In the Garden:
Upper South
November, 2010
Regional Report

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A gardener's Christmas includes natural decorations and blooming houseplants.

The Gardener's Natural Christmas

Personally, I wish Christmas came in February, just when I need a little cheering during those dark, dreary days. December always seems way too early, as I'm just recovering from all the work in the garden. Be that as it may, the odds are good that Christmas will continue to appear in December, with stores bringing out their wares way before Halloween. Bemoan that fact, if you will, but I do like the idea of thinking about Christmas decorations as I finish cleanup in the garden outdoors and begin enjoying the pleasures of houseplants. Approached this way, you can have a home decorated inexpensively and naturally from the garden, with only a few well-chosen forays to a garden center.

Christmas Decorations from the Garden
Granted, decorating your home with greens is highly dependent on having them growing in your garden. All the more reason to plan on adding some next spring if you don't already have them. And a good reason to find a friend who does have them now if they're lacking in your own garden.

So let's assume you either have them in your own garden or in that of a friend. Needled evergreens are the place to start. Pine, hemlock, spruce, fir and yew are the backbone of holiday decorations. No great skill is required to use them, and you can use a single type or a mixture. Just cut pieces 12 inches or so long and place them on a mantle or table. Remember that the cut ends will exude sap, so don't place them directly on that valuable antique tablecloth. Put them on a platter or piece of plain muslin. Take these simple decorations up a notch by adding broad-leaved evergreens like holly, boxwood and southern magnolia.

A mixture of fresh greens are also easily used to make a table centerpiece, either in water or using the type of floral foam for arranging fresh flowers. Wire pine cones on floral picks and add them to the arrangement. You can splurge on fresh flowers and add them, too.

Want a decoration for a door or lamp post? Simply gather up some greens with the stem ends together. Wrap a length of floral wire around them to secure and add a bow to create a natural swag. For a wreath, the simplest method is to use a wire-clamp wreath form. If your local craft store doesn't carry these, they can be found online with a search. To make a wreath with one of these forms, take small clumps of greens about 6 inches long and place them between the prongs, then whack the prongs shut with a hammer. Work around the form, overlapping clusters of greens. Another idea for a wreath is to use pine cones and a four-wire wreath form. Soak the pine cones, insert them closely together in the form, and let it dry. The cones swell and fill out the form.

As you're cleaning the garden, look at seed heads and faded flowers for the possibilities that these might add to any of your decorations. One of my favorites is okra pods. Think about yarrow, rudbeckia, Queen Anne's lace, artemisia, rose-of-sharon and many others.

Flowering Christmas Houseplants
Poinsettias are certainly the foremost flowering Christmas houseplant. There are many colors and forms of these from which to choose. Buy them early, when they first arrive in stores and you'll have flowers for many months to come. Thanksgiving and Christmas cactuses are another possibility for indoor color. Although their bloom period is much shorter than poinsettias, these are long-lived plants that continue to grow and bloom year after year. Cyclamen is another popular holiday plant. The widespread availability of phaleonopsis orchids have made them a popular choice too, plus they're easy to grow as long as you don't overwater.

Start amaryllis and paper-white narcissus now to have them blooming for the holidays. The amaryllis will go through their life cycle for years to come, while the paper-whites only have one go-round. But, oh, that fragrance!

Approach the holidays with joy and a creative spirit, utilizing plants from the garden as well as flowering houseplants from garden centers that will brighten the winter for months to come.


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