Around this time of year I tend to develop a bad case of garden envy! Whilst I have a lovely garden for most of the year, and ‘My Flower Patch’ is alive with flowers for the majority of the seasons, at this time of year, I start to covet friends’ gardens that have more shrubs and evergreens than I do. It’s not just limited to coveting friends’ and neighbours’ gardens however. One very bad habit I have is whilst I am driving I tend to covet total strangers’ gardens! Cally was quite amazed at my ability to spot a Eucalyptus whilst driving, or a particularly fine Pittosporum that could benefit from a bit of attention from my secateurs. I have in fact been known to stop and ask folk in their garden if I might be allowed to do a little pruning! My best “foraging” haul has to be after doing a rapid three point turn having seen a tree surgeon cutting down large branches of a gorgeous Eucalyptus on my way to the supermarket in the run up to last Christmas. Luckily it was on the way to the supermarket, so my boot was empty & ready to be filled, with the permission of the tree owner and much to the amusement of the tree surgeon 🙂
I am now very fortunate in having made friends with a local tree surgeon who provides me with trailers full of wood chippings and at this time of year gives me a heads up when he is about to have branches of evergreens. However that still doesn’t provide me with everything I need so I have scouted out the best pinecones, (my friend Lynn’s garden and a particular dog walk on Salisbury plain) and the nicest dogwood, (again Salisbury Plain, plus a local petrol station who I’ve yet to pluck up courage to ask!) larch cones abandoned after logging, (secret location!!) weeping birch (foraged with permission and the need for military ID to accompany me (!) from behind the wire at a local military camp). I know which of my friends have zebra (variegated) Leylandii and which have Viburum tinus, and my poor long-suffering husband knows that a ‘family dog walk’ at this time of year is simply an excuse for another place to forage!
I’ve also been very fortunate to be given pruning/foraging rights on the neglected garden of the old school in the village, which is now used as a community centre. The volunteers who run it are very happy for me to prune and remove, and I’m happy to help them out. I have also done some pruning for older friends and will be returning in a week or so for more.
I have this year purchased a whole heap of shrubs to grow on to give me some prunings of my very own. They take a while to grow, and I could never grow all the varieties of amazing foliage that I love to use to celebrate the Christmas season. So I’m sure I’ll be foraging for a few years yet!
So what are the best types of foliage to keep an eye out for at this time of year? Some of these may be wild; some you may find in the gardens of friends or family; some may already be in your school grounds or a supermarket car park near you. You can use whatever you can access for your pupils to make Christmas wreaths and decorations for them to sell as part of running the mini young business enterprise they are running with Our Flower Patch. You could organise a walk around the school grounds to become familiar with what evergreens already grow there, and scout out what can be used in creating your masterpieces. It’s another great excuse to get your pupils outside and engaging with nature. You may find with a bit of encouragement and a bit of help with identification, some of your pupils become very observant about what is growing in their local environment.
Sorry, as some of them are foraged I’m not sure of the true latin names, but it will give you an idea of what is good to look out for.
Leylandi – great for bulky base layer. Even better if you can find the variegated version near you
Scots pine – this gives fab pine cones also
Silver backed pine – can put it on with the silver showing
Basically any pine/Christmas tree you can get, or ask if there is a Christmas tree place near you for their trimmings
White & green euonymous
Curry plant – lovely silvery foliage but can be a bit pungent
Photina (red robin)
Tight leaved silvery hebe
Eucalyptus – easy to grow from seed
Curly (contorted) Hazel
Curly (contorted) Willow
Steer clear of Yew as it is very poisonous.
Remember, to ask for permission to cut anything that is growing on land that does not belong to you.