Deck the Halls - Decorate your house with plants this Christmas
PUBLISHED: 09:46 19 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:36 20 February 2013
A house becomes a home when furnished with plants, and Christmas time is a wonderful excuse to indulge in that finishing floral touch. Clare Cooke gives us some great ideas for Christmas gifts and displays.
It is far more satisfying to watch plants growing than cut flowers slowly dying, so why don't you bring the house alive with flowering plants this festive season and watch the buds unfurl and flowers open? Most of us would prefer to give and receive more meaningful presents and plants are perfect. They are greener, longer lasting and more cost-effective than cut flowers and they are just as beautiful, just as colourful. A table centrepiece makes a particularly lovely gift, something most people wouldn't think of buying for themselves and perhaps wouldn't have the time to make either.
Cyclamen candle display
This cyclamen arrangement looks simply fabulous but takes no time at all to put together. It is composed of three mini cyclamen, one large candle, a rustic planter and a length of ribbon. Simply plant the cyclamen so they fit snugly into the container, then using florist's tape, attach four short sticks around the base of the candle to provide a 'spike' (kebab sticks or thin green garden sticks are ideal). Gently push the candle into the middle of the plants, so the sticks anchor it into the compost, and finish off with a colourful ribbon.
For a more natural look, a planted trough of white cyclamen and green ivy leaves is sure to lift the spirits. Have you ever noticed the scent from these small cyclamen? It is simply divine - a delicious fresh scent quite unlike any other. For some reason, it usually seems to be the white ones that carry the best perfume.
A tip to make sure cyclamen carry on flowering for as long as possible is to remove the spent flowers as they fade and before they form a seed head. This is best done by a short, sharp tug towards the base of the flower stem. You will notice dozens of little buds nestling at the bottom just waiting for their chance to push on through and, with a little encouragement, plants should keep flowering for a couple of months at least.
Scented plants are sure-fire winners and, at this time of year, the first fat buds of indoor hyacinths are ready to explode onto the scene. Large planters of hyacinths make wonderful gifts, as the recipient will have the joy of watching the buds open and will subsequently enjoy their heady fragrance filling the room.
Hyacinths can be bought as single plants from most garden shops and for best effect should be planted close together. Bulb fibre can be used instead of potting compost: this is just ordinary potting compost with a sprinkle of charcoal added, which helps to keep the compost fresh. A dressing of moss finishes off the arrangement; it helps to keep the surface moist and looks natural. Moss can be bought from florists or garden shops or can be found on roadside banks or perhaps on your lawn!
The planter will do best if kept on a windowsill and turned every couple of days to keep the stems growing straight. If the planter doesn't have any holes in it, then make sure you gently tip the container on its side after watering so that any excess water can drain away. As the flowers grow they may need staking.
Once all flowering has finished, the bulbs can be planted outside. They do well in grassy areas on lawn edges, under trees and shrubs and in flowerbeds.
At this time of year jasmine plants are smothered in flower buds, and as they open the perfume is rich and heavy. Jasmine is an easy plant to grow providing it has good light, so keep it near a window. The ideal temperature is about 10°C (50°F) but it is not too fussy.
As the flowers fade, cut off the whole cluster back to the main hoop, using a pair of scissors. Keep the compost moist when growth is most active (spring and summer). In winter just allow the surface to dry out in between watering. Feed regularly during the summer months with a liquid feed for flowering plants.
Jasmine can eventually grow quite large. As new shoots grow, either wind them around the hoop or, after flowering, prune the side shoots back to one or two buds. At some point the plant will need repotting into a larger pot and supplied with a larger frame to grow on. Three or four bamboo canes tied at the top to make a wigwam can be a cheap and effective answer.
Most plants struggle when we have the heating up full blast in the depths of winter, and although cyclamen, hyacinths and jasmine will be happy in these conditions for perhaps two or three weeks, afterwards they should be moved to a more permanent, cool and light spot. Somewhere like a conservatory, hall or spare bedroom is ideal.
Moth orchid planter
There is really only one plant that thrives in warm rooms and indirect light and that is the moth orchid. The beautiful exotic blooms literally last for months on end, making them great value for money.
Moth orchids grow naturally in tropical forests, so if you're warm and cosy then they will be too. They cling to trees with fleshy aerial roots that absorb food and water; these same roots often creep over the edge of the pot as though trying to escape, but don't worry, it is the sign of a healthy orchid! They are very easy to look after and almost thrive on neglect. The only way to kill them is by overwatering in winter, so just water whenever the pot feels light (about once every two weeks). Water direct into the plants (use tepid water) but make sure they have a thorough soaking and that any excess water drains away.
Every so often add a little orchid fertiliser to the water (or use regular houseplant fertiliser at half strength). Use either a watering can or a mister; they love being misted - it's a real tropical treat!
Pick off the flowers as they fade and when all flowers are finished, cut the stem down to about half its length just above a node (a small swelling on the stem). This will soon develop into another flowering stem and another beautiful flower.
This symbol of peace is a charming plant with a beautiful shape and distinctive silvery grey-green leaves. They are very long-lived, but fortunately are also extremely easy to look after. Sunlight and good drainage is really all they need.
A small tree can be kept indoors temporarily on a sunny windowsill, but it is really a plant for outside or for a cool conservatory. Once hardened off, you will be surprised at how tough they are, surviving temperatures as low as -10°C. At the other extreme, if ever we have a hot summer again, there is always the possibility of the little white flowers developing into olives - we live in hope!
Clare Cooke is a professional horticulturalist who trained at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. From her home near Bruton, she runs Friend & Gardener, an online shop supplying seasonal plants as gifts. For more information call 0800 072 6550 or visit www.friendandgardener.co.uk.