Gorgeous Greens

So many of the materials used at the holidays are harvested from the landscape.  Not my landscape, mind you.  My evergreens grow much too slowly to be trimmed for holiday greens;  the one spruce on my property was limbed up at least 12 feet before I moved in.  But there are places where the boxwood flushes several times a season, and the magnolia grows lushly.  Thank heavens for all the fir-Noble, Frazier, Douglas, Balsam, Silver, Concolor-fir boughs are so beautiful, long lasting, and fragrant at the holidays.  And of course, the iconic boxwood. Cut magnolia-this a a subject worthy of a post soon to come.   We have true variegated English boxwood branches for the first time this season.  Would that I could grow this gorgeous evergreen in my garden!  That aside, I plan to enjoy all of the cut greens available during the holiday and winter season.

Noble fir-so aptly named.  The short needles grow densely along each branch. They shrug off the worst of the winter weather; the cut branches stay green for months.  Evergreen needles have evolved to survive long periods when the roots cannot obtain water, when the soil is frozen.  The needles have very little in the way of surface area.  This means water evaporates at a lower and slower rate than say a maple leaf.  A big surface area means rapid evaporation.  Their formal shape and gorgeous blue green color makes them a green of choice for winter arrangements.  Noble fir-the mainstay of my winter container arrangements.      

Berried juniper is not my most favorite green, but the blue berries are very persistent.  I like mixing this green with other blue hued greens.

Long needle pine-just exactly what species is this?  This is not a common name that I know.  Should you recognize this evergreen, will you write me?  The long needled pines-as in white pine, have gracefully curving stems.  This makes them great for informal arrangements.  Curvy is a good look, for the winter.

I love the texture and the fragrance of cedar.  This is an evergreen with flat needles.  Those flat needles present more surface area to all of those elements that dry out cut greens.  I use Port Orford cedar, a lax and luscious variety distantly related to my thujas, outside only.  Cedar roping and branches dry out very quickly indoors.  Even outdoors, they dry, brown out, and drop needles too soon to make them a cut green of choice.  I use cedar as an accent in my holiday decor projects.  Long lasting gets lots of votes.  That aside,  I like any seasonalexpression.  Cut cedar for that one moment brings the holidays to mind. Cedar branches-so fragrant, and so fleeting.

Douglas fir is perhaps the least showy of all of the specialty holiday greens, but its longevity is legendary.  I have been known to cut up Douglas fir Christmas trees after Christmas for winter pots.  Douglas fir will stay green well into April.  I am impressed by this. 

Boxwood is an evergreen so close to my heart-I like them wild, I love them trimmed.  Broad leaved evergreens are a great foil to the needled evergreens.  This is the perfect cut material for clipped topiaries, and formal wreaths.  Any arrangement of needled evergreen boughs gets a visual boost from any boxwood companionship.  I like the reference in my holiday decor to the boxwood in my garden.

Princess pine-I have never planted one.  I do not know the species.  But these branches look great in winter containers and garlands.  The long needles are presented in short tufts.  Where would this work for you?

German boxwood is a very big leaved boxwood.  The very large leaved branches are striking in winter or holiday arrangements. 

Oregonia is a name of choice in the florist trade for boxwood-but this boxwood is much more subtle, and smaller leaved than our English variegated boxwood.  I will not debate the differences.  I can only say that there are so many choices in cut greens for the holidays. 

Every bale of greens that came in this week -beautiful.  Those fresh materials-they smell great.  I hold them in my hands, and imagine.   They keep me going.  They keep me going strong.

How Long Will It Last?

 How long will it last?  This question is asked of me many times over the course of the gardening season.  The questions come in many forms.  The summer season is so short-can I plant my annuals the beginning of May?  How long will the annual plants bloom?  What perennials bloom all summer long?  What perennials bloom the longest?  Which varieties of tulips are perennial? How long will this magnolia bloom ?  What trees bloom all summer long?  How can I have color in my perennial garden every day?  How long will my Becky shasta daisies live?  How long do fiber pots last-can I keep them for more than one season?  How long will a fall planting last?  You get the idea.  Pictured above is the holiday wreath that I made for my front door-last year.  How long did it last?  



I put my holiday wreath in the basement in late February, as I am reluctant to let go of the holiday season.  I brought it to work, and and photographed it on my office door a week ago.  The best part of saving it was Rob’s reaction when he got to work.  He thought maybe I was making a critical statement about his dried weed arrangements.  That was not at all on my mind.  This picture just answers the question.  Many things in the garden are ephemeral.

Last year’s winter display in front of the shop took into consideration that I wanted it to last the winter.  The branches were fresh cut; I knew they would last.  The glass ornaments I prepared as best I could.  Each one had its metal cap glued on.  Enough glue was used such that the air holes in the caps were completely filled.  The day the shop decor was finished, every element looked fresh. 

Michigan winters dish out a lot in the way of stormy weather. Wind, snow and cold take their toll on everything in the landscape.  The burlap drapes and pot wraps shrugged off every insult.  But by late February, the ornaments were beginning to loose their shine. 

The ornaments began to fade; the ornament in the center of this picture has taken on a distinctly orange cast.  Did I mind this?  No.  The branches arranged to look like trees looked like they were loaded with berries.  In March we had red, orange, and silver berries-where the color coating had worn off all together.  How long did it last?  As long as it needed to.


