The Solstice Bush - An Alternative to buying Christmas Trees and Other Midwinter Decorations

Permaculture Magazine September 2007

By Glennie Kindred - www.glenniekindred.co.uk

In this time of great transition and change, we find ourselves re-evaluating the customs and traditions we have grown up with. Many people are no longer comfortable with the religious or the commercial aspects of Christmas and there is a real need to reclaim this celebration in new ways that have true meaning for us and make the best use of our Midwinter energy. Nature is resting now and we too can use this time to slow down, rest and reflect on what we have learnt from the old year and what we wish to begin in the new.

There is nothing finer than taking some time out to make your own Midwinter decorations. Creative playing gives you time for reflection, helps you to rest your active achieving selves and makes space for your unconscious thoughts to come to the surface for review. We know that its good for our children and what's good for our children is good for us! So put on some good music, relax and enjoy getting in touch with your playful creative self!

For most people the Christmas tree is the main focus for their decorations. Personally. I could never buy a butchered dead tree and decorate it! I did buy a living tree in a pot one year, which was better, but it soon became pot-bound and it was tricky keeping it watered in the summer. It now lives happily in the ground at the bottom of the garden and is growing into a beautiful tree. But there is definitely a limit to how many Pine trees a town garden can sustain! One is enough for mine and I have to keep trimming it to keep it small enough for the space. I can use the trimmings to make my Solstice bush - a collection of pruned evergreen branches and twigs, which creates a wonderful alternative tree to decorate at Midwinter. Every year it's different according to what I find, where I go and what I add to it by way of other decorations.

The Solstice Bush

It's called a Solstice bush because traditionally myself and my family would go out on the Winter Solstice and collect for it on our walk and create it when we came home. This has made it special to us on many levels.

I begin with a few sturdy larger branches first and push them into a large plant pot of earth and hold them in position with medium sized stones and some earth. Best to put the pot in it's final position first so that it does not have to be moved again. Place the pot in a large bowl or dish so that you can water it and keep everything fresh.

Smaller twigs are pushed in around the main branches until a satisfying shape is achieved. Solstice bushes can be created from a mixture of different evergreen branches, dried flowers, dried grasses, seed heads, anything that still has berries and represents the old year. Decorations can be made from other collected natural things. They can simply be painted with gold, copper or silver acrylic paint and hung in the tree. Lights can be hung from the branches in the usual way. Other natural things can be added to the arrangement to bring in colour, such as Chinese lanterns or dried everlasting flowers. Buy them when they are available in the Autumn, or even better grow them yourself. They need to be hung upside down to dry and the stems can be strengthened with thin garden wire.


Connecting to the natural world around us in this way helps us stay in touch with it and helps us live our lives in harmony with the prevailing energy of the Earth and her cycles. The custom of bringing evergreens into the home at Midwinter goes back to a time in our past when people were more intrinsically linked to the patterns and cycles of nature. Evergreens had special significance, and represented everlasting life in the dark time of the year. They were hung around doorways and windows and each European country and every county in the British Isles would have had their own customs, inclusions, and superstitions.

The main native evergreens are Holly, Ivy, Mistletoe, Pine and Yew, but of course there are many other evergreens you can use, depending what is available in your garden or in your locality.

I use the time spent collecting evergreens to slow down, to open my senses to their essential energy. I like to take time to connect to the tree or plant in any way that feels honest and real to me. The way they grow and where they like to grow provide clues to their essential energy, as well as their herbal properties and flower essence dynamic. I thank them in the cutting and afterwards use what wood I can for creative and healing projects and compost the rest back into the earth, or add to the outdoor bonfire to burn later.

Common Native Evergreens

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)
Holly is one of our most sacred native trees, a symbol of everlasting life, good luck, good will, and potent life energy. In folklore the red berries represent the red female blood of life. The berries are mildly poisonous and may cause vomiting and diarrhoea.
The flower essence is used to help the heart become open to Unconditional Love.
The beautiful hard white wood is wonderful to carve and is used energetically to restore clear direction and focus loving intentions.

Mistletoe (Viscum album)
The ancient people of Europe revered the Mistletoe as it grew in two of their most sacred trees, the Oak and the Apple, both of which are symbolic of doorways into the Otherworld or the internal realms of our unconscious and subconscious selves. In folklore the white berries represent the white semen drops of the life-giving male. Holly and Mistletoe were displayed together to represent the sacred marriage of the male and the female from which comes fertility and new life. (Hence kissing under Mistletoe.)
The berries are poisonous.
The flower essence is recommended for people experiencing rapid change in their lives. It encourages the energy of goodwill and Love.

Scotch Pine (Pinus sylvestris)
Pine symbolises immortality, the undying spirit, vitality and far-sighted vision. The cones were brought into the house to bring good luck, fertility and good fortune.
The flower essence encourages personal forgiveness and moving into new aspects of life. The wood is used energetically for developing our ability to see beyond the present, encouraging us to act from our own insights, from our inner wisdom and personal power.

