There’s no turning back. The holidays are upon us, ready to flatten our checking account and exhaust our spirit.
But there are ways to celebrate that maintain the meaning of the season (and our budget). These simple approaches to decorating also give us a sense of time (or timelessness) and place.
First, step outside. Decorations for the season are all around you.
“Really look around your garden,” advised author and “Slow Flower” advocate Debra Prinzing. “You’ll be surprised at what you already have. These are nature’s leftovers – fallen leaves, dried seed pods, rose hips, nandina berries, pine cones. You can have fun and create something mighty nice with the gleanings from your driveway.”
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Prinzing, who lives in the Seattle area, trims small branches of evergreen juniper, cedar or pine to use as boughs on the mantlepiece or tabletops. (“It’s much easier than making garlands,” she said.) Those prunings can become wreaths, too.
“If you can’t find evergreens in your neighborhood, go to a Christmas tree lot or tree farm,” she said. “They’ll have plenty of trimmings, and they might even give you some for free.”
Prinzing also uses magnolia leaves or colorful fall foliage as wreath building material. She mixes and matches, allowing the fuzzy undersides of magnolia leaves to contrast with the shiny tops.
“Add little twists and turns as you go to show off those other textures,” she said. “People want to make something and feel creative. And this is the sort of project that you can do in an afternoon.”
For something as fragrant as it is charming, try making a wreath with twigs of fresh rosemary or small olive branches.
“I love the silvery side of the foliage,” she said. “It looks wintery and smells great. I love using tone on tone: the same color but different shapes and textures. It makes it more interesting.”
This year, Prinzing is making several homespun-style square wreaths.
“Circular wreaths are more forgiving; you just keep overlapping (the base material) until the frame is full,” Prinzing said. “Square wreaths look more contemporary; they’re something different, but you need to fill out the corners.”
For that purpose, Prinzing makes little nosegays of fragrant lavender, scented geranium and rose hips. Then, she attaches them to the corners with florist wire and ribbon.
“I like fragrance,” she said. “You could do a whole wreath of sage; bergamot sage is fantastic for wreaths. Or try myrtle or bay leaves or eucalyptus.”
Author of such books as “Slow Flowers” and “50-Mile Bouquet,” Prinzing has become a national force for American-grown flowers. It’s another aspect to the farm-to-table movement. Making wreaths with locally sourced material is one more extension of that trend.
“This is a very sustainable approach,” she said. “You can use the frame over and over again. The finished wreath not only reflects the season, but it’s much more personal and evocative of where you live.”
Fresh produce can make wreath material, too. In addition to herbs, Prinzing likes to use small purple artichokes, lady apples and kumquats. To attach them to the wreath base, she uses wired florist picks; the pick is stuck into the fruit, and then the fruit is wired onto the base.
“I like the idea of an edible wreath,” she said. “You can hang it in your kitchen and snip off herbs as you need them. It’s also aromatherapy; it smells as good as it looks.”
Expect a fresh wreath to last at least two weeks, Prinzing said. Once finished, keep it dry (water invites mold).
For folks who want the same look but maybe aren’t as crafty, Prinzing recommends supporting farms that make wreaths. Among her favorite wreath makers is Creekside Farms in Monterey County. A family enterprise, Creekside creates spectacular wreaths with herbs, artichokes, pepper berries and other natural ingredients. Lavender and floral designs start at $39.
“They don’t use anything they don’t grow themselves,” she said.
Bling for the table
Sometimes decorating – like dinner – comes down to a last-minute dash to the supermarket, not the farmstand.
Nationally known party planner Debi Lilly teamed up with Safeway to create holiday accessories on the go. Her Debi Lilly Design tabletop collection (vases, candle holders, chargers and more) is available exclusively at the supermarket chain.
During a recent visit to Sacramento, Lilly demonstrated how a memorable tablescape can go together in minutes.
The result can look luxurious while helping the hostess maintain a tight budget. Prices start at $3.99 for her collection, offered in the floral department.
“You can find everything you need in the grocery store,” Lilly said. “How convenient is that? It’s good quality but at a much more affordable price.”
Also, look around your home for items that can do holiday table duty. Mirrors can become trays, reflecting light and sparkle. Mason jars can be candle holders or vases. Anything gold or silver can become part of a glittery tablescape.
“That’s the hottest trend this season: mixed metallics,” Lilly said. “It’s instant glamour; silver and gold is the big trend right off the fashion runways. Add lots of candlelight, and it just sparkles. But keep everything low, below eye level, so your guests can talk.”
In her sample tablescape, silver hobnail vases and chargers mix with the gold tablecloth and paper runners. Sequin-covered candles stand in silver-coated vases. Gilded pine cones add more sparkle. Bedecked with ribbon, scented candles serve as party favors. “I like to add something personal to the table,” she said. “Candles make great gifts, but the scents don’t have to be holiday pine. I also like using family photos in glass apothecary stands. It makes the table more fun.”
For centerpieces, Lilly uses single-colored roses en masse to add bursts of color. She scatters more rose petals down the table center to extend that color. An alternative is one elegant orchid plant, perched in a metallic-dipped container.
“It makes the table look very special,” Lilly said. “It’s so easy and so elegant.”
During the hectic holidays, easy always sounds good. That way, we’ll have energy to enjoy time with family and friends – and maybe tackle making a wreath.
Make your own wreath
Author and “Slow Flower” advocate Debra Prinzing (“Slow Flowers,” “The 50-Mile Bouquet”) loves creating holiday wreaths with materials she pulls from her own Seattle garden. The materials she likes best – such as silvery olive leaves and rosemary twigs – are readily available in Sacramento. She gets her frames, florist tape and wire from Michael’s crafts stores.
▪ Harvest your ingredients: Natural materials can be pulled from your own garden, your neighborhood or local farmers markets. In this wreath, Prinzing used fresh rosemary, lavender, olive branches, scented geranium and rose hips. Other possibilities: just about any evergreen (fir, pine, cedar, redwood, etc.), magnolia (leaves and seed pods), nandina (leaves and seeds), pyracantha berries, pepper tree berries, oak leaves, acorns, artichokes, sage, bay leaves, oregano (including flowers) and dried seed pods or grasses. If possible, harvest your fresh ingredients the same day you build your wreath.
▪ Step 1: Gather together your basic tools (scissors and wire snips) and materials such as frames (wire, twig or other materials), florist tape, florist wire and ribbon. Wire-edged burlap ribbon is used in this example.
▪ Step 2: Using the floral tape or wire, tie your base materials (such as rosemary and small olive branches) into little bundles, trimming the stem ends to make them uniform. Arrange the bundles around the frame.
▪ Step 3: Attach the base material to the frame with florist wire. Overlap the bundles as you go.
▪ Step 4: Fill in with extra stems or leafy bundles to create a nice, full base. With scissors, trim off excess stems as needed.
▪ Step 5: Add some color and scent to your wreath with little nosegays for the corners. These accents were made of lavender, scented geranium and rose hips, bundled together with florist tape and wire.
▪ Step 6: Fasten the nosegays to the corners of the wreath with wire. Cover the wire with ribbon. Wire-edged burlap ribbon offers a rustic look.
▪ Ready to hang: The finished wreath will last for several weeks. Fresh wreaths last longer away from direct heat or sunlight and protected from winter weather. When it’s past its prime, the wreath’s herbs and flowers can be recycled into potpourri. Compost the other organic ingredients. Reuse the frame for more wreaths during holidays to come.