Is your garden a gold mine of holiday decorating possibilities? The traditional greens used in many wreaths, swags and other decorations, Fraser, Douglas and Balsam firs, may not grow well in this area, but many gardens have an abundance of material that is readily suited for Christmas greenery displays. It’s very easy to add your own distinctive touch to a purchased, basic evergreen wreath by using what I call “clippings” from the garden. These are short, 6 to 8 inch pieces of material that are incorporated into wreaths, swags or roping.
When using fine-needled material such as cypress or juniper, I always love to start with a contrasting background color. The darker the background color that you use, the more the layers on top will seem to “pop.” Very dark, green-leafed hollies, such as ‘Ebony Magic’ or ‘Nellie Stevens’, or one of the blue hollies, such as ‘Blue Princess’, create a wonderful background. Layer these into the base wreath or other form and now you are ready to start adding contrasting greenery.
At this point, I like to put in blue or green-needled material, such as ‘Naylor’s Blue’ leyland cypress, ‘Wichita’ juniper, ‘Pfitzeriana’ (Pfitzer) juniper, ‘Seagreen’ juniper or ‘Buffalo’ juniper. After that layer is added, it’s time for the artistic portion of the wreath, the addition of the bright colors and exciting textures that will make your wreath different from every other.
For yellows, you could use variegated English holly, ‘Gold Lace’ juniper, golden hinoki cypress, yellow twig dogwood (stems), or golden weeping willow. If you would prefer more red material, try berries from nandina and winterberry holly or stems from red twig dogwood. And, for unusual-looking material that is really neat to use, I like leatherleaf mahonia, the little fuzzy buds and branches of deciduous magnolias, branches and buds of weeping goat willow, Harry Lauder’s walking stick, twigs from American beech, and also twigs from birch trees. I’ve even used boxwood, azalea cuttings, green-leafed aucuba, and of course ‘Little Gem’ magnolia branches. Oh, and don’t forget these beauties: blue atlas cedar, and deodar cedar.
Because this is fresh material cut from your garden it will last longer than purchased greenery. Furthermore, to assure that everything is well hydrated before you begin assembling your creation, submerge the greenery in a solution of Prolong® for two to three hours. If the branches are too large or too numerous to accomplish this, stand the cut ends in a bucket of solution so that the stems can absorb as much as possible. Leave the branches in the solution for several hours or overnight. This will help them to last even longer.
After it’s assembled, spray your creation with Wilt- Stop® antitranspirant (for outdoor use only). Generally, my wreaths last a good three to four weeks outdoors with no special spraying or watering. (Note: Purchased greens, such as bagged holly or magnolia branches, will benefit from similar treatment — be sure to cut an inch or so off the old stem off before placing the material into the solution.) If you are displaying your greens on an outer door, hang them on the outside of the storm door — they need the cold temperatures to help them stay fresh. So, go ahead and buy the base wreath. Most of the other material can come straight from your garden.
It’s amazing what a palette of color and texture your garden will afford you. Just look around and don’t be afraid to experiment. It would even be a good idea to plan ahead, and install plants into your landscape that will supply your Christmas greenery needs for years to come. You can turn a small investment now into a luxurious display later. And remember, hand-crafted wreaths are unique and make wonderful gifts! Furthermore, I find there is an added bonus to using natural materials in my holiday decorating.
After the holidays, I take all of my decorations down by New Year’s Eve (this is a family tradition). And, since I use natural materials, I can recycle and put them to good use. Evergreen boughs can be placed over pansies to provide excellent protection from heavy snow and ice or thrown in the compost to be returned to the garden later on as rich, fertile organic matter. (Note: Take care to remove any metal wreath forms or wire from your boughs.) Oh, how wonderful the holidays can be, naturally.
by Randy Best, Horticultural Specialist
Photos by Larry Hurley