Sarah Heaton is a community gardener and garden designer based in Shepherds Bush.
It’s cold and dark outside and the garden almost abandoned to deep winter, so let us transport ourselves to things Christmassy in gardening and historical terms.
Did you know that whoever found the bean or pea in the Christmas cake could be king or queen for the day? Strictly speaking, it was a Twelfth Cake, consumed at Twelfth Night parties, which celebrated the three wise men beholding the Christ child.
The Christmas tree was a Victorian custom, which originated In Germany and much popularised by Queen Victoria and especially her husband Prince Albert. Decorating the Christmas tree was a focal point for their domestic celebrations. It’s pretty crazy to bring a tree into our centrally heated homes but its alpine scent is the very essence of a British Christmas.
Before kissing under the mistletoe, a kissing bough comprising a ball of greenery, berries and apples was often hung from the ceiling. Mistletoe, under which no man or woman can refuse a kiss, was sacred to the Druids and was thought to bring fertility and good luck.
Today, the Christmas wreath making must fulfil our need to show some natural abundance. Sarah Raven’s wreaths are a veritable feast of chillies, apples and other edibles this year.
Since pagan times, the evergreen plants used in wreaths have symbolized everlasting life especially in deep winter. Holly, ivy and evergreen herbs such as bay and rosemary held special meaning for our ancestors and were brought into the home. Rosemary stood for remembrance and bay for valour. The holly and the ivy represented the male and female and gave stability to the home. The circle represents no beginning or end.
Making your own wreath can be a most satisfying and decorative, even calming, part of Christmas preparations. Forget ‘stir up Sunday’, buy a ‘blank’ wreath and some garden or floristry wire, get your secateurs out and raid the garden or nearby park for some flowering ivy, and foliage. Cut oranges into thin slices and bake slowly in a low oven. This adds some lovely colour. Cinnamon and pine cones give that all important smell of Christmas.
Look out for wreath making sessions at school fairs and community garden associations eg Hammersmith Community Garden Association 10 am to 3pm at the Ravenscourt Park Glasshouses, Hammersmith (www.hcga.org.uk).