Before we go any further today, I made you a cup of coffee. I am not sure how you like yours, so I just made two the same. I have to admit, no matter how hard I try and no matter how many years I have lived in France I simply cannot give up my milky cappuccino style coffee. I don’t usually go the whole way and sprinkle cocoa powder on the top, but I thought as you were joining me we would push the boat out and do it properly!
Winter has us truly in its grip now. The trees stand bare, proud and statuesque. It can be quite difficult to feel motivated about going outside on a cold morning. Sometimes it’s so much easier to hide inside in the warmth. I was chatting to a friend the other day and she told me how much she hated January. “December is full of festivities and February there is always skiing to look forward to” she explained, “but January is a dreary dull month”. She has a point, but somehow for me January is a month filled with renewed optimism and promise for whatever the past held, the present always has hope.
Our friendly pair of robins have returned undeterred by the chill in the air. I am not sure where they go in the summer for they are not migratory birds, but they are nowhere to be seen here in the warmer months. But as soon as the days shorten and the colder weather returns the robins take up residence in the garden once more. They flit around outside the kitchen window, as cheeky as can be, they are a very familiar sight but they still always make me smile, there is something so familiar about their red breasts and their cheerful character.
However, whether or not you like January I do have to admit that our house certainly needs some additional winter cheer now that the Christmas decorations have all been packed away. I love fresh flowers all around the house, but sadly my budget does not run to several trips to the florist each week. In the summer there is never a problem, our garden is bursting with all sorts of colour but winter can be much harder. There are glimpses of new life all around, the first buds are forming on our plum tree and horse chestnut. The daffodils and bluebells are pushing up through the ground, another month and the chicken garden should be a riot of yellow blooms. But for now I have to content myself with the tiny flowers of the winter jasmine, they are having a bountiful year and I have been cutting them regularly for a couple of weeks, they are undoubtedly my go to mid-winter flower and they provide endless choices, sometimes I like to keep it really simple with just a few stems in a narrow necked carafe.
Most of all it is time to be grateful for evergreens and I have come to realise that cut greenery arrangements can be just as stunning as a vase of flowers. It’s really rather like seasonal eating, in the winter we learn to appreciate cabbages and root vegetables and in the summer when we have an abundance of choices we feast on so much more. So it is true with the garden, at this time of year we have to make the best of what we have.
I was amazed to learn that green arrangements are actually catching on at weddings too, more and more people are choosing all green for their centre pieces, who would have thought. I’ve had a lot of fun playing with foliage this week, and I hope that maybe I can convince you that you can have some stunning displays right at your fingertips even in the depths of winter without having to splash out on costly blooms.
Our kitchen table really is the epicentre of our home. It lends itself to so many roles.
I am no florist and fussy arrangements are not my thing but I do like to play around and choose varying vessels.
I love nothing better than a causally picked bunch of spring flowers stuffed haphazardly into a vase. But I have learnt that sometimes the best way is to take one’s time.
For this arrangement I started with a good base of juniper branches, the scent is heavenly and they last a long time. Then I fed cuttings of ivy underneath and just let them hang down naturally and finally I added short evergreen magnolia branches to the top. So long as I keep it topped up with water this should last a couple of weeks at least and still look fresh.
You see there is good in everything. Take for example, Hedera helix, the common European ivy, whether you love it or hate it (and let’s be honest, ivy certainly gets more than its fair share of bad press), it does have its virtues, not least is the fact that it flowers late into the autumn with richly honey scented flowers and attracts the ivy bee. And then there is a second use, in flower arrangements!
Another of the great things about using evergreen branches is their size, you can really think large statement vases, the bigger and bolder the better.
In a couple of months we will be filling vases with blossom but then we’ll also be thinking about the first of the season’s cherries, and then asparagus, and so on and so forth. But for now evergreens must take centre stage. I apologise to those of you enduring the insufferable heat at the moment in Australia and elsewhere in the southern hemisphere, but perhaps you can save this post for colder months ahead. Or perhaps you can substitute palm fronds for magnolia; I always find they make the most fabulous eye catching arrangement – the bigger the better, especially on a hall table or mantlepiece.