leonie cornelius

wild authentic earth

Christmas Creative project | Larch stars

The other morning while wandering in the garden I had this odd sensation that something was different. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but when I spotted a huge pile of leaves in one corner it hit me- where the previous day the scene still had accents of copper and yellow leaf, today there was absolutely no foliage left on any of the trees in the garden. This shouldn’t really have come as a surprise, after all, it was unusual that we had any leaves left at this time of the year, but this time storm Diana literally blew the last remaining leaves away overnight, leaving a sudden, stark Winter landscape in its wake.

It was the most striking change in seasons I had experienced and left me marvelling at the beauty of the Winter landscape.

It’s amazing how when you strip the garden of its foliage, your eye is drawn to other parts of the scene. The texture of bark, rough and aged, the mosses and mushrooms which grow under the trees and the beautiful branches against the blue sky, bare and gnarled without leaf. 
Feeling inspired I picked some of the branches so that I could bring a little Winter interest into the house and I played around with arrangements of bare branches of hazel, birch, larch and alder, all of which make for beautiful accents with a Winter feel. Then I got to thinking what else I could do with these lovely branches and with the trend for ultra-natural wild elements in the home I decided to make branches a part of my Christmas theme this year. From branches as napkin rings, Christmas tree wall decorations, twig stars and accents of present wrapping this sustainable concept is a great way to bring a bit of the Winter wilderness to your home this Christmas. 
Finding the right twigs 

Larch Larix decidua

About the tree:
While the Larch is not native to our country these handsome deciduous trees can now be found widely throughout Ireland. It is the only deciduous conifer native to Europe and can often be found here growing amongst other conifer species in forestry plantations. The tree is a wonderful specimen for the larger garden as it is a large tree with some varieties growing up to 60 metres! 
How to use the Larch:
My favourite twigs for making stars comes from the gorgeous Larch tree. Not only are these branches quite pliable and can be bent without breaking, they also have a beautiful pattern to the growth of each branch. In Spring the needle shapes leaves of the tree emerge in clusters from the branch and after they fall in Autumn the little buds remain, making for a lovely repeated pattern along the branches. This makes them a great choice for twig stars. If you’re lucky you’ll find some which have a small cone on them which are also incredibly decorative. 

Birch Betula pendula

About the tree: 
In Ireland we have two types of native birch the Betula pendula is commonly called silver birch, and Betula pubescens which is known as the downy birch. These beautiful trees, which are often weeping in habit can reach an ultimate height of about 24 metres, making it a great choice for the larger garden. This tree has delicate fine branches and has lovely small leaves and has pretty catkins in Springtime which remain on the tree and contain the mature seeds in Autumn.
How to use the Birch:
Silver birch is a true winner when it comes to making many decorations but most of all for circle shapes. The slender stems are very soft and can be bent into circle shapes much easier than most other branches making them the ideal choice for a garden wreath. The texture is also worth noting, with the branches having a smooth shimmery appearance with a rich auburn hue. A wreath made from our native Birch is a fantastic way of creating a free Christmas display in your home and is a super choice for a contemporary space-particularly if you make an extra large one. 

Hazel Corylus avellana

About the tree: 
This native tree is a lovely subtle tree which I try and include in most garden designs. It can be cut back hard -coppiced- and will still grow back, making it a great choice for those of us who like to get creative with branches. It has so many uses and is a truly ancient tree with fascinating history. It was used in the very earliest human settlements by the Mesolithic people who consumed the Hazel nuts and used the flexible branches to create huts. As the branches mature they take on a lovely white sheen and tend to grow very straight, making them ideal for many creative projects. The yellow catkins tend to emerge in Spring and are known as ‘lambs tail’ catkins.
How to use the Hazel:
The supple flexibly of this tree, even as the branches get thicker, makes this tree an ideal candidate for projects which require smooth and strong branches which don’t break when bent. It’s been a favourite one of mine for making bows and arrows with my son when he was younger and the smooth nature of the thinner branches makes it a great one for the arrows which need to be perfectly smooth to work well. These days the branches make their way into my house as Autumn and Winter ornamentals in vases. The handsome leafless branches have gorgeous catkins on them at this time of the year and look stunning as a contemporary arrangement. 

Making of a star in 3 easy steps

Make your own decorations this year and cover your home in gorgeous twig stars
What you need:
You only need your chosen branches, scissors and some garden twine. (I used larch).
How to make your star:
1 Identify sections of the brach which are of similar thickness and cut 6 equal sized lengths. I made a small star so each section was about 12cm or so.
2 Lay the branches on top of each other to become a star shape. The easiest way is to lay a triangle first and then lay another triangle on top of this. 
3 Tie the ends of both triangles with double knots. You can either tie the first triangle as you lay it and then tie the second one, or you can tie it all at the end. I find tying one triangle and then another easier and then you simply have to tie the two together at the end. To finish trim off the excess string at the back and leave one long at the top. 

Extra accents

If the ultra natural look is too radical for you then you can always add some lovely extras from the wild.

-Dried flowers 
-Pinecones /seed capsules
Top Tip
Now is a good time to prune many trees and shrubs so get pruning and give these cuttings a new lease of life in your home! And remember- always harvest responsibly- take only a little from the tree and be wary of over harvesting, meaning the tree can keep giving every year.
Shot on location at W8 Village Manorhamilton
With special thanks to Martina Hamilton and The Cat and the Moon Sligo
Below as published in the Irish Mail on Sunday magazine

Photo By: Colin Gillen

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