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Christmas wreathes by the Flower Farm in Burscough

PUBLISHED: 00:00 04 December 2018

Clare Ashcroft with June Kitchen who run the courses

Clare Ashcroft with June Kitchen who run the courses

Archant

Two talented women from Burscough are helping to ensure Lancashire’s front doors look their finest this festive season.

A finished wreathA finished wreath

It’s traditional to think about making Christmas cakes around this time but down on The Flower Farm in Burscough, they’re thinking about making door wreathes and, if the number of people who want to take part in one of their workshops is anything to go by, they’re not alone.

‘This year, we’re offering many more courses than usual, almost up until the day itself, as it becomes ever more fashionable to decorate your own door with a handmade wreath,’ says Clare Ashcroft who has run The Flower Farm with partner, Alison Matthews, since 2007.

‘Around the beginning of October, we begin to gather foliage, dry out fruit slices, collect berries, cones, moss and anything else that might just catch our eye like the occasional pheasant feather.’

Based in a picturesque summerhouse on Clare’s family farm, the pair first met at the school gates when Alison, who had a sociology degree but no experience of floristry, found that she was looking forward more and more to chatting about flowers with trained florist, Clare.

The women help to decorate private homes at ChristmasThe women help to decorate private homes at Christmas

‘Eventually, she gave in, took the hint and I began helping her out before dropping sociology altogether,’ says Alison. Today, the pair grow English flowers and foliage in an acre of rich Burscough soil; soil so good that their small patch produces at least 10,000 hand grown flowers a year.

Most of the year, the pair grow blooms for brides who like to come along and choose their own flowers fresh from the farm; hair garlands, Lego men button-holes and specialist pew end arrangements such as country flowers bursting out of wellies don’t faze them. ‘Some brides tell us what they would like and others – particularly if they came along with mum or bridesmaids – like to have a go themselves and that gave us the idea of offering courses in the summerhouse.

‘One winter bride asked for a church door and pew end wreaths. It was hugely admired and so we decided to run autumn and winter courses showing people how to make their own Christmas door wreathes. They’re so popular now, we offer gift vouchers for them and we refuse to believe that their popularity is anything at all to do with the cake, mulled wine, hot chocolate, mince pies and biscuits that are on offer,’ laughs Clare.

Maybe not but they certainly add to the sense of fun. ‘Well, for us, creativity and laughter go hand in hand and anyway, it’s difficult to be serious when you have pieces of moss – which sticks like the devil – attached to your clothes. It’s why sticky tape has pride of place; it’s the only thing guaranteed to remove it,’ says Alison.

June Kitchen, Alison Matthews, Jennifer Anderson, Clare Ashcroft and Emma Ewins ready for wreath makingJune Kitchen, Alison Matthews, Jennifer Anderson, Clare Ashcroft and Emma Ewins ready for wreath making

It is mostly ladies who take part but in recent years, there has been an increase in the number of chaps attending, especially those who come along with a partner. But are any special skills or tools needed?

‘It’s nice to wear a Christmas jumper, it gets us all in the mood. But apart from that, we provide everything and everyone is guaranteed to go home with an eye catching wreath to hang on the door,’ says Alison who believes that this year natural and ice-blue and silver wreathes with floppy bows are on trend in Lancashire, although traditional reds and golds will never fall out of fashion.

‘A mistake that beginners make is to not ensure that foliage is placed in the same direction and it is almost like a domino line falling: if one lady does it, you can be sure that others will follow and then we have to begin again, as it makes gaps in the wreath and that’s always to be avoided. Still, it’s never a disaster, we have another mince pie and start again,’ says Clare who is keen to spread the word that a properly cared for wreath can make a gorgeous spring decoration, simply by taking out the Christmas decorations and replacing them with things such as miniature chocolate eggs.

Clare and Alison also find themselves being asked to decorate homes and corporate premises with flowers and foliage for Christmas.

Alison Matthews (right) with students, Emma Ewins and Jennifer AndersonAlison Matthews (right) with students, Emma Ewins and Jennifer Anderson

‘Yes, we travel all over the North West. I think people really do appreciate flowers and foliage at Christmas – the scent alone is beautiful.

‘We have decorated cottages, mansions, restaurants, offices and shops and whether it’s a full house decoration, a single stunning pedestal with dramatic Love Lies Bleeding or a table arrangement, it makes Christmas extra special,’ says Clare who, with Alison , often find that they are decorating their own homes late on Christmas Eve with whatever is left over.

‘That’s true but we don’t compromise on the door wreath. They always go up at the beginning of December and stay there until Twelfth Night,’ says Alison.

Hit the decs

Try to use a wire wreath frame rather than florist foam: it is easier to work and is better for the environment.

Begin by packing it with as much sphagnum moss as possible: aim to have no gaps at all.

Build up the foliage by bunching together several bundles and attaching them, one at a time, with strong floral wire.

Use different textures in your bundles and always work in the same direction.

Add decorations of your choice: pine cones; berries; cinnamon sticks; wired baubles and dried orange slices are all good options.

Finish off with a pretty bow. Slightly stiffened ribbon can be easier to handle but, if your bow tying skills aren’t quite up to scratch, one alternative is use a selection of smaller, ready formed bows dotted throughout the wreath.

Keep it looking fresh for longer by placing it on the lawn whenever it rains; the moss will absorb as much moisture as it needs.

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