In the Garden:
Mid-Atlantic
December, 2009
Regional Report

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Prickly teasel pods become cute teddies, ballerinas, and musicians in the hands of Brandywine Conservancy volunteers.

Deck the Halls With Natural Lovelies

Delicate ivory lunaria flowers, flying angels of cornhusks, and spruce cone owls hung among sparkling white lights. Toni Ann spotted a 13-teasel choir tucked high in the fir tree branches. Gabe was excited about the odd-looking milkweed pod elephant with a pine cone body. I wondered what type seedpods formed the reindeer's thin, arching legs and wiry antlers.

The Brandywine River Museum's annual holiday "Critters" extravaganza in Chadds Ford, Pa. is dazzling and inspiring. It made me wish I'd collected a boxful of statice, vervain, Chinese lanterns, Nigella pods, and milkweed silk during the summer.

The holiday spirit is stirring. Homemade decorations and handmade gifts are appealing, especially on a tight budget. Pine cones and fading hydrangea flowers are abundant. I'm thinking glue gun, glitter, ribbon, and acrylic spray.

Teasel, soybeans, mica, acorns and acorn caps, immature honey locust pods, milkweed pods, Queen Anne's lace, pussy willow, small shells, strawflowers, thistle, okra, pokeweed seeds, clematis whorls, peanuts, walnuts, bark, black-eyed Susan, coneflowers, martynia pods, and all sorts of pine cones are among the stars at the Brandywine exhibit.

Six evergreen trees stand aglow -- five with critters that volunteers made from natural materials. One large tree is elegantly colorful with specimens of natural materials -- clusters of scarlet and coral celosia, red chilies, golden yarrow, and intact seedpods -- before they're transformed into decorative ornaments and figures.

Turns out I'm fickle about favorites. One moment, the gray milkweed pod elephant charmed me too. A turn of the head and the shiny acorn-capped pine cone and teasel owls were irresistible. Then the "Canoe" -- an acorn-hatted teasel in a trumpet vine pod, paddling with a pistachio shell -- reminded me of kayaking in the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Though the critter was more likely reminiscent of canoeing the Brandywine Creek that winds through the Conservancy.

Teasels were in abundance as teddy bears, pigs, ducks, ballerinas, and in a Goldilocks and Three Bears vignette. The teasel Musical Trio on a pine bark stage featured a eucalyptus pod horn and two stringed paulownia-pod instruments resembling a miniature banjo and a viola. "Deck the halls with pods of paulownia, indigo, wisteria, and grape vine curls."

Teasel (Dipsacus spp.) is a tall, prickly stemmed and leaved biennial with purple, dark pink, or lavender flowers. The dried, bristly brown seed heads have spiky bracts. Goldfinches prefer teasel seeds so gardeners and wildlife enthusiasts encourage the plants. They're often planted in parks and natural areas.

Ever wondered what to do with the spiny gumballs under your sour gum tree (Liquidambar styraciflua)? Here's one suggestion: Holiday Poodles. Each is composed of 11 dried fruits (aka gum balls), a raffia collar, golden chain tree seeds for eyes and nose, a dried flower as chignon, and a beechnut hull for ears and eyebrows.

For a simply elegant look, translucent Lunaria Medallions softened the scene. Each medallion (fashioned flower) started with a teasel base encircled by 16 lunaria seedpods as petals. Lunaria is the money or silver dollar plant. Sprigs of German statice or sculptural twigs added texture and color. Critters will be on sale Dec. 5 and 6. The exhibit runs through January 10.


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