Even though most every store carries artificial greens during the holidays, I still find that natural evergreens and berries make more interesting holiday decorations, both inside and out. The benefits of picking your own greens go far beyond saving money. Sure, it allows you to have something truly fresh and it gives you a chance to show off your creativity, but it actually is a very authentic way to celebrate the winter holidays in a personal way.
Just about any every backyard can offer something, be it branches of berries, boughs of pine or spruce, or broadleaf evergreens, such as rhododendron, azalea or euphorbia. Californians can pick laurel, eucalyptus and olive greens, and even those living in the South can pick camellia foliage, nandina and magnolia. No need to find special containers, as summer pots and window boxes can all be filled with greens and branches that will last the entire winter.
In my family, we’ve always picked winter greens from the woodlands around our home here in New England. My choices are more traditional in the Northeast, with green holly, white pine, balsam fir and spruce forming the basis of many a container arrangement. Branches must be cut before the soil in containers freezes solid.
White birch adds a classic touch, and often branches felled by summer thunderstorms can be rescued from the compost or burn pile. A favorite of mine is red twig dogwood, but nothing matches the muscularity of bronze-tinted Stewartia pseudocamellia stems, which have the most amazingly smooth brown stems and interesting pointy buds. Husky magnolia branches work well too, with their fuzzy, grey buds that capture the snow when it falls.
Wreaths, too, can be crafted. Simply trim cuttings from your favorite evergreens into short, 4-inch stems and bundle them together with wire. Then, wire these bundles to a coat-hanger wreath form, which you can bend into any shape you want — a square, a heart shape or a traditional circle. Don’t forget to pick herbs, too, such as rosemary, sage, bay laurel or santolina. Boxwood trimmings make terrific wreaths, which can be long lasting if displayed on a cold porch.
Look for empty summer containers and urns around the garden that have had their annuals and succulents killed by frost. There is often no need to put these containers away for the winter if you fill them with greenery.
I like to keep my selections botanically interesting as well by curating some of my containers with more unusual plant material such as the coral-bark maple, some golden-yellow needled pines or any berried shrub that has beautiful berries in colors that are not so typical (with favorites being white nandina berries or yellow holly berries).
Don’t be afraid to push the definition of a winter container a bit, too. Take a closer look at your perennial border. There might be curious seed pods such as those from Siberian Iris or Echinacea. I even like to raid the vegetable garden for a little touch of color — nothing makes a container pop like a bit of bright purple kale.
Amp up this season’s decor with these natural solutions that require only a pair of loppers or pruning sheers. After you start looking, the idea of a plain old container filled with red berries and pine may even seem ho-hum. Snippings of evergreen bamboo (especially the foliage of Sasa veitchii with its pale beige edge in the winter) makes the idea of an artificial ribbon or bow completely unnecessary.