Boy am I glad the cold weather finally arrived. As a life long Michigan resident, I find it hard to even begin to think about decorating my house for the holidays when petunias and dianthus are blooming beside the front stoop.
But this week Jack Frost finally arrived and rectified the situation and a fine dusting of snow now covers my garden signaling it’s time. Time to break out the tinsel and glitz. Time to deck the halls with fragrant greens- the smell of Christmas past.
You don’t have to be a wizard with a glue gun or an experienced floral designer to decorate with fresh greens. Branches of evergreens and pinecones tucked together will transform a mantle, bookshelf or tabletop into a storybook setting. For an elegant touch, add glass baubles and thread French wired ribbon of lush velvet or a diaphanous metallic among the greens. Bunches of berried Eucalyptus, casually draped from a chandelier, makes quick holiday magic. Baskets and bowels filled with fresh evergreen boughs make wonderful instant arrangements.
How long can you expect those fresh greens to last? That depends on the kind of plant material you choose, the condition it’s in when purchased and where it’s used.
Noble fir, white pine, incense cedar and juniper all have good color and needle retention. Eucalyptus and seeded Eucalyptus may dry out rather quickly, but they hold their leaves and color well.
Bright red rose hips and red twig dogwood add seasonal zip that lasts indefinitely. Pink pepper berries also last for ages so if you use them with fresh greens, plan to recycle them in spring arrangements. Broad leaf Salal, also called lemon leaves, and boxwood also keep their leaves and color as they dry.
One of my favorites leafy characters, Southern magnolia, with its rich brown suede-like undersides adds a long lasting elegant touch to any arrangement.
Unfortunately, fresh Holly, when added to wreaths and swags, last but a few days indoors. If allowed to freeze, variegated Holly turns black. So use it sparingly and add it at the last minute.
Spraying outdoor greens with an anti-desiccant, such as Wilt Pruf or Cloud Cover, available at garden centers, also helps to keep live greens fresh looking longer. But this should be done in the garage or out of doors, using lots of newspaper to protect surrounding surfaces. The liquid contains a paraffin-like substance that is very sticky.
Before buying fresh greens, check to be sure they are in good condition. Greens stored outdoors, exposed to drying winds and sun will have begun to deteriorate before they are purchased. Smell and color are also good indications of freshness. Falling needles and brittleness are signs of premature aging.
Professional florists condition fresh greens to keep them looking fresh longer. Using a hand prunners, recut and make several vertical cuts to spit the ends of the stems. Then store the freshly cut greens in a pail of water for several hours before arranging.
So how long do fresh greens really last? Wreaths of noble fir, in good condition when purchased, hung in a shaded outdoor setting will stay green through spring.
When exposed to direct sunlight and excessive heat live greens loose their color rather quickly so close curtains and blinds in South facing windows or move arrangements to protected areas after the celebration.
One of my home-made swags, a combination of live and faux plant material has graced the top of my English style pine cupboard for four years and it still looks great today. Oh, the incense cedar, southern magnolia and fresh Eucalyptus have since turned to a mellow tan. But their texture and color look wonderful in combination with the dark brown pinecones and a few green springs of faux pine.
Before running out to purchase fresh greens, grab a set of prunners and check out your landscape. It took me but a few minutes to cut a basket full of Mahonia (Oregon grape holly), white pine tips, blue spruce, blue berried juniper and long strands of ivy. Tendrils of fresh ivy and sprigs of Mahonia are short lived, so plan cut them the day of the party.
And don’t overlook those bare branches. Stuffed in a basket along with evergreens, they great in their natural state or you can spray paint them white or red or guild them with gold or silver.
Take a close look at the seed heads of old fashioned rose of Sharon. They make charming additions to wreaths and centerpieces. Leave them natural or for a more sophisticated look, guild them with gold or silver paint.
Garden centers, nurseries and florists stock fresh cut greens at this time of year. Fresh air markets are also great places to find rose hips and other unusual plant material. The Uhlianuks at the Pontiac and Royal Oak market have a wonderful selection, including purple seeded eucalyptus that is to die for.
Bulk packed greens, fresh wreaths, and arrangements ordered from catalogues are usually shipped direct from the growers to insure freshness. White Flower Farm (800-503-9624 www.whiteflowerfarm.com), and Gardener’s Eden (800-822-1214) all carry a lovely selection and these catalogs are also great sources of inspiration for DYIers. Also, check out the local events calendar for greens sales sponsored by garden clubs.