By Matthew Pottage
Introducing some festive personality to your garden does not have to mean a plastic Santa with sleigh, coupled with a migraine-inducing array of colourful lights that halts passing traffic. I am no stranger to the “more is more” approach, but with a carefully curated palette of colour and materials you can create a memorable yet sophisticated display for guests.
This beautiful eight-bedroom Arts and Crafts property in East Sussex, UK, caught my attention with its symmetrical double fronted, leaded windows and stone steps to a central doorway, all of which offer great potential for a festive welcome. The house, which has a separate two-bedroom cottage, is on the market for £3.5m.
I love the large lantern over the front door and the garnish of ivy wrapping itself around the wall, scaling up to the eaves. Adding a few characterful, courageous but stylish embellishments will bring the sparkle and exuberance Christmas is all about.
Decorate your door
The panelled wooden front door demands a Christmas wreath that can stand up to the grandeur of the house and what better than the Tis the Season wreath by one of my all-time favourite brands, Mackenzie-Childs (£348 from Gallery Gifts). The wreath’s mix of red and silver hues provides a splash of festive colour, and is peppered with chequerboard-inspired bows.
This wreath could be enhanced by the addition of bracken, which is dead by this time of year in the UK, of course, but is a hazel brown in its senescence and is timelessly beautiful. The advantage of an artificial wreath is that it can be used year after year but given a breath of new life with natural additions.
Winter flowers and foliage are not just for Christmas but will flourish for many weeks after. I am never without a classic, white-flowered hellebore over the festive period, such as Helleborus “ Verboom Beauty” (£9.99 from Sproutl), which should be planted cheek-by-jowl for a striking effect in pots top dressed with either moss (below, left) or pinecones.
Sarcococca confusa (Sweet Box) has a small white flower with a quite intoxicating scent. I would use this in the alcoves either side of the front steps, where it would demand little but deliver a lot. The narrow-leaved variety “Dragon Gate” (below, right) is especially exquisite (£18.95 from Bluebell Arboretum & Nursery).
Choose characterful containers
This incredibly decadent and perhaps slightly over-the-top pineapple planter (£554.99 from Primrose) has a spectacular textured design with pineapple-like scales on the sides, plus the benefit of being made from fibreglass, so it does not crack in the frost. Using such pots to punctuate the vertical lines of the building, either as a single pot or a group of three, would be both imposing and fun.
I like to use a heavy, loam based, peat free compost for larger containers as it is excellent for retaining moisture and can hold a useful nutrient content to sustain the planting for several months. Top dress the pots with pinecones to hide any compost and give a touch of festive cheer.
Put up a tree
Traditional but also unbeatable, a real Christmas tree, positioned to either frame the door or the windows either side of it, will really set the tone that Christmas has arrived. Place the regal looking Fraser Fir (£125 for an 8-9ft tree from John Lewis), which has rigid, long-lasting branches, in a Buttercup Farm half-oak whisky barrel (£59.99), the natural and traditional look of which enhances a live tree perfectly, and can be used as a planter after Christmas.
Pepper the tree with Khutu oiled antique baubles (£16.50 for the small size from Nkuku) and then go big with warm white LED fairy lights such as this Robert Dyas set of 400 (£26.24). Calculate a generous amount of bulbs and multiply that figure by three: there is nothing sadder than a Christmas tree starved of fairy lights.
Add more ornaments
The doorway demands a sense of arrival and the narrow stone wall either side allows space for two tall but slim pieces, such as these fun 5ft Santa nutcrackers (£649.99 each or £1,299.99 for a pair from White Stores). These will raise a smile from children and adults alike with their rich red attire and snow white beards. Surely nobody grows out of such old-fashioned Christmas enchantment.
Matthew Pottage is curator of RHS Garden Wisley, Surrey and has designed its Christmas Glow light trail
Photography: Savills; Kishan Athureliya