COUNTRY & GARDEN: Deck the halls with bits of roses

Why spend good money on Christmas decorations? All the raw materials you need (bar a drop of spray paint) are in the garden
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The Independent Culture
And here's one I made earlier," is a classic refrain in the Blue Peter television programme. Whenever a particularly messy and time-consuming project is under way, out comes the well-worn phrase. It gets the presenters neatly from stage one to the finishing-post, without any of the muddles and cursing that otherwise attend such things.

At our house, Christmas is, as ever, a little late this year. Oh, for that unseen army of slaves that sticks and sprays Blue Peter's Christmas gifts, that chops Delia's onions and double-digs Alan Titchmarsh's borders! Right now, I could do with a biddable gang of elves, armed with paint spray-cans.

I like decorating the house for Christmas (though loathe taking the decorations down) and with chicken-wire, ivy and a can of silver paint, transformation scenes are not difficult to arrange. The greatest ally is silver spray paint. You can turn putrid old necklaces into glittering tree decorations by spraying them with paint and sprinkling them, while they are still tacky, with frosting from a tube.

If you are running out of Christmas wrapping-paper, you can decorate sheets of coloured tissue paper by using a template cut in the shape of a Christmas tree or a star. Worn-out, no-longer-luminous Glowstars are ideal. Lay the template at regular intervals on the tissue paper and in short, sharp bursts, blast silver paint at it. The shape - star, Christmas tree, whatever - will stay clear, with the paint fading out around it.

Silver paint also transforms simple greenery such as ivy, which is tough enough to stand the 12 days of Christmas without shrivelling. If you are careful, you can lever long strands of it from walls or tree trunks. Add some pieces with knobbly berries (they make ivy particularly beautiful at this time of the year). Spread the ivy out on newspaper and spray it on both sides. It does not matter if some bits escape the treatment. Use the ivy bunched in long trails, to make swags hanging down either side of a fireplace. Bows of red or tartan ribbon tied round the top of the bunches domesticate the ivy sufficiently for any sitting-room.

Shorter pieces of ivy are useful for decorating the tops of mantelpieces. A few large baubles set among them look suitably sumptuous. It is one way to use up baubles that have lost their hanging loops. You can also make orange Christingles to set along the mantelshelf in front of the ivy. Choose big oranges; if they will not stand upright, jam them into place with a piece of Blu-Tack or Plasticine. Carve out a small hole at the top of each orange and stick a red candle into it. Ones measuring 4-5in are best. Fix some coloured ribbon (or tinsel) round the middle of each orange. The candles will last the course of a Christmas dinner. The oranges will last a week, after which they begin to sag and rot in a disquieting way.

An essential part of Christmas decorating is some kind of garland to hang on the door. Good Christmas garlands, like patchwork cushions, depend on having to hand a jackdaw collection of bits and pieces - in this case scraps of tinsel, baubles, bits of ribbon that are too small to tie a parcel, dried flowers that have seen better days, and a few stray nuts or berries. I raid our `Kiftsgate' rose, covered now in airy sprays of bright red hips. It's one of the best roses for winter effect.

Before you start tinkering with add-ons, though, you need a garland base. The kind of shop that sells relentlessly ethnic baskets often has plain garlands made of some sort of creeper. If you want to be 100 per cent home-grown, you make your own base by twisting vine prunings round and round in a circle. Sprayed silver, red or gold, these vine/creeper garlands make excellent starting-points. Invest in a bundle of florist's wires to fix decorations to the garlands. Twist bright ribbon round it, if you like, before attaching silver-sprayed teasel heads, chestnuts, and fake holly berries if you cannot find the real thing. Our trees are already stripped of berries, which is why `Kiftsgate' is so useful.

Sometimes the lower branches of a Christmas tree have to be cut off before it will fit into its allotted space. These branches of greenery will also make the base of a garland. Use green string or twists of florist's wire at intervals to lash the branches together, laying them so that the needles all point in the same direction. You may find it easier to use a solid wire ring as an underpinning and tie the branches on to that.

You can also decorate your green garlands with spray-painted bows. Scrim - the loosely woven cloth, thinner than sacking, that upholsterers use on chair seats - makes excellent filigree bows. Cut straight strips of scrim about 3in wide and glue down a rough, narrow hem on the two long edges. Tie lengths of the scrim into bows, whatever size you want, finishing the hanging ends with neat swallowtails. Spray the bows and then, before they dry, plump them up so that they look fat and swirling. If they are not stiff when they have dried, spray them again.

Fir cones have lately been taken up by grand decorators as the ultimate Christmas accessory. There are many things you can do with a fir cone, though some are better left alone. A fir cone, like an ivy leaf, has been blessed with a naturally fine form, so whatever you do to it must enhance rather than obscure this. But if you have a good supply of cones of different sizes, you can make a fir cone Christmas tree.

For the base, make a wigwam of six or eight canes, about 10in long, tied together at the top and held out in a circle by a ring of stiffish wire round the bottom. Using the biggest cones round the bottom and the smallest cones at the top, fix the cones to the canes with florist's wire, working from the bottom upwards. Place them so that each cone touches the next, making a solid, slim pyramid. At the top you can fix a small cherub, or some bells, or whatever has been spurned from the proper Christmas tree.

Fir cones can also be wired on to lengths of thin rope (chandlers are a good source of supply) to make decorations to loop round the walls. They are rather dour on their own, but can easily be leavened with other things that have more sparkle. Do not use real fruit or berries in this decoration. If they rot they will stain the walls in a most unfestive way.

I didn't mention Oasis in my list of three Christmas necessities. Once you start using Oasis, you are in danger of taking the whole decorating business far too seriously. Before you know it, you will be giving your creations names such as "Santa's Sleigh Bells" and "Reindeer Eyes". However, for those prepared to take the risk, there is a handy Oasis cone about 10in high which can quickly be transformed into a fake Christmas tree, ideal for a table centre. Use small-leaved greenery, such as box or yew, cutting short sections of stem to push into the cone. Build it up from the bottom and include small wired baubles and trimmed-down strands of silver rain.

The last task for the Christmas decorator is one of the most important. Tot up all that you have saved by making your own decorations. Then, bathed in the righteous glow that this arithmetic produces, go out immediately and spend your savings on some champagne to toast the turn of the millennium.

Happy Christmas.

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