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Just because Christmas comes every year doesn't mean you have to dig out the same old musty decorations. Barty Phillips shares her ideas for adding a fresh look to your seasonal displays

This is the time of year when you fish around under the bed to find the bag that holds the Christmas tree decorations, collected over a lifetime, moth-eaten, damaged but full of sentimental meaning. To hang them on, you will buy a tree. Pretty though this might be, you know it will lose its needles by Christmas day and be thrown out in the street by 6th January. Without the strait-jacket of existing decorations, what fun you could have dressing up your home in alternative ways.

Boldness in twigs
I try to concentrate on one or two spectacular displays, rather than a trail of holly sporadically tucked above pictures and behind wall lamps. In lieu of a traditional Christmas tree, cut a large twiggy branch off a dormant garden tree and hang it horizontally from the ceiling. Spray it with gold or silver paint if you wish. Then hang red (or blue) glass balls of different sizes from it. This takes up no floor space, looks spectacular and as it's dead already there's no need to feel guilty.

In florists you can buy stems of dogwood (Cornus alba) and other colourful twigs that have been painted white, silver or gold. These can be very effective in an enormous vase and in generous quantity. But if you have time and your own twiggy branches in the garden, you can do it yourself. The normally annoying shoots at the base of a lime tree are good for this.

Greenery galore
If you're into green, ivy looks fresh and pretty but you need to use generous amounts. One of the best for good cover is the vigorous, large-leaved white-and-green variegated ivy Hedera canariensis var. algeriensis 'Gloire de Marengo'. But any ivy with lots of leaf and not too much bare stalk will do. Use plenty of it twined round a banister or right round the room along a picture rail.

One colour goes a long way
For real impact, stick to a limited range of colours, just red and white, for example, or blue and white or blue and green. Add a touch of silver or gold, but not both together. Car spray paints are available in a number of metallic shades.

Christmas lights
This year, there has been a great advance in decorative Christmas lights. The bulbs are larger, the flexes longer and are often part of the effect. Some will randomly twinkle on and off, some can be hung like curtains, some have their own batteries (at last!) and don't need to be plugged in. The smaller ones can be placed inside a glass jug or vase to very pretty effect, or arranged over a bowl of nuts or fruit.

To create a really eye-catching visual focus, cover a board with red fabric (felt would be good), arrange a string of lights to serpentine all over it and fix it to a bare wall or prop it up in front of the fireplace.

Have a great holiday!

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