‘Gather Ye Fir Cones While Ye May’

Fir cones
Gathered on one lovely summer’s walk through the Beddgelert Forest

Gazing out of my window this evening it is hard to believe that it is the middle of August and the children are still on their summer holidays. The mountains are completely obscured by cloud – in fact, I can hardly see the other side of the valley – and it is dark, gustily windy and drenchingly wet. Ah, the true British summer has returned to us. Now this is the weather I recognise and understand!

In such circumstances my thoughts turn to autumn and cosy evenings by a blazing fire… and being me, they drift as far as the Midwinter season. No, don’t groan! There are facets throughout the whole year which reflect on our major Winter celebrations; things which it is good to do/collect/gather/make in preparation for that special time, and now – if and when the rain stops! – is no exception.

For it is now that everything in the woods and forests is coming to fruition, and that means things like all the fir cones which feature so prominently in our Winter decorations. But NOW is the time to begin collecting them. Take the children out into the countryside… go for a walk in the woods, through the mountains, around a lakeside…fill your lungs with pure fresh air. Equip everyone with a bag – (preferably cotton, more environmentally friendly and can be rewashed and reused hundreds of times) and get everyone searching for the bounty of the forest.

There are pine and fir cones of many different varieties. In the next few weeks there will also be alder catkins (which look like tiny, miniature fir cones), acorns and their cups, beech masts, spinning jennies from the sycamore, horse chestnuts (conkers), and a host of other goodies. They can be left naturally coloured or touched with red, orange or yellow paints to weave in to autumnal displays or door-wreaths. Or they can be sprayed gold or silver, and utilised in the making of Christmas decorations.

More fir cones
These dainty sprays look so pretty on windowsills, mantlepieces or shelves, either by themselves or couched among greenery.

The whole point is that it is best to look ahead – enjoy the end of summer and give your countryside romps extra emphasis by looking out for natural items which you can use throughout the autumn and winter. Hang an autumn wreath or make a natural harvest thanksgiving display in September; decorate your hall table or porch for Hallowe’en/Samhain/Calan Gaeaf; utilise some of the windy, wet November days to construct lovely, unique and very personal natural decorations with which to decorate your home or give as gifts… but you have to give it a bit of thought now. No use being struck by the creative muse at nine o’clock at night on a dark October evening and wondering where you can lay your hands on some acorns or a couple of extra fir cones for your creations.

Once you get your bounty home, ensure that it is thoroughly dry before storing it away for later in the year – otherwise you may find that your bags of loveliness have rotted or gone mouldy! And then store them in a cool dry place in containers which will keep them protected from dust and getting damaged, but aren’t airtight, allowing them to ‘breath’.

GO ON, DO IT NOW!

But a word of caution; when collecting any natural items. Don’t be thoughtlessly greedy; only take as much as you really require. Don’t over- pick or over-harvest. And don’t take from just one tree or one spot. Stagger your collecting, taking a few from one place and then moving on to the next tree or area. Leave plenty for other people. Much more importantly, leave plenty for the wildlife which depends on such harvests for food throughout the autumn and winter, and the trees themselves which require a proportion of their seeds to grow new life for the coming year(s).

Of course, one of the added bonuses is that once the decoration is finished with, you can simply put it in the compost bin. No plastic contaminating the planet. No land fill to account for. Just natural recycling… as it should be… as it has always been.

Enjoy your forward planning and your country walks this August!

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