Forage for festivities


Hands in fingerless gloves have been getting tingly cold at Manor Farm in County Durham as they raid garden and hedgerow.

The talented foliage-nurturing fingers belong to Clarey Wrightson and Kirsty Johnson.

Clarey runs Manor Farm with husband Barney and they are reviving the art of ‘great British growing’; planting historic garden species and encouraging the notion of seasonal in our flower habits, as much as in our eating ones.

Kirsty runs Darling & Green florists and the duo often work together using Clarey’s just-picked flowers for brides, parties and jolly seasonal arrangements.

Clarey’s flower studio is housed in an out-building in her Arts & Crafts home which is weathered with history. Aged and faded maps and travel posters paper the walls and chunky wooden tables and benches bear the signs of generations of labour much less creative than today’s more soulful pursuit.

The tables are groaning with the fruits of the flowerbeds outside. Wild, frothy and fabulous blooms, delicate flowerheads, leaves, twigs and grasses look flamboyant and natural, waiting for their moment in the spotlight.

The manor house, built in 1909, lies in the hamlet of Eryholme and from there Clarey holds regular workshops and in the summer, the gloriously romantic ’pick-your-own’ sweetpea days.

Clarey’s flower studio is housed in an out-building in her Arts & Crafts home which is weathered with history

‘Sown and Grown in the North East’ is their mission statement and they are part of a community spreading the message about home-grown and indigenous English flowers.

“We want people to become interested in British-grown flowers. They are as good as any – there is a misconception that flowers in a garden won’t last. Grown right, treated and conditioned they will look beautiful and have lovely smells.”

The organisation Flowers from The Farm brings together a green-fingered band now swelling to more than 200 members made up of small or micro businesses.

Farmers, smallholders and gardeners: people who are using their knowledge of horticulture and floristry to grow and present a different range of flowers to those available from the supermarkets and the wholesale markets.

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Try this at home

Winter days and festive tableaux call for berries, foliage, greenery and shimmery wintry shades and textures. And lots of candles. Loads of candles.

Here’s Kirsty and Clarey’s guide to how you can ‘try it at home’…


Simply placing unusual and interesting shaped foliage and branches on your mantlepiece can have real impact. Choose an evergreen foliage that will hold its shape and last throughout the festive period. Ivy is perfect for this but similarly spruce or holly works well.

Different sized logs with an abundance of candles give a natural festive warmth to
the fireplace  – our motto here is ‘the more the merrier’.

Drinks party display table

When choosing colours to dress your home this Christmas give thought to simpler and more unusual shades rather than the traditional red, green and gold options. This soft lilac linen gives a grey tone that works beautifully against the silver accessories and dark wood. Barney found the tree root whilst out working and we used it to make a dramatic centrepiece for the drinks party table. We added homegrown succulents, purple hyacinth bulbs, moss, dried hydrangeas and figs to add interest and candles for warmth and festive sparkle.

Make use of an old urn by filling with foraged greenery, herbs, branches and hydrangeas – we dried these in late summer. To add a touch of Christmas bling we sprayed some poppy seed heads and artichokes with gold paint.


Create an inviting welcome for your loved ones this Christmas with a simple foraged display. This hanging door wreath is super quick to put together and looks fresh and different. Clarey made use of a beautifully shaped spruce branch by hanging it upside down and tying in hydrangeas, sedum and roses. We used up some fabric offcuts to make a voluptuous ribbon and hung the bunch from the door. Foraged ivy was arranged around the door frame and an old science bell jar Kirsty sourced from a car boot sale was used in place of a hurricane lantern. Barney found an old sledge and a pair of vintage skis in his parents’ home which gave the look a quirky winter styling flourish.

Foraged winter styling tips

• Throughout the year think ahead and dry flowers or collect seedheads to use in your Christmas arrangements

• When foraging keep in mind the shapes you want to achieve. So for a fireplace look for a stronger straight branch for the base then some tall and winding branches for height and interest.

• Think winter rather than Christmas for a classier and more unusual display. No need for tinsel and baubles!

• Beg, steal and borrow props from family’s cupboards and garages.

• Scour car boot sales and charity shops for vintage finds to add character

• If in doubt, add more candles!

Stylist details

Clarey and Barney Wrightson |

Kirsty Johnson |