Holiday decorating from the garden goes way beyond the tree.
Of course, that towering fir in the middle of the living room usually steals the show. But unless you live in an evergreen forest, it’s unlikely you cut it in your own backyard.
However, even a city garden can yield a bounty of beautiful ingredients for holiday sprucing. All it takes is a little imagination – and a sharp pair of scissors or shears.
“It’s amazing what you can create from your own yard,” said Karen Plarisan, owner of Verbena Flowers and Trimmings in Roseville.
Plarisan and her daughter, Karly Plarisan, grow their own flowers and other materials at their home-turned-flower farm for beautiful, creative arrangements and locally grown bouquets.
“Wreaths are one of our favorite things to make, especially during the holidays,” Karen Plarisan said. “They provide a sensory overload of beauty and scent, inside the house and out.”
A lot of their favorite materials are common in Sacramento-area landscapes.
“Rosemary, bay, eucalyptus, olive and cedar are some of our favorite greens to collect and use for Thanksgiving and Christmas,” she said. “They are perfect for making garland that can be draped across mantles, tables, banisters, mirrors and doors.”
Got fruit trees? Do a little pruning before decorating, Plarisan said. “We especially like fruit tree branches and, if you are lucky, they still may have that perfect fruit attached.”
Apples, pomegranates, oranges and other fruit add interest to the natural decorations. They draw the eye, and that’s the whole idea.
“We create focal vignettes in wreaths and centerpieces that pull the observer in,” Plarisan said. “Here are some flora that do just that for the holidays: magnolia leaves and their pods; bulbs such as paperwhites and amaryllis; berries of cotoneaster, privet, nandina and laurel; citrus including lemons and mandarins; other goodies like moss, pomegranates, persimmons, pine cones and pods of all shapes and sizes.”
Dundee Butcher, founder of Russian River Flower School in Healdsburg, takes decorating with nature to another level. Her spectacular nature-inspired designs are Sonoma wine country favorites.
Working creatively with gleaned materials “is one of the things I really enjoy,” said Butcher, who started her floral designing career in England. “Everything was so formal in London. When I moved to Northern California, I went totally loony.”
For wreaths, “I’m always trying to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “I like to think out of the box, and I try to teach that at the school, too. I want people to use things, but not in the usual way. It’s more fun that way and more interesting. It’s all about getting inspired to use things from your garden in unusual ways.”
For example, she gathered hyacinth bean, an ornamental vine known for its bright purple flowers and red lima bean-like pods. Its dried stems also are a rich wine red, perfect for the holidays in wine country.
“The vine was like bramble, but really wonderful,” Butcher said. “We made huge wreaths, just winding it around and around; it was fabulous.”
Grapevine can be used in that same way. Harvest the vines and wind them into shape while still pliable, before they’ve dried hard and rigid.
Among Butcher’s favorite bases are birch rounds, cylinders of dried bark from decayed birch trees. (She gets them at the San Francisco flower market.) The wood is gone and only the white and gray bark remains.
“They’re so beautiful,” she said. “They have all these natural openings and holes. I love decorating them with battery (operated) lights. I turn them sideways and hang them (horizontally) from the ceiling. They’re very festive.”
Also for ceiling hangings, Butcher dried whole plants of dusty miller and nigella (also known as Love-in-a-Mist). An old-fashioned favorite, dusty miller has silvery, lacelike foliage. Nigella has distinctive seed pods with long pointy horns.
“When dusty miller dries, it turns this lovely off-white color,” she said. “Dried and hung, it forms an upside down umbrella. I gave it a shot of gold (spray paint) and hung it below a light so the light shines through it – fabulous! The dried nigella also got a bit of gold paint. The plant just looks so interesting, and the gold gave it that little boost.”
For garlands, Butcher used pale beige oak galls, which form natural balls, paired with bright red pomegranates. For hanging, she hot-glued ornament hangers onto to the galls and strung them onto thin velvet ribbon.
“I’m always trying to think of elegant ways to celebrate,” Butcher said. “I really like things so simple.”
For a centerpiece, she plunged a dried manzanita branch with leaves still attached into a heavy metal cylinder, like a cut-down umbrella stand.
“You need something heavy enough so it doesn’t tip over,” she said. “I covered the stand with oranges in the shape of a Christmas tree skirt. I put some cinnamon sticks with the oranges – and that was it. I love the way the branches were so brown and contrasted with the gray-green leaves. The oranges look so festive, and it all smelled so good.”
To make your own wreath
Here’s what you need:
▪ A wreath ring, base or form (two wire coat hangers taped together works fine)
▪ Thin wire (22-gauge is preferred)
▪ Floral tape or electrical tape
▪ Pliers (optional)
▪ T-pins or other long floral crafts pins
▪ A sharp paring knife
▪ Greenery, leaves, berries, etc.
▪ Other decorative items (optional)
1. Start by gathering your greenery, leaves, berries and other natural materials – the fresher, the better. The greenery depends on what you have available; you’ll need enough to cover the whole wreath. Among the possibilities are magnolia, persimmon, boxwood, holly, pine, cedar, purple hop bush, rhododendron, balsam fir, olive, bay, eucalyptus, rosemary, lavender, heavenly bamboo and ferns. You can also use trimmings from your Christmas tree.
2. If using autumn leaves, choose firm and glossy types such as magnolia or persimmon (they’re less fragile). Soak them in water for an hour, so they’ll be supple and clean. With a paper towel or a cloth rag, wipe each leaf off individually; this polishes the surface so they’ll look shiny and bright.
3. Pick some accents: fruit (especially small apples, kumquats and pomegranates), berries (such as holly, heavenly bamboo, pyracantha and toyen), rose hips, pine or fir cones, seed pods or acorns.
4. Next, you need a wreath base or form. Commercial forms are available at crafts stores. A pair of coat hangers can make a quick, cheap wreath form. Tape the hangers together at the top and stretch the wire down to form a square. Tape the two wires together at the bottom. Then, bend the wires together into a circular shape.
If it’s still squarish, that’s OK; the foliage will make it look circular. The hooks at the top also make the wreath easy to hang.
5. Assemble your tools and supplies. You can get by with scissors and electrical tape, but some other items (such as wire and pliers) allow for flexibility. (For example, it’s easier to attach fruit and berries with thin wire than tape.)
6. With your foliage, make clusters of two to five leaves, wiring or taping them together at the stem. Use floral tape (it’s thin, green and flexible) or electrical tape (also thin and flexible; it’s stronger than floral tape and works well with heavier materials).
If using evergreens, cut pieces about 6 to 8 inches long. Make clusters of three or four stems, taped or wired together at the base.
7. Attach the leaf clusters to the form. Working clockwise, wire or tape the leaf or evergreen clusters to the ring. Do this one cluster at a time. Overlap them as you go, spacing them a few inches apart. (The closer the clusters, the more dense and full the wreath will appear.) The last clusters will be tucked under the first.
8. Add other decorations and accents. If using berry stems or small pine cones, twist a piece of thin wire around their base. Thread the wire between clusters of leaves and anchor onto the ring. (If using thicker wire, pliers come in handy.)
9. Finish the wreath with a bow and other decorations, if desired. Tie them on with more wire.
10. Hang it up. If working with a wreath form, use a double piece of ribbon or thicker wire attached to back of the wreath to hang. If two coat hangers were used for the base, use their built-in hooks.