Prunings, cuttings, and other gleanings from nature enhance holiday decorations
by Hardie Newton
As regularly as clockwork, nature’s autumn unfoldings varnish the countryside in an overcoat of harmonious grandeur. The mind inadvertently yields. A time of readiness begins: examining the house inside and out for needed repairs, checking the soundness of overhead tree branches (fallen ones might cause roadblocks for the driveway), storing hoses, deadheading perennials, removing spent annuals, scattering their seeds appropriately. The realization comes that expectations arrange themselves as sequential seasonal musings, rather than planned, organized thinkings.
Holidays loom. Celebrations will be at my house this year. Wonder where I put last year’s Christmas oddments for the front door, braided gold balls, looped ropings, ribbons already tied. Boxed up and sitting on the shelf in the shed? No, mice would have shredded them. Then, in the back hall — bottom chest drawer. Maybe I should leave them there. Order the pine garland, a tradition. Fifty feet so I can double it. Contoured around the front door, its presence says welcome from the cold all the while promising merriment within.
Because hydrangea offerings have been unusually bountiful, the idea of incorporating available dried materials into the garland is a must. Ample exterior house siding above the door provides a generous background for an abundant bouquet of garden hydrangeas, red amaranthus, outsized pinecones from Washington State and sections of a large hornets’ nest that burst open as it toppled from the oak tree last week. A great myriad of wisteria prunings have been saved over the summer and carefully twisted into organic shapes, some of which already overhang the front door. This provides an excellent base and framework for attaching the above components. And as for the nest, the children will no doubt have questions stimulated by the idea of collecting its strewn pieces. Curiosity might lead us to a study of paper wasps. A natural look this year.
We’ll take a walk through the sum and substance of the project together, describing our grocery store of elements.
Fresh cuttings of greens, short and wired into generous bunches placed at intervals throughout the length of the garland provide a sense of depth to the design. Attention getting Nandina (Berberidacae ‘domestica Thunb’), a crowning glory wherever it appears, garden or flower show, is familiar as Heavenly Bamboo and adds character and color. It especially enlivens combinations of winter shrubberies: the needled Pines, Arborvitaes, Magnolias, Mountain Laurel and Daphne. Two berries come to mind: Pyracantha (‘coccinea’ M.J. Roem,) also known as Fire Thorn and often grown as an espalier and Bittersweet (‘celastrus L.’), an invasive, pushy, albeit handsome vine that manages to appear far too often in public places. It is banished from my garden. With or without fog, it creeps in on “little cat feet” (Sandburg) when least expected, expanding itself through the Americas, east Asia, and Oceania. You’re not even safe from it if you move to Madagascar.
Amaranthus (family: amaranthacae) is raised in Asia as a vegetable as well as for edible seeds. A popular member of the species, Love-lies-bleeding (‘caudatus L’) grows well in our climate, easily to five feet of drama. Its most enchanting form is tail-like and trailing, though both it and the upright version are exquisite in summer bouquets and perfect for drying. Both come in shades of spring green and red. Plant in a sunny location and dry as you do hydrangeas. Use for added Christmastime color.
There are already hydrangeas: mopheads (H. macrophylla) as well as oakleaf (H. quercifolia) stems in the midst of their annual autumn process, drying. Five gallon buckets are so laden as to be in overly full states. Tall, well-branched blooms articulated by curvilinear stems predominate, the better to overhang edges. A previously discussed drying process for hydrangeas in this magazine (Spring 2010) is worth a brief repeat. One finds that all representatives of the hydrangea genus become, usually after colors begin to age and ripen, more paper-like to the feel than at first bloom state — crisp rather than soft. A touch of the hand notes the appropriate harvest time. Cut long stems, which are preferable in the event that your ambitions wish for towering arrangements. Better yet, push some deeply into the branches of your Christmas tree for added texture. Back to cutting: put stem ends into buckets (containing four inches or so of warm water), then tuck the buckets away in a dark, cool spot until ready to begin your decorating. Processing in this manner is vastly superior to the shock of a cut and “hang out to dry” tactic.
While some H. macrophylla pleases in tones progressing from deepened whites into pastel pinks and greens, others enrich with dramatic deep blues, purples and reds. Presenting differently, mature H. quercifolia develop hearty rose tones about their base, the color cascading into pale green tips. Natural appearances may be enhanced by spraying blossoms with a few quick bursts of “Just for Flowers,” a product made by Design Master and available from your florist. It deepens the shades in a subtle fashion. If your home-growns need accenting with gold or silver, know that golds are greatly enhanced by an underlay of copper paint while silver seems truly sterling if you anoint the blooms generously with a metallic metal spray. (A reminder here: we all are aware of the dangers of inhaled paint fumes, so protect yourself with a serious face mask while using these products.)
The interior parts of the great paper domed wasp nest are distinguishing bits for our door piece, all the while providing insight into the inner workings of nature’s condominium-like habitat. Individual “floors” beautifully tailored with private rooms for daily regimented routines, instinctual behaviors. Is it possible that wasp intelligence marvels at our behavior as well?
In the event that a mantelpiece design is of more interest than attempting the challenge of exterior surfaces (using ladders, etc.), particularly in cold weather, you will find that the same suggestions as those mentioned above are equally pleasing utilized indoors, with the addition of seasonal florist flowers and berries. Don’t forget grapes, a luscious staple from the grocery store. They offer a peaceful pause next door to shiny leaves and pine needles.
A sampling (for indoors only) from your favorite flower shop includes: Hypericum Berries which come in green, red, peach, or orange; Spray Orchids; Red Ginger; Anthurium in green, red, and pink; Roses; Calla Lilies; Tulips; Amaryllis; Gerbera Daisies; and, of course, the ubiquitous Poinsettia.