Dreaming of a green Christmas: make your own sustainable tree

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‘Think of your ornaments as heirlooms’: Hannah Bullivant, stylist

Sustainability and seasonality are two guiding principles in the work of Kent-based stylist Hannah Bullivant. “I don’t want to create pretty things that then end up in landfill. I don’t want to add to that problem,” she explains. Her work – which encompasses event styling, creative workshops and interior styling projects – wholeheartedly embraces the storied and the secondhand. So, when asked to create a sustainable tree, she immediately headed outside.

“When you’re out foraging, there is often a story associated with the objects you find. You’ll remember the walk you were on, the people with you, the light or the weather that day. Foraging makes something place-specific, and it’s free!”

The branch that Bullivant has dressed was found in her friends’ garden. It had fallen from an oak tree. “It is hard to find the perfect branch,” she says. “For this, I was looking for one with a straight middle and an equal spread at the top, but nothing too perfect. I love that it still has a few oak leaves hanging on.” It is held upright in a metal tree stand with screws, which is covered by a tree skirt, woven in willow. (“Not everyone has time to forage – and not everyone will necessarily know what to do with the branch when they do,” Bullivant admits. If that’s the case, then she suggests a sustainable, shop-bought alternative, such as Branch, by the designer Demelza Hill.)

The branch has been dressed with a combination of foraged posies and eco-friendly shop-bought decorations. Bullivant made the posies by gathering a mixture of fresh and dried foliage, including sprigs of box hedge, bronze-coloured bracken, dried seed heads, and spikes of rosemary or thyme. (“Never uproot a plant, strip a bush, or take from public green spaces without permission,” she advises.) These have been tied to the branch with ribbons supplied by Natural Dyeworks, a local small-batch company that creates natural dye from foraged ingredients such as nettle, madder root and alder cones.

Bullivant suggests you approach your purchases with sustainability and longevity in mind. The decorations hung here are from makers who champion sustainability in all its forms. The white porcelain ornaments, stamped with objects found in nature, are from Aerende, an online “life-improving” homeware store that sells products crafted in the UK by people facing barriers to employment. The ornaments have been made by Studio 306 – a collective of skilled arts and craft practitioners working to aid mental health recovery through creativity. The glinting brass decorations and moon-shaped tree topper are from Workshop Ltd, a UK design duo who produce objects on demand from recycled, untreated brass, which will gain a patina over time. The hand-painted, papier-mâché baubles are made from recycled newspaper.

“Think of your ornaments as heirlooms to be passed down,” Bullivant suggests. It’s a philosophy that extends right the way to the bottom of the branch, where the gifts have been wrapped in material from Folds, a company that sells reusable organic cotton and certified linen gift wrap. “A fragrant herb or slice of dried orange can be tucked into the gifts for a complete sensory, present-opening experience,” adds Bullivant.

‘I want to make waste meaningful’: Robi Walters, artist

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” The artist Robi Walters lives by this maxim. For more than a decade, his practice has involved building up mesmerising collages from individual, hand-cut petals made from recycled card. The colours gently shift in tone and are shot through with flecks of neon or metallic.

“Even as a boy, I was inquisitive about discarded objects,” Walters recalls. “I’ve always wanted to take things that were unwanted and make them beautiful, so that they become wanted. It has taken me years to discover that my art is really a reflection of my life story.” His childhood was unsettled and, following a traumatic event, he was taken into care at five. That experience has shaped his award-winning art, which has also been informed by his daily meditation.

“The shapes in my work are inspired by sacred geometry,” Walters explains. “The shape of the petal is of two overlapping circles, which for me represents renewal or creation.” By laying these petals one on top of the other, Walters achieves that elusive state of flow: “I have to not think about what I’m doing. As soon as I do, it becomes a struggle.”

The concept of creating a sustainable Christmas tree wasn’t new to Walters. In the past, he has taken the trunks of discarded trees and sliced them into wooden discs, incorporating them into his art. For this structure, Walters asked friends and family to part with Christmas cards they’ve held on to for years. “I wanted these messages and sentiments to live on instead of being kept in a box,” he says. These multiple seasonal greetings have been given new meaning in his gleaming collage, which Walters would like to see placed on display in a children’s hospital.

He has also made freestanding ornaments from simple painted wooden shapes from off-cuts of wood salvaged from a building site near his studio in Soho, central London. Walters sat with his daughter to paint the small shapes and crafted the neon paper chain from strips of spray-painted Observer Magazine pages. “I want to make waste beautiful in a simple, meaningful way,” he explains. “Getting the next generation involved is a big part of that. If I can inspire those who see my art to create something similar – to look at their rubbish in a new light – then that is fantastic.”
Robi Walters is the artist in residence at Aston Martin. If you can find a place for his tree in a children’s ward, email gallery@robiwalters.com

‘Everything we make is regenerative’: Claire Potter, designer and activist

“Living in the smallest space possible is one of the most responsible things we can do,” explains designer and campaigner Claire Potter, who is currently downsizing. She is moving on to a 35ft houseboat and her collapsible Christmas tree is coming with her. “It hangs, so it’s a brilliant space-saver, and it will move around as the boat bobs on the water,” she says.

Potter’s sustainable tree is made from easily accessible materials (what hasn’t been found has been bought cheaply from a local hardware store). The base of the structure is an old aluminium bike wheel with its spokes removed. Chains have been screwed inside the spoke holes to form a pyramid structure that is hung from a central carabiner. Tensioning wire has then been threaded around the chains. The jade-coloured fronds of the tree are made from salvaged ghost gear – abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing nets that wash up on shorelines around the UK.

Potter runs a circular-economy design studio in Hove, East Sussex. “Everything we do is regenerative by design,” she explains. “We try to utilise waste streams in our design processes, so this tree design represents exactly the sort of project we do. It also ties in with our specialism – marine plastics – and the voluntary work I’m part of.”

Potter founded the Plastic Free Pledge campaign in 2016, which has since grown into a global movement. She is a voluntary representative for Surfers Against Sewage, and leads regular beach cleans in Brighton. She is also a member of the Global Ghost Gear Initiative (GGGI), which strives to reduce the 640,000 tonnes of fishing gear discarded in the sea each year.

“Ghost gear is called ghost gear because it carries on fishing throughout its life, which is upwards of 600 years.” The trawl nets that wash up on our shores are made from polypropylene or polyethylene, and the latter is not currently recyclable in the UK. “On beach cleans, the litter you find – glass, cans, some plastics – can quite often be recycled,” says Potter. “But fishing net has no outlet whatsoever: it has zero value to the fishers and it actually costs them money to get rid of it.”

Through the government-funded Project: Net Worth, Potter has developed products that can be made from melted, injection-moulded ghost gear, such as an incredibly robust cabinet handle. “It looks like malachite or jade and it will last pretty much for ever. The idea is to show how the material could be used and to actually increase its value. It’s about thinking innovatively and finding ways to lock up that material for as long as possible.”