left me feeling emotional and close to tears for 48 hours not an ideal state of mind when you have to go to work.  It took  a while to identify it for what it was, going through all the usual others things, dismissing PMT, depression, concern about changes at work etc.  No it was grief, cold and hard and something you just have to accept and wait for it to pass.

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I have been getting on with life over recent months, being busy, since Dad died and although I think about him a lot I have felt I was doing OK.  But grief has a habit of creeping up on you and engulfing you when you least expect it.  I suppose I am lucky in that I learnt to recognise and accept it for what it is about a year after my sister died thanks to a wonderful counsellor.  This time it was a book that bought everything to a head.  A beautifully written book, if the first chapter or two is to go by, H for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.  The book is about the author training a Goshawk but it is also about her coming to terms with the loss of her father.  Needless to say it starts with her reacting to the news her Dad had died and I suppose it struck at something deep down because I kept obsessing about one paragraph, where they are looking for the father’s car.  I can’t even talk about the story without crying but then again I don’t think that is a bad thing because I believe it is better to let these things happen rather than fight them. We do more damage to ourselves with the British stiff upper lip approach.

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So the only gardening I did this weekend was to move things around in the greenhouse.  Rejigging the pots of bulbs so that those emerging have the best light and the late summer bulbs, such as nerines, are moved under the staging to rest for a while.

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Sunday has been a better day.  Having recognised the grief for what it was, had a good cry, I woke up feeling like my old self again and ready to battle on.  I have been decorating the hall, landing and stairs, which means endless gloss work which I can doing in stages.  So after tackling some of the bannisters Mum and I went out for a jaunt to Ashwood Nurseries which is just over an hour from here.  My boss had given me some garden vouchers for Christmas and I had earmarked them for some more hellebores and some spring flowering shrubs.  A lot of research has been done in recent evenings and a mental wish list drawn up.

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The choice at Ashwoods is extensive and always so well displayed.  I realised I have only visited at this time of year, the last time for a hellebore talk, so I must try to visit again through the year but if this is the quality of the display in early January I can only imagine how wonderful it will be in a few months.

I came home with 3 hellebores – Anna’s Red, Neon Star and Walbertons Rosemary which has been bred to look upwards, 3 heptica nobilis, a clivia and two dwarf rhododendrons that are part of my new planting plan for the border you can see in the second photograph.

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We had a nice lunch, a laugh, talked about Dad, grief, glosswork (Mum is decorating too) and strangely bought a resin tortoise (a gift for my Aunt!).  We are going back in March for my birthday so Mum can treat me to something, probably for the border above.

As for the book …. it is safely back on the shelf waiting for such time as I feel more emotional able to read it.

 

Who Needs Pinterest?

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I mentioned in my post on Sunday that I had been sorting through garden related paperwork over Christmas and how if I was to have any New Year’s resolutions it would be to keep better records.  Since then I have been stream lining the chaotic pile of paper.  I now have a propagation recording book and have entered some sowing records from the other week, who knows I may even remember to use it past March this year, a diary and a couple of notebooks which I take to meetings or garden visits to record those essential plant names and tips in.

However, I was left with a pile of magazines with various page corners turned over and also a pile of magazine cuttings.  So I have decided to take a retro approach and scrap-book them in a kind of pre-Pinterest way.

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It’s amazingly therapeutic cutting out articles and pictures and sticking them into a book with the odd note.  For me its a real trip back to my childhood.  My mother has a photograph of me aged about 6 sitting in bed, cutting out things from magazines.  I was a sickly child suffering with tonsillitis, asthma and sinusitis until I had an operation around the age of 7 and I used to be ill in bed quite a lot.  I think this was my mother’s idea of entertainment, it is certainly something which is strangely comforting to me to do.

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So in my gardening scrapbook I am including bits on plants that look interesting, images of gardens that appeal to me or where I particularly like a planting combination and interesting garden projects.  In some cases I have cut out a whole article such as the one on hardy orchids above but in others like the one on a French garden I have just cut out those images that appeal and made a note of where the garden is and its web address – who knows one day I may get to visit.

I think so far it is quite attractive and is certainly something I will look through unlike my Pinterest boards which I have no trouble adding to but rarely look back through (so what’s the point!).  I am so pleased with it that I might do the same for the embroidery and other crafting magazines I have.

