Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Upper South
November, 2005
Regional Report

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It's easy to make a pinecone wreath to welcome holiday visitors.

Go Natural for Holiday Decorating

Ah, the possibilities that gardeners have when it comes to holiday gifts and decorations! Elaborate dried-flower wreaths and pressed-flower pictures, luscious herbal liqueurs, pungent pickles and relishes, shimmering jellies and jams. The only catch is that many projects need to be initiated during the summer. But not to worry, the best decorations are fresh, and gifts from the garden can still be made.

Using Fresh Greens, Berries, Cones and Other "Finds"
Nothing bespeaks the upcoming holidays more than decorating with fresh evergreens. Plus, many have wonderful fragrances. Using fresh evergreens is also a great excuse to do some pruning. If you do not have an assortment of evergreens in your own yard, check with friends and neighbors.

Of the needled evergreens, the best choices include balsam fir, Douglas fir, Austrian pine, white pine, Scotch pine, red pine, yew, red cedar, true cedar, juniper, and false cypress. If the greens are to be used indoors, avoid hemlock and spruce, as they drop their needles quickly.

Don't overlook the broad-leaved evergreens as they offer great textural contrast. Consider English ivy, various hollies, mountain laurel, boxwood, magnolia, Oregon holly grape, nandina, and rhododendron.

Holiday wreaths, swags, and arrangements also benefit from various other plant materials. Look around your yard for berries and cones from pines, hemlocks, larch, magnolias, hollies, junipers, and callicarpa. Other possibilities include seedpods, such as those of lotus, sweet gum, rose-of-Sharon, okra, as well as buckeyes, acorns, and beechnuts. Dried grasses and hydrangeas offer textures, too. Use your imagination as you look around your garden.

It's Party Time
One way to both decorate and give gifts is to have a wreath-making party. Provide the greens and other supplies, and let your guests make their own holiday wreaths or swags. Round out the gathering with homemade soup, salad, bread, hot mulled cider, and cookies. The afternoon gathering might extend into the evening with a bonfire and marshmallows.

Besides an assortment of greens and natural decorations, provide pruning shears, wire snips, pliers, hammers, and florist wire, plus an assortment of ribbon or pre-made bows. The easiest way to make a holiday wreath with fresh greens is by using a wreath form that has wires that clamp onto overlapping bundles of greens. These are available in quantity from The best size for a spectacular wreath is 16 inches.

For those who want a simpler and even easier decoration, there's always a swag. These are made by gathering together a few branches with the growing tips pointing downward, then wiring the other ends together and adding a bow. My favorite addition is several corn tassels and okra stems painted gold, but dried grasses, hydrangeas, wired pinecones, as well as purchased items, can be added as well. Extra greens also can be added to fresh flower arrangements or to mantels and tabletops.

Pinecones and Okra Pods
Wreaths also can be made entirely of pinecones. First, soak the cones in a tub of warm water for 30 minutes. Then, using a standard, three-wire wreath form, insert about an inch of the base of each pinecone into the form. Space them closely and vary the angle of placement. As the cones dry, they expand and are wedged in tightly. Add a bow or other decorations as desired. This also can be used as a centerpiece on a table with a large candle and hurricane shade placed in the middle.

Pinecones can be turned into beautiful ornaments by decorating the stem ends with dried flowers and berries; attach a loop of ribbon for hanging. A basket of pinecones to be used as fire starters is an easy gift. Or, paint the pinecones first with water-thinned white glue and dust with fire-color crystals available from fireplace specialty shops to provide a rainbow of color to the fireplace or bonfire on a wintry evening.

To make a cone-and-nut candle holder, cut a 4- or 6-inch-diameter polystyrene ball in half and place a candle-holder cup (available from craft stores) in the top center of each half. Using a glue gun, attach an assortment of pinecones, seedpods, and nuts still in the shell to the ball.

Dried okra pods offer an assortment of possibilities in wreaths, swags, and arrangements, but the most popular way to use them is to attach a hanging loop and paint them to look like Santas, angels, snowmen, and penguins.

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