Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
November, 2005
Regional Report

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Decorate for the holidays with greens and other plants from your own garden.

Decorate for the Holidays From Your Own Garden

When I was a child, our holiday celebrations began as my extended family gathered for Thanksgiving. Although most of my memories return through a haze of happiness, warmth, and giggles, I do vividly recall the decorations and scents that my grandmother and mother so lovingly arranged for the occasions. We didn't buy decorations because my grandmother was frugal and insistent on using what she already had. Our home was adorned with the fruits of the garden and woods.

I grew up in Texas where our evergreens were juniper and loblolly pine, not the spruce and balsam of the Midwest. We would typically cut fresh greenery in the morning and spend the following hours inserting cloves into oranges. Vases and baskets were then filled with the evergreens, and oranges tucked in among the branches. To this day, all it takes is a bowl of common red cedar sprigs laid with clove-studded oranges to capture the essence of those childhood holidays. Add in the scents of roasting turkey and chess pie ... perfection!

Over the years, we added evergreen magnolia leaves and confederate jasmine to the arrangements, a look I duplicate here in the Midwest with snippets of rhododendron, boxwood, and wintercreeper. I also use our ever-abundant grapevine as a backdrop for these broad leaves, weaving them together into wreaths, swags, or sprays for the holiday table. Quite different from the standard wreath of evergreen needles.

Grapevine is useful for both autumn and winter decorations, as I discovered this year when I transformed the large-but-plain grapevine wreath on my front porch into a superb decorative feature. After harvesting my sunflowers from the garden and tapping out the seeds for the birds, I left the smaller heads on a screen outdoors to dry. They turned tawny gold, a perfect complement to the dark brown grapevines. I glued them on the grapevine with milkweed pods and rose hips and hung the wreath above my fireplace. Then I added sedum, hydrangea, coneflower, and astilbe seed heads to a garland of grapevine twisted with white pine branches. It adds a wonderful festive touch to my fireplace mantel.

Red Twigs and Berries
Reds and maroons are such standards for holiday decorating that they need nothing glittery or golden for impact. I fill every vase and bowl in my house with crimson redtwig dogwood and silvery purple-black raspberry stems, and then add silver tones by tucking in branches of Silver King artemisia, sage, and curry plant. For accents -- a few sprigs of tiny scarlet multiflora rose hips.

I also fill wire hanging baskets with pine, artemisia, and redtwig dogwood. A few red and silver ribbons turn them into distinct arrangements to hang in the foyer where they greet guests of the season. Perhaps this year I'll add some festoons of red pepperberries or glass beads to lend a Victorian air to the arrangements.

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