All decked out with nothing to grow

December 11, 1993|By Ann Egerton | Ann Egerton,Contributing Writer

One of the most satisfying of Christmas customs is decorating the house or apartment with pretty and aromatic evergreens. But decking the halls doesn't necessarily require a trip to the mall or local tree purveyor. And it needn't take much money, which is a comfort this expensive time of the year.

Suzanne Rafferty, owner of Poise and Ivy, a flower and custom flower-arranging shop at Cross Keys, says the Baltimore area abounds with evergreens and berry-bearing plants that, with imagination and a little patience, can be tied, wired or glued together to make a festive arrangement.

Or they can be jammed into a crock, vase or basket and placed on the mantel or in the hall or room with your favorite seasonal ornaments. They also can be wired together for roping, which Ms. Rafferty swears takes more patience than skill.

Local greens include pine, hemlock, spruce, juniper, (which has gray-green or bluish berries), cedar, yew, leucothoe and boxwood, Ms. Rafferty says. There's also magnolia, physostegia which looks something like magnolia, only smaller), camelia and even ivy.

Many evergreens carry a decorative bonus: The conifers offer up cones that can add texture and scent to a Christmas arrangement and, when dry, make good kindling.

Then there are the berry-bearing greens. They include holly, (English, Burford, American, yellowberry and variegated), nandina, cotoneaster, bittersweet, skimia, sapphire berry and winter berry.

Perhaps berries were the inspiration for the multicolored ornamental balls we hang on Christmas trees. Bittersweat berries have orange and yellow skins.

The berries of all but the yellowberry holly and sapphire berry are red, while skimia produces white or red berries. The berries of pyracantha, also called firethorn, range from orange to red. Together they can make a colorful presentation.

Clare Stewart, who owns Upsy Daisy, a floral decorating business, suggests that the enterprising Christmas decorator forage around their own property for greens and in the garden for seed pods, wild sumac heads, dried hydrangea heads, rose hips, Japanese iris pods or other dried flowers to add to evergreen arrangements. Also lovely are dried yarrow, cone flower and black-eyed Susans.

To fill in or add even more color, accent your indigenous greens with traditional Christmas plants such as poinsettia, cyclamen, amaryllis, Christmas cactus or Jerusalem cherry as well as artificial fruit.

Or adorn a creche, a Santa, an angel or nutcracker with Christmas greens.

Mixing cut flowers with evergreens can be elegant (but more expensive.)

"My favorite arrangement of the season," says Ms. Stewart, "is magnolias with French white tulips."

Other cut flowers that are popular in Christmas arrangements, says Amy Smoot at Roland Park Florists, are carnations, stock, Gerber daisies and stargazer lilies.

But perhaps one of the most symbolic of the elegant Christmas flowers is paperwhite narcissi. Their blooms are white or yellow and grown from bulbs (but start them early -- they take four to six weeks to bloom.)

They're easy to grow and their strong stems and sweet fragrance make a statement of renewal at this darkest time of year.


To help preserve greens for holiday arrangements, Clare Stewart of Upsy Daisy advises:

* Cut greens with sharp blade or scissors, place immediately in warm water to which a cup of sugar has been added.

* When storing the greens, change the water frequently and add water often. At this stage, add a few drops of bleach to keep bacteria down.

* Mist greens with water after they've been arranged.

Suzanne Rafferty of Poise and Ivy says that when she makes roping ahead of time, she sprinkles it with water, puts it in a garbage bag and stores it in the garage. If you buy mistletoe, she says, it probably comes from Texas and can be in sorry shape. Hair spray helps preserve it.

At any rate, greens won't last much more than a week. Which might explain why artificial greens are so popular.

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