NZ Woman's Weekly
Decorating your outdoor area for Christmas on a budget

Decorating your outdoor area for Christmas on a budget

If you’re as reluctant as I am to spend lots of money on things that don’t make flowers or grow fruit, you can have fun decorating your outdoor living spaces for the festive season without breaking the bank. Honestly, you don’t need expensive fairy lights that stop working as soon as one blows and loads of environmentally dodgy tinsel. You’ll find far more beautiful objects in or near your own garden.

Start with a Christmas wreath – inexpensive, creative and fun to make. You can use a disc of plywood, plastic or stiff cardboard as a base, or start from scratch. Using a disc is probably easier. Glue on slices of florists’ Oasis (wet foam) and while it’s drying, grab a basket and start searching the garden for decorative bark, twigs, seed pods, foliage and flowers. If you’re using Oasis, spray it with water once it’s fixed, and poke your flotsam and jetsam into it.

Beach-themed wreaths are perfect for the New Zealand summer and collecting shells, driftwood and other bits and pieces from the beach is hardly a chore. If you don’t find any old rope while you’re beach combing, buy some thick, white rope and use it to encircle your wreath. It’ll disguise the edges of the base and add to the beach theme.

A tropical approach also suits a Kiwi Christmas, so make a circlet with fine wire mesh and fill it with foliage and blooms from the garden. You’ll need to replace the flowers every couple of days. If you are using pohutukawa blossoms or similar fluffy flowers, spray them with hairspray to hold in place.

The russet brown undersides of magnolia leaves are great for making wreaths. They last well, and the colour tones work nicely with gold and copper shades. Decorate with ribbons in different shades of gold.

For a larger festive statement, buy a wire obelisk at a garden centre, or make your own. Wind it with tulle or fine wire netting and entwine it with foliage and flowers. Adding a few gold or silver balls will enhance the look. Buy candles and set them in the garden where they will draw attention to (but not burn!) your favourite plants.

A line along a wall or a path will give more of a Christmas feel than your usual outside lighting. On Christmas morning, pick your favourite blooms and float them in pools, ponds and birdbaths.

Smells like summer
Walking down our driveway at this time of the year is a scent sensation. There are two rows of tangelos in full flower and even if they never fruited, they’d be worth growing simply for their scent. The Port Wine Magnolias are making their nail varnish smell, and the naughty Queen of the Night offers a heady contribution. But my favourite is my neighbour’s Australian frangipani tree.

The small tubular flowers have an exquisite tropical fragrance and the flowering period goes from spring to early summer. Related to the genus Pittosporum, this is the only Australian species of Hymenosporum and it’s native to the coastal brush forests of eastern Australia.

While Aussie frangipanis grow 25m in tropical Queensland, here they’re likely to grow seven to 10m high. They’re evergreen, although inclined to defoliate in very wintry conditions, preferring lots of sun and shelter from the worst of the wind. They need frequent pruning of the tip growth from an early age and after flowering, to keep them lush and compact.

floating flowers
On Christmas morning, cut a few of your best blooms and float them in vessels of water. It’s a lovely way to start Christmas day.

Twig wreath
Twig wreath
Don’t burn those bits of dead vine! Form them into a circle (you can cheat with string or wire to keep it all in place) and add very simple silver decorations.

Fragrant frangipani
Fragrant frangipani
If you’re short of time or inspiration, a “less is more” approach can provide you with very stylish and interesting decorations. Here three candles, a spray of frangipani blooms and a few shells grouped together on a wooden tray look both festive and elegant.

Green wreath
This wreath combines real and faux foliage, and the big, green bow makes it unmistakably Christmassy.

Zen candle
Zen candle
If you can’t bring yourself to pick an orchid bloom, buy a good quality, artificial spray and use the flowers to make this Zen candle garden. Gather sand from the beach or use small white pebbles.

About Lee Ann McKenzie

Lee Ann wasn’t always a gardener - she lead what she terms ‘a normal life’ as a newspaper journalist and then television producer in Dunedin until the nineties, when she started moving north. Working on various lifestyle magazines in Auckland, Lee Ann eventually published her own garden design magazine, Alfresco, for 10 years.

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