Making your garden look as gorgeous as your home over Christmas is simpler than you might think. Rather than installing illuminated reindeer on the lawn, the message from stylist and gardener Jacky Hobbs is to decorate and embellish what is already out there.
"It's easy to create a magical entrance for guests at Christmas," says Hobbs, whose own garden backs on to Richmond Park. "I turn the lollipop privet trees in my front garden into Christmas puddings by studding them with a few berry holly sprays from the garden; the idea would work just as well with any simple topiary evergreens.
"The clipped box border edging is treated to a row of small pots of cyclamen, placed just in front, all in a line."
And a welcoming door wreath is essential. She suggests creating your own or customising a bought one. "I use both dried twig bases, that can be used again, as well as floral foam rings, which you can buy online or from a florist. I tie on a base of greenery from my garden, but you could buy a simple fir wreath and decorate it with small groups of bay, rosemary or holly leaves, then add depth and detail with bunches of chilli peppers, dried apple slices, fir cones or flowerheads.
"Prepare them first by pushing a short length of florist's wire through each bundle, fruit or flower, then bend it over halfway and twist at the top, so you can then simply tie the additions securely on to the foliage or just push them into the base."
Decorating the garden isn't just about greeting guests at the front door, however. It's also about the view from indoors, says Hobbs.
"Somebody will inevitably be sitting by the window, so I set up something especially for them to look at, just on the other side. This year, I've grouped several pots of white cyclamen next to an antique leaded cloche on a garden table."
You could create something similar with a collection of pots, lanterns or small evergreens. Garden centres sell packs of six small variegated euonymus plants for a few pounds that could be dressed with fake red berries, their black plastic pots sprayed silver.
Work with what you have, is the message. A topiary frame or obelisk that holds sweet peas in summer could be wound round with trails of ivy and strung with clear fairy lights. The branches of a tree by the front door or the patio could be strung with shiny Christmas baubles. A bowtied large flowerpot or tub filled with sand could support berried branches from the florist or even a mass of sparkly, silvered twiggy branches; the beauty of dressing the great outdoors is that nobody will be looking that closely, so fakery is fine.
"Tall metal lanterns just need a scarlet ribbon and a sprig of holly to dress them up for Christmas," says Hobbs. "I use them both indoors and outdoors. As well as a candle within, add a few tree baubles to give an extra glow. Several make a great greeting for guests, right by the front doorstep, or you could range them down the garden path. You can do the same with tea lights on metal stakes, winding holly around them, to create little pools of light."
Hobbs believes lighting can make everything look magical as long as you stay away from flashing coloured lights which look more Las Vegas than Lapland. "Trail a string of clear lights around the door wreath, or drop a net studded with lights over a big box ball or small potted fir tree. It looks marvellous and takes seconds to set up. Batteries make them so much easier, but be sure to use lights specifically made for outdoors."
Photographs by Clive Nichols