Seeking the Spirit of Christmas

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I have found myself pondering the meaning of Christmas over the last week or so.  Now I know that sounds very deep but from an agnostic’s point of view it is quite a key question.

We are a somewhat small and depleted family having lost Dad a few months ago.  There is me, my two adult sons and Mum.  Of course there is also my brother-in-law and niece but since my sister died five years ago his focus, understandably, has been more to his own family, and I find myself thinking of them as an extension to our family rather than the core family if you understand my meaning.

When my sons were small the whole focus of Christmas was around them.  The excitement that built up from shopping trips, visits to Santa’s grotto, school activities until by Christmas Eve they were fit to explode and indeed they did around 4pm on Christmas Day when it all got too much and they burst into tears.  As they got older the focus moved to my niece some 11 years their junior and then we had the trauma of Christmas without her mother.  We found a way of moving forward going through the motions including trips to the pantomime.

This year, as I have said, there will be 4 of us around the Christmas table.  There is no pantomime trip for a range of reasons and it has started to feel that I was going through the motions following a prescribed routine which was fuelled by the media and commerce. It felt as though Christmas was really just a glorified roast dinner with some gifts, that none of us really need, thrown in. This is why over the recent weeks the sense that I needed to provide Christmas and some magic, whatever that maybe, has grown and grown.  It lead me to wonder what Christmas was actually about.  We don’t go to church so once you take out the whole religious meaning of Christmas it seems you are left with the commercial aspect which doesn’t sit well with me at all.

I have said I am an agnostic; despite being christened and confirmed I struggle to embrace organised Christianity.  However, I do believe there is something out there – I have no idea what – and over recent years I have felt myself more empathetic to the old religions, the circle of life, mother nature, call it what you will. I find myself more attuned to the changing seasons, lengthening of days, cycles of the moon than I ever will be to the teachings of Christ or any other religious deity.  I believe more and more in respecting our surroundings and working with nature.

So as I pondered on how to make Christmas special for my small family, how to bring some magic into the house, how to move away from the commercialisation of it all (prompted by my son on a recent visit to a well-known supermarket saying ‘You can buy Christmas here’). I found myself thinking about why we decorate our homes with greenery, why we have Christmas trees, why we feast and why Christmas is when it is?  It doesn’t take much effort to discover that the timing of Christmas coincides, almost, with the winter solstice and the old religion celebrations.  When Christianity was being devised (I’m sorry I don’t mean to offend I can’t think of another word) the key celebrations were timed to coincide with existing pagan festivals in order to ‘sell’ the new religion to the masses.  In so doing many of the traditions associate with the pagan festivals were subsumed into the new celebrations which is why when you start to think about things like mistletoe and the obsession with holly and ivy and how they relate to Christianity it makes little sense – the same applies to some of the Easter customs. The bringing in of greenery into the house was partly to ward of evil spirits, it was for decorative reasons, and  in some cultures evergreen were brought in and decorated to represent gods or goddesses.  Mistletoe was considered by the druids to be extremely sacred. It was cut on the sixth night after the winter solstice and distributed to the people to hang over their doors to ward off evils spirits. As for our modern obsession with gift giving this may have developed from the  Roman celebration of Saturnalia, an ancient festival which took place in late December.

Where does this leave me and my quest for the spirit of Christmas?  Well I have decided, that I wanted to refer to the winter solstice and nature more, and to start some new family traditions.  So I have left the artificial tree in the loft and instead we had the fun of going to choose a real Christmas tree, the annoyance of trying to get it to stand up straight and we will no doubt spend a considerable amount of time over the Christmas period hovering up the needles but it feels special.  I have kept the decorations simple and traditional – no gaudy tinsel.  Finally, I have used the branches cut off the bottom of the tree to make a wreath for the front door to which I have added foliage collected from around the garden which for me is a celebration of mid-winter and marks the turning of the year and days getting longer – as a gardener something I look forward to more than Christmas.  Just these simple things have brought Christmas to life in our house far more than in previous years.  I think the ‘effort’ of having made/created these things myself rather than buying them ready-made off a shelf means more; my sons have certainly commented on it.

This year it will be a quiet Christmas, with a nice meal, some gifts and spending time together. We will miss Dad and my sister and remember past Christmases and tell stories.  It will be a time for reflection but also for looking ahead to the future and I think that is what Christmas is, for me,  really all about – being with loved ones and sharing good times and in a way tapping into the American tradition of Thanksgiving, remembering how lucky we are in whatever way.