Branch out with natural materials

Looking for some inexpensive objects to find a home this spring? Kya de Longchamps provides some answers

THIS year we ate our Christmas tree. Well, to explain, we didn’t buy a Christmas tree, and instead used the money for a pub lunch for the family. We dragged in a lovely big beech limb left by pruning, and tenderly rubbed its rough surfaces with white poster paint for lichen-like frosty glaze. Propped in a corner and decorated, I can honestly say it was the loveliest tree we had ever brought indoors.

Natural materials with all their weather borne and honestly accrued flaws create a pleasing contrast to the manufactured sophistication of any home. Here are some other ideas to invite some free and inexpensive naturals home this spring. Step lightly on the environment taking your inspirational materials in small amounts, and leaving those wild flowers well alone.


It’s impossible to walk on any beach without finding silky soft pieces of old glass tumbled by the waves for decades into gem-like chunks. Every piece carries a unique history now deeply appreciated by costume and even fine jewellery makers. It might take a few weeks to assemble enough to display, but immersed in water in a clear glass vase, or even used to support the stems of flowers, they make a fascinating loose material. Set the vase in front of a window to backlight your collection.

Flatter pieces are ideal for a bohemian splash-back for a bathroom sink. Mix the sea glass with pieces of broken tiles and even crockery and assemble a random quilt-style arrangement with tile adhesive before grouting into position. Check out your local garden centre for glass cabochon-style beads to stud through the work. Cover an old planter with self hardening clay and push the glass into it as glowing accents.


The trees may not be all in leaf yet, but their own textural and sculptural beauty is present in the bare branches too. The Japanese have a special flare for using simple non-floral twiggy arrangements and as a pared back piece of ornamentation — you don’t even need a bloom. If you’re trimming back the garden, there’s an ideal opportunity to use those attractive off-cuts and to flatter the container in which you place your branches or twigs. Bare branches or branches coming into leaf make handsome arrangements alone, or mixed with shop bought fresh flowers to create dramatic height. Keep moving the branches around to find their natural flow vertically or horizontally according to the tree species and then build on this framework.

Take some nice knobbly apple or pear tree branches a good metre long and secure them into a twiggy tree with a piece of gold or silver wire. Suspend the ‘tree’ upside down to make a chandelier using a piece of attractive cord looped through itself. Using white thread or fine wire, decorate it with interesting suspended trinkets from single drop earrings, small toys that turn nicely on a thread, crystal droplets (acrylic is fine too) and so on. Make the threads more interesting with a few small beads in glass or pearls above the objects. Hang this in a window to turn in the light.


Ivy is a real survivor and often green and thriving when other plants are cowering in the earth. It twists around things and dribbles down from arrangements beautifully. Take some generous lengths of florists wire and wind off-cuts of ivy around the wire in generous swags to hide their supports. Add some silk daffodils here and there for a little spring promise. Using some shorter pieces of wire to secure (mind you don’t pierce a guest sitting back), drape the corsage over your dining chairs loosely around the shape of the chair back, fluffing the flowers into place. For extra luxury, thread a ribbon that matches your tables setting through the swags and match it to an ivy themed centrepiece with little nests, candy eggs and fresh daffodils.


Shells make stunning ornaments by themselves or coaxed into attractive heaps. Litter them across a dining table for a coastal theme, including one gorgeous one on each napkin to take home. Take a plain sheer curtain and give it some added life by attaching fine shells in a scattering over the surface. You can either use a hot-glue gun to attach a small wire to the shell or drill a minute hole in the shell surface. Either way, keep in mind that the shells or any other decorative element will have to come off if you wash the panel.

Any plain rough wood frame around a picture or mirror can take applied shell decoration, but if you can stretch your talents to putting driftwood together in a rough frame shape suspended by soft rope, it will be an art form all in itself for a bathroom or casual space. Use preserving jars or a large vase as a terrarium to display shells, staging them on a bed of fine sand. Jog the sand into angles for added ‘dune’ interest and backlight by a window. Try celebrating magnificent large shells set with old books and curious in Victorian collector style groups under the pooling light of a lamp on a forgotten side table in a postcard of memories.


Children are fascinated by natural found stones, but we forget their weighty loveliness and variety as we grow up. Simply piled up in an attractive bowl as you find them, rocks and pebbles have a gorgeous honesty. If you don’t’ have access to natural stones, bags of river stones are widely available at any DIY shop for pennies and make great mosaic materials. A large flat beach stone with a pad of felt stuck to the bottom surface can act as a lovely doorstop on even a wood floor and are ideal for shabby chic paperweights.

Extra aggregate paving stones often thrown around the garden can be set on any old stout flower pot or urn to make a low side table to set a cup of tea by a garden chair. Give the slab a good power wash and even concrete will buff up. Spread stones generously over the surface of planters and window boxes to prevent compost splattering windowsills and box edges when it rains. Bed attractive rocks in a winding river of moss for a fascinating dining table centre piece. Use a group of galvanised or ceramic dish-style supports to keep moisture off the table surface, hiding edges and joins with a moss frame.


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