Yew (Taxus baccata)
Yew represents everlasting life, transformation and rebirth. It has an unusual form of growth that enables the tree to regenerate from the decay of the same root bole. The Yew therefore symbolises fresh growth rising out of death of the old, such as our old selves, or old ways of thinking. Because it is such a long-lived tree, Yew represents contact with our past and our ancestors and connection to the ancient wisdom. The wood can be used for all transformation work and the power of the regenerative cycle of death, rest and rebirth.
The bark, leaves and seeds of the Yew are poisonous and obviously it should be kept out of reach of children and animals.

Ivy (Hedera helix) Ivy represents the search for the self and the freedom to choose our life's path. The berries are poisonous.

I am aware that all of these common winter evergreens have poisonous berries, but I believe we should be teaching our children about the natural world, not disconnecting them. Teaching children what they can and cannot put in their mouths is essential knowledge that connects them to their natural environment.

Living Twig Tree

Another alternative tree idea is to cut large living twigs and arrange them in a very large vase or pot of water. They look stunning in their simplicity of colours and shapes and gradually during the next month or so they begin to sprout leaves and pale flowers! A reminder that spring is on its way!

I tend to use plants from my garden that need pruning anyway. Willow, Dogwood, Winter Jasmine, Beech, Birch, Lilac, Forsythia, Flowering Currant, are things I have found work well but I am sure there are many more bushes and trees which you can use depending on what you have available. Times when I've not had a garden I have done a bit of sensitive pruning in the woods, along canals or railway tracks, on waste ground, or along hedgerows. Long stemmed fresh flowers can be added.

Winter Branches

One single cut dead branch, or several cut dead branches look wonderful painted with white, gold, copper or silver acrylic paint. Dab the paint on with bits of old cut up kitchen sponge. Glitter can be added when the paint is dry. Spread on PVA glue and sprinkling glitter on top. I save good branches from the Autumn garden prune or bring them back from the woods when I find them blown down in the wind. Old branches could be brittle and be home to various insects, so it is much better to use a recently cut or fallen branch.

The branches can be arranged in a sturdy pot or bucket, wedged in with stones. Again this is best done in or near it’s final resting place. After the paint has dried, wrap up the pot with a coloured scarf and tie it round with ribbon. Place the whole thing on a beautiful piece of material or another scarf. Add lights and decorations.

A single painted branch can be hung from a couple of hooks from the ceiling. Again this looks stunning when it is kept simple, with a few decorations and lights added.


Again, when making decorations, keep the designs simple and easy to make so that it is relaxing and a pleasure to do. Choose one or two ideas only. Experiment and see what works. for you. Keep the colours simple too. Choose two or three colours that go well together, such as white, with purple and silver, or gold and deep blue and keep everything within that. Ultimately you want to create something that helps you to feel peaceful and delighted when you look at it.

Gather together all kinds of natural materials such as evergreens, pine cones, feathers, herbs and seed heads. Experiment with different ways to combine them, hang them, paint them. Thread beads onto the shafts of feathers and hang them in your tree. Small white feathers look particularly good. A sheet of holographic or sparkly wrapping paper can go a long way and can be glued to shapes cut from cardboard. Cereal packets are a good thickness. Tin foil can also be glued to cardboard shapes and look great when painted with glass paints. Try half rubbing the glass paint off with tissue when it is dry, to reveal the silver underneath.

Wire, needles and threads, ribbons, glittery threads and glittery wool, can all be used to tie things together, or simply hang long threads or trail them over the branches. Lengths of net, organza, other shiny materials and ribbons can be simply tied on and look stunning in their simplicity. Acrylic paint can be bought in handy small pots from craft shops. They come ready mixed and ready to use with a great range of colours, including gold, copper and silver.

Copydex glue is worth using for these projects. It dries fast and clear and it will bond many different materials together well. Dried fruits, nuts or marzipan can be dipped in melted organic fair-trade chocolate to make simple home made tree sweets. Wrap them in greaseproof paper with an outer layer of tissue paper or coloured foil. Hang them with thin ribbons or glittery threads.

Angels or Fairies

Using a small plate as a template, cut out circles of tissue paper, net, or organza. Put a ball of cotton wool or sheep's wool into the middle of the circle and tie it off with coloured thread or ribbon to make the head. Wings can be added by tying a strip of tissue or material around the 'neck'. Use a needle and thread through the top of the head so that you can hang them from your tree or bush. Lots of small angels, using a cup as a template, also look wonderful.

Ultimately it doesn't matter what you do as long as you enjoy yourself doing it! Creative time also has the added bonus of helping you to become aware of where you are and what you want to bring into your life.

The old year has finished and the new year is about to begin. What we think and envision now will manifest in the future. Each of us has the choice to change and be part of the change. If we live with this possibility, we can make use of this time in the Earth's cycle to give our selves some quality time, to re-evaluate and set new possibilities