Time To Trim

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Once the garland is on the mantle, the wreath is up, and the tree is in its stand, it’s time to trim.  Though some say there is no art involved in trimming a tree or garland, there are a few things I think make for a more beautiful result.  There are no end of choices for trimming.  Some people like natural materials or ornament made from natural materials.  Some like a little gleam, glitter and glitz. My personal preference-the ability to change things from year to year. But no matter in what manner I might be trimming, I have a method.

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I have clients with what I call family history trees. At the very least the ornaments have been collected over a period of years, and represent the history of the family holidays.  Some ornament is handmade by children, family members, or friends. A friend has a tree decorated entirely with birds and beasts of every description and in varying materials.  The inspiration for this tree?  An ornament of an animal that he gave his Mom as a small child he found wrapped in tissue in her jewelry box after he lost her. His tree is about his memories of her, and their relationship. The ornaments for trees like this tend to be all different materials, and all different colors-how can the trimming be done in a cohesive way? 

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Woody has amassed a collection of spheres of all types and sizes that he adds to the members of his ark. The round shape is repeated all over the tree, giving the tree an overall pattern the eye can make sense of.  I should add that he arranges the animals, birds and insects differently every year.  One year he organizes by breed, another year he may organize by color.   The family tree pictured above is pulled together visually by means of a bell garland that winds its way from top to bottom.  The bell garland signals immediately that this is a family tree, designed to delight the children in the household.

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Garlands are not only beautiful in their own right, they help stitch a visual project together