Christmas has come and gone and I can honestly say that without the help of my garden I could never have hosted 8 extras for morning tea and thirteen for Christmas dinner in such grand style.
The garden came into its own as soon as the Christmas decorating began. Instead of constructing a complicated wreath of holly, berries, bows and ribbons for the main entrance to the house, I simply gathered together a glorious bunch of white and red flowering manuka (Leptospermum), tied it together with a shred of flax, and hung it from the door – stunning! White flowering manuka isn’t difficult to find but if you don’t already have red-flowering manuka on your property, I suggest you get to the garden centre right away and choose a bush to plant. Leptospermum comes in a range of colours from white to vibrant red but various members of the family flower at different times of the year so be sure to ask for one that blooms around Christmas time. The best part about Leptospermum is that it’s unfussy as to where it grows, happily setting up home in wet or dry spots, and holding its own in windy conditions.
Our Christmas tree was easy to source this year, too, and it came with a guarantee not to drop a single needle on the floor. Eschewing pine (which we don’t grow on our property) we opted instead for a single inflorescence from te kouka, the cabbage tree. Not only did it look too stunning to decorate, but it perfumed the house for days.
Although I’m not a fan of photinia, my neighbour is, and she was more than happy for me to give her fast growing shrubs a trim. I gathered just the bright red new growth and used it as the main ingredient in the Christmas table arrangment, filling in the gaps with white foxgloves, sneezewort yarrow and shasta daisies. The creamy green seed heads of parsley and blooms of geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ (along with her red fuzzy seed heads) pulled everything together. The easy to grow perennial, Alchemilla mollis, with its mass of lime green flowers is another Christmas staple I couldn’t be without as it takes no arranging and looks stunning when teamed with a couple of heads of red geranium.
When it came to creating a festive morning tea, the flourishing coriander crop was pressed into service as the basis for a green pesto while our own walnuts were combined with baby beetroots to create another spread. Silverbeet was given the royal treatment by being sautéed with pine nuts to form the filling of a hot water crust pie, and fresh rosemary, sage, marjoram and chives livened up a homemade stuffing. Spanikopita absorbed a good basketful of spinach.
Christmas dessert came care of the best strawberry crop ever (the secret of strawberry growing, I have discovered, is to pull off those runners at flowering time) and a big bowl of gooseberries which made a delicious shortcake filling. My acid-free bright-red rhubarb looked a picture on top of the rosewater and rhubarb upside down cake. Friends and family all contributed to Christmas dinner, of course, but all eyes were on the garden produce, and everyone drooled over the baby carrots and tiny new potatoes.
I can’t imagine a Christmas that isn’t overflowing with the edibles growing right outside my door and decorated with flowers and foliage from my own simple ornamental beds. If you want to experience the pleasure this brings, start planning now for a home-grown Christmas in 2016.