Christmas Décor From Our Gardens
Christmas décor can be anything you want it to be, from glitzy to woodsy, big and bold to serene and subtle. Whatever theme you design for, there are lots of ways to work natural items into your display, but some candidates from our gardens offer more than others.
Interesting tree stems have some of the greatest appeal and certainly last the longest. The willow family has led the way with so many interesting branch forms. Salix ‘Tortuosa’ (Zone 4) has valuable twisted, curly stems. The golden and red forms of this tree are brilliant in Christmas arrangements, wreaths or even by themselves in a sturdy vase.
The dogwood family has long been a favourite source of both outdoor and indoor colour. The old standby red and yellow twig dogwoods, Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ and C. stolonifera ‘Flaviramea’ (both zone 2), still have the most intense winter colour, especially after a few frosts. Cornus alba ‘Midwinter Fire’ (zone 3) continues the red and yellow for an amazing blaze of colour. In the garden or in Christmas arrangements, these plants are in the ‘must-have’ category. Newer Proven Winners’ varieties like ‘Arctic Fire’ (red and yellow varieties) and ‘Arctic Sun’ also have amazing colour.
The smooth stems of both these families make these branches quite easy to work with. Try not to cut stems back by more than a third, but if you do need a longer piece, just be careful to make a good, clean-cut lower down on the stem and on an angle.
Got grapes? Once all the foliage is off, you can cut vines back to make wreaths (cutting while the leaves are on will cause the vines to bleed). While the vines are still pliable, gently shape them into a circle, interweaving as you go to add strength. Lay flat in a dry place until the stems are brown.
Berries celebrate the winter season perhaps better than any other colour category. They brighten our gardens, as well as our décor, with equal vibrancy. Red is still the most sought after colour, and the best red is found with the deciduous hollies. Ilex verticillata (zone 4), an eastern U.S. native, is the most ‘wow’ coloured berry you can find in the landscape, and it does not have thorns. Make sure you have a male pollinator for the female varieties, although some growers are now planting both in the same container. Be sure to cut only half the stems in any given year as they produce best on old wood. If you love birds, you’ll be in your glory because Ilex verticillata is their first choice.
Holly is of course a ‘go-to’ this time of year, and holly shrubs can be lightly sheared back now (just be sure to wear heavy gloves as they are not the most fun stems to work with!).
Callicarpa has become a recent favourite with folks, and though purple might not be a traditional hue for this time of year, it looks fantastic in porch pots, wreaths and arrangements, especially when blended with cool-toned blue-green stems and silvers.
The very hardy and disease resistant crabapple, Malus ‘Red Jewel’ (zone 4), has simply stunning red berries all winter long (birds do not eat them). Another novelty, M. ‘Red Sentinel’ has huge (2 cm), hard red fruits. They look as good used on your plate as a garnish or tucked into an outdoor wreath as they do on the tree! Again, cut only selective pieces of the branch, or harvest just the fruits.
Gold conifers are a must. Thuja occidentalis Rheingold (zone 3) provides distinctive golden orange foliage, while the most beautiful yellows can be found in the Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Aurea’ family (zone 5). The compact golden cedar, Thuja occidentalis ‘Europe Gold’ or ‘Sunkist’ are also bright gold winter foliage plants. There are dozens of other great conifers with unique foliage and cones. They all need to be pruned, so around Christmas is the best time, again though, try not to cut them back by more than a third.
Winter flower buds and flowers always add the finishing touch to gardens, winter containers or crafts. Perhaps the most spectacular and in-demand winter buds are the male form of skimmias. Their deep bronze or green buds complement any greens or flower arrangements. Not only are the buds beautiful now, but as winter progresses, they also open to fragrant white flowers that fill our gardens with perfume and provide nectar for the early honeybees.
The pieris family has expanded over the last few years, but the most interesting are the variegated forms. Pieris japonica ‘Flaming Silver‘ (zone 5) and P.j. ‘Havilla‘ (zone 5) have vibrant foliage that sparks up both shady garden areas and winter arrangements. Their dark winter buds add a nice touch as well.
Helleborus niger, also known as the Christmas rose, is a good candidate for a cut flower, and newer varieties bloom atop longer stems, making them easier to work with in arrangements. Be sure to leave some blooms on the plants, though, as they are valuable to pollinators! Other blooming plants in the garden that you can selectively cut for bouquets are camellias and winter heather. Have a bit of dusty miller in a few pots or beds? Terrific! Cut stems as long as you can and work them into flower arrangements for a subtle touch of silver.
Christmas greens on their own are fragrant and delightful, but adding even just a few of the above to planters, arrangements, wreaths, swags, or specialty baskets will bring out the ‘wow’ factor. Should you not have these in your yard this season, now is a fine time to plant them for next year. You can certainly also work with other plants in your garden too, just make sure that stems are strong and not ‘floppy,’ and selectively prune only… don’t cut plants back hard, particularly flowering shrubs, as you may be cutting off next year’s blooms!
Tip: Ensure your pruners are clean and sharp before you start. Clean them with a 10% bleach solution in between uses to prevent any spread of possible disease from plant to plant. Get stems straight into water after they’re cut to prevent them from drying out, particularly flowering stems. To improve longevity, keep all greens and arrangements as cool as possible and well hydrated at all times.