Fresh magnolia leaves are a rich and shiny green on the top side, and a velvety chocolate brown on the obverse.  Magnolia wreaths are beautiful at the holidays; I love the big texture and great color. How long does magnolia stay fresh?  Magnolia kept cold, but not freezing, will stay fresh a long time.  What does a long time mean?  The length of the holiday season.  Subjected to very cold temperatures outside, the leaves will develop freeze spots, but we rarely have temperatures in the low 20’s during December.    

How long does magnolia last?  This wreath was a year old when I sold it.  It had never been hung outdoors.  Magnolia leaves dry beautifully to a pale platinum green.  The undersides if the leaves fade some in the drying process.  A magnolia wreath can be kept a long time, provided that great care is taken in the handling.  The leaves are very brittle when dry, and snap easily.  Storing them in tissue paper in a somewhat cool location will prolong their life.  Magnolia garland and wreaths outdoors will begin to look very tired the end of February.  If you have a covered porch, they might last well into March. 

I cut the elegant feather grass that grew in the roof window boxes all summer, and laid it out to dry.  Will it last?  I have no idea; this is an experiment.  The willingness to experiment can produce some startling results-we’ll see what happens with this.  But I know not to ask too much.  If it lasts until New Year’s, I will feel like it has given enough.

This boltonia is from my rose garden.  I am drying this, and my Japanese anemone as well.  What are my plans for this material?  I’ll take pictures. 

I made this arrangement for a client, using her metal basketweave wall hung container, and her collection of horns.  The arrangement is composed of faux rose hips, dried Queen Anne’s Lace, some unknown weeds, preserved and dried eucalyptus, and preserved bahia spears.  4 of her antlers are wired inside the container; the fifth was glued on to the surface of the container.  I like taking materials that belong to and mean something to a client, and creating something that makes beautiful use of them.  How long will this last?  Long enough for her to tire of it, and think about a new look.  No small part of the beauty of the garden, and the beauty of the season, is its ephemeral nature.  This is just cause for celebration.


I am always surprised when gardeners express reluctance to use glass in the garden.  It is after all a natural material-sand, melted.  Will it break?  All of the windows in my house survive all kinds of weather.  My Suburban has glass windows, and mirrors. I have installed mirrors in gardens on occasion.  Once you insure that no water will get trapped inside, glass is glorious outside.  It is better than glorious outside, in the winter. A few years ago I hung 900 glass drops from the branches of 6 crabapples in the pots in front of the shop.  I was a little worried that wind would wreak havoc with these natural chandeliers, but 9″ drops were all I could find.  They worked out just fine; all winter long they hung in the trees. Drops reflect every bit of available light.  Even on grey days, these glass drops sparkle.   


At night, the drops were jewel-like. The noble fir and fresh eucalyptus at the base of these pots provided a home for some strong up lighting at night.  We were able to hide the cords in the green nests. Those drops reflected that light source  in a very dramatic way. Glass transmits, and magnifies light.  Our dark winter days absorb light.  This makes glass a natural choice for winter garden decor.  Any light you are able to create in the winter landscape amounts to a big dose of sass at that season when we need it the most.  

These antique English aluminum traps looked like giant chandeliers-I could not wait to hang glass drops on them. A simple steel plant stand was the perfect thing to hold the trap in an upright position.  This display in the shop makes the idea very clear; glass sparkles during the day, and glows at night.   

    Faux snowball placecard holders get a little sparkle from their glass drop tripod legs.   

The holiday and winter season features lots of ornament made of glass.  Simple spherical glass ornament at the holidays has a long history.  Though glass ornament can be found in dozens of shapes now, a glass sphere is still my favorite.  Luckily they are available in lots of different sizes.  If I use these mini spheres outside, I glue the metal caps on.  This protects the ornament from wind, and prevents water from getting inside.  Water expands when it freezes.  Modern glass ornament is made from very thin glass-they are easy to break.     


 Glass ornament under a covered porch is easy.  Even the smallest glass ornaments on wires, clustered on a wreath, make a holiday expression dressy.  There are those gardeners that prefer natural materials only for their holiday decor, but what I admire the most is the person who makes the effort.  My neighborhood looks as good in December as it does in June.

Glass icicles enchant me in much the same way as the glass drops.  Should you garden in my zone, you know all about those icicles hanging long from the roof come late January.  Real ice is a regular and usually unwelcome companion to the winter garden.  But the glass icicles make a benignly beautiful reference to the winter garden.     

Glass icicles look great when they are wet.  They will accumulate frost.  Hung from the shop linden trees, they are good looking day and night.  Dark bare branches festooned with glass icicles-this is a really good look.   

These oak boxes set with branches look swell.  Adding the glass to the mix makes for a party. 

Glass and fire is a happy combination.  I would not leave a glass vase or hurricane outdoor for the winter, but for an event, vases with votive candles inside is warm and festive. 

The morning after-frosted glass. 

A garden bench with a necklace of glass lights would warm up any winter garden-not to mention this gardener’s heart.  


At A Glance: Holiday Open House






Many thanks to all of you who came by this weekend.