One of the best times of the year to think about using sprays of flowering trees and shrubs to enliven your home is when the bare brown twigs of winter start to bud into the flowers and leaves of spring. At this season they are doubly valuable – there is not much else available for room decoration, and there are few things nicer than watching their leaves and buds open out.
Because of their strong, sculptural forms many flowering trees and shrubs lend themselves particularly well to a simple and effective flower arrangement where curves, angles, and natural growing shapes are vitally important. To make a long-lasting display, remember that all shrub and tree stems need to be crushed, split, peeled and given a good drink before arranging. And strip off about half the leaves, particularly the largest ones, as they crowd the container and detract from the beauty of the blossoms or flowers.
Fruit blossom, like any woody-stemmed plant, needs a little extra care to ensure a reasonably long-lived arrangement. Blossom should always be cut when the buds are tight, and either early in the morning or in the evening. If it is cut early in the spring before there is much sign of life at all the buds will open in the warmth of the house. It is particularly important to keep flowering blossoms out of a draught. And remember that all woody-stemmed flowers need crushing or smashing at the base, or slitting up an inch or so, so that they can absorb enough water. Then give them a long drink in a cool, dark place before you arrange them. Use only three or four stems in an arrangement so that their shape can be appreciated.
Plum blossom is usually the earliest fruit tree to appear, and after it come Cherry, Apple, Quince, and Pear blossom. Even with the greatest care these blossoms will not last as long in water as Roses or Daisies, but their beauty more than compensates for their short life.
Many of the evergreens like Bay, Laurel, Holly, and Privet are good for spring and winter decoration.
Most types of Clematis (Virgin’s Bower) are superb, and very graceful with their trailing stars of pink, white, and purple.
Forsythia (Golden Bells) with its yellow starry flowers, closely followed by brilliant green leaves, is one of the shrubs whose branches can be cut when the buds are only just showing. It will come into flower in the house.
Jasmin Nudiflorum (Winter Jasmine) is very useful indoors because, as its name suggests, it flowers continuously throughout the dreary winter months. In England it is well worth considering at Christmas time as its fresh yellow flowers contrast well with the Holly and the Ivy and their dark green leaves.
Perhaps the most wonderful of all flowering shrubs are the various varieties of Lonicera (Honeysuckle) which fall into graceful shapes and fill the entire house with scent.
Philadelphus (or ‘Mock Orange’) with its heady, sweet scent is also rewarding to cut and bring indoors. Strip most of the leaves off so that the water can reach the flowers and is not all taken up by the leaves. (This, incidentally, is a shrub which should be pruned after flowering.)
Ribes Sanguinium (Flowering Currant) is another good spring subject. The twigs, like those of Forsythia, can be cut and brought into the house at the end of winter. Their leaves and flowers will | open in the room and fill it with scent.
Sambucus (Elder) when picked in bud will fill the room with a sweet honey fragrance and the delicate lacy flowers are most decorative when they open.
Both because of its colour and scent Syringa (this is Lilac – not ‘Mock Orange’ as is sometimes thought) is worth cutting for the house. Most of the foliage must be stripped off the stems and the ends crushed.
Three more fragrant shrubs which are ideal for cutting while the buds are small are Chimonanthus Fragrans (Winter Sweet), Hammemelis Mollis (Witch Hazel), and Mahonia Beali syn Mahonia Japonica with its yellow flowers smelling of Lily-of-the-Valley.
Alder and Hazel are good cut to open in water as are all the Willows. The earlier you cut these the less dusting up of yellow pollen you will have to do, although this seems a small price to pay for the pleasure catkins give.
A great favourite to be cut on a country walk (but do not be too greedy, and be careful not to damage the tree) is Aesculus Hippocastanum (the Horse Chestnut) whose ‘sticky buds’ dramatically develop into marvellous pleated, brilliant green stars and flower buds.
Escallonia, a gum tree from the Chilian mountains, does well in sheltered gardens and is good for arrangements. It has dark, glossy leaves and rosy purple flowers.