Festive greens festoon yards and gardens for holidays

Fragrant branches, evergreen garlands drape porch rails, fill flowerpots

In The Garden

December 21, 2003|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

Hanging a fragrant evergreen wreath on the door is a traditional gesture of welcome during the holidays, but for many people, that's just the beginning. Garden shops now stock great bundles of fragrant evergreen boughs, holly branches, endless garlands and pine cones bigger than $2 grapefruits to help their customers deck the halls.

There's no reason to stop there. Evergreen branches, pine cones and all the other greenery traditionally used indoors are wonderfully suited to decorating in the garden, too. Hang swags on the porch rails or on the back of a garden bench, and deck the flowerpots with pine and fir branches. You'll practically be able to hear sleigh bells ring.

Garden shops depend on holiday business to help them through a season that might otherwise be as commercially bleak as the weather at the North Pole. Many nurseries now offer both real and artificial trees and aisles of ribbons, bows, bells, ornaments and lights to put the finishing touches on decorations inside and out.

Landscaping businesses have established holiday routines, too. In many areas, the crews that cut your grass all summer will help you in December when the time comes to hang lights and drape swags.

Garden designers have also discovered that customers like their flowerpots to look as pretty during the holidays as they do the rest of the year.

Beth Levy, a garden designer and owner of Garden Renaissance in Glenview, Ill., near Chicago, does a brisk business in the fall making custom containers full of evergreen branches and holiday cheer for her own clients and for a local nursery.

"People have containers that are expensive and attractive," Levy says. "Why roll them into the garage in the winter?"

Levy works with evergreen branches of all kinds -- blue spruce, silver and noble fir, golden arborvitae, incense cedar and juniper heavy with silver berries -- looking for attractive color combinations and textures as she puts each pot together. She accents the arrangements with twiggy stems of deciduous trees and shrubs, bittersweet vines covered in bright orange berries, and pine cones of every conceivable size. Sometimes she adds a string of battery-powered twinkling lights.

Apples, lemons, pomegranates and other fruit look pretty in such arrangements, Levy says, but they don't last long in bitter cold. She couldn't resist trying persimmons once, and a raccoon promptly ate them. Now if she uses fruit, she sticks with the artificial variety.

You don't have to be a professional garden designer to make your own evergreen decorations. Levy teaches classes on garlands, wreaths and other holiday decor at the Chicago Botanic Garden. It's easy to make these arrangements, Levy says -- just put them together as though you were arranging flowers.

"When I teach classes, I try to show people the different textures and colors," Levy says. "I show them how they can take a branch and turn it one way or another, and it looks a little bit different."

In the past four or five years, decorating pots with evergreens has become very popular in the Chicago area, she says. Evergreen branches, swags and wreaths are available the week of Thanksgiving, and shops sell out by mid-December.

You can supplement the greens from garden shops with branches from your own garden, especially if you grow conifers. Holly, boxwood, Southern magnolia and other broadleaf evergreens from the garden are handsome additions to an arrangement of pine boughs, and that's why they're among the most expensive greens at florist and garden shops and tree lots.

Gardeners who live in cold climates have to make arrangements in outdoor pots early, before the soil freezes. Levy recommends emptying the soil out so moisture that accumulates during the winter will not cause the pots to crack. In her classes, students make their arrangements in large papier-mache pots filled with Oasis garden foam. Both are available at hobby shops.

The papier-mache pots drop right into planters at home, like a liner, and after the garden foam has been watered thoroughly, "it freezes like a brick," Levy says. The evergreen branches should look great for several months.

"I encourage people to leave the greens out all winter," Levy says. "If you decorate the arrangement with a bow, just take it off after the holidays. The arrangement will look great until March."

Keeping the greenery green

* To keep evergreen boughs fresh as long as possible, cut a few inches off the stems after you bring them home. After trimming, crush the ends of the stems with a hammer and soak the branches overnight in a bucket of water on a porch or in the garage, somewhere pro-tected from freezing temperatures.

* Wilt Pruf, an antidesiccant spray that prevents evergreens from losing moisture through their leaves or needles, will also help keep wreaths, garlands and boughs fresh. The spray is available at garden shops.

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