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How the kids can make natural decorations

By Hannah Stephenson
If your children are looking for something to do in the run-up to the big day, there’s a cornucopia of natural decorations they could be making to add eco-friendly interest to the festive scene.

Garlands of natural tinsel, willow stars and bowls of beautiful bulbs are all possibilities, according to the team from the UK Royal Horticultural Society’s Campaign for School Gardening.

Many of the materials, such as pine cones, can be found for free in local parks, public gardens or woodland – and seeking out treasures on a family winter walk can be almost as much fun as the crafting itself.

“With the school holidays upon us, we’ve put together these low-cost, wintry activities for young people to try, and [they] can largely be done indoors so they’re perfect as the nights draw in,” says Alana Cama, UK RHS Schools and Groups Programme manager, who offers these suggestions:

Natural tinsel
Ditch plastic in favour of natural tinsel to treat the birds, whose food can often be in short supply over the winter months. Wildlife-friendly snacks such as slices of apple and orange, cranberries and stale popcorn can all be strung along a length of natural twine to create an eye-catching garland to hang outside, or even adorn an outdoor tree.

Cookie cutters come in handy for creating fruit circles or other festive-shapes before threading on to the twine. To complete, tie knots at each end to secure and, once hanging, be sure to remove any fruit that starts to look mouldy to prevent any harm to birds or other creatures.

Willow stars
Stars made from naturally-bendy willow or brightly-coloured dogwood make pretty indoor decorations, or can be hung from trees outside. Gather the stems after the leaves have dropped or order online and soak in water for a couple of days beforehand.

Then, taking a stem of around a metre in length and holding it at the thick end (which becomes the handle), bend into a star shape before securing the end with string or a cable tie. Leave the stars bare for a pared back Scandi-chic look, or jazz them up by decorating with other natural materials such as leaves or pine cones, stuck on with PVA glue. Hang by cutting off the handle and attaching a length of string or ribbon.

Bird baubles
Help our feathered friends and attract wildlife to your balcony or garden by making a bird bauble. You’ll need bird feed – for example a wild bird seed mix, dried fruit or popping corn – some fat such as suet or lard (kept at room temperature to soften beforehand) and an open container such as an old yoghurt pot.

Thread the container with string so it can hang and decorate to give a more festive look. Mix the food and fat together before spooning into the container, pressing down and leaving somewhere cool to set. For a more rustic option, push the mixture into the crevices of an upside down pine cone. Hang outside and watch for the birds to find and feast on it.

Beautiful bulbs
A purse-friendly gift from the children that can help lift people’s spirits during what can be a tough time of year, is a colourful container bursting with bulbs such as daffodils, hyacinths or amaryllis. “Young people will have great fun planting bulbs in pots, which they have decorated, to give to someone special or to a neighbour,” says Cama.

For December planting, choose ‘prepared’ bulbs that have been kept in the cold for a period to ‘force’ early flowering once they are grown indoors. Simply add a layer of grit at the bottom of your pot (with holes for drainage), before adding compost and positioning your bulbs.

Fill with more compost leaving the top third of the bulbs uncovered, then water a little before giving as a gift. Let the recipient know to keep the container in a warm, sunny spot such as a windowsill and they will be able to enjoy the beautiful colours of your chosen bulbs throughout January and February, a great way to help beat those winter blues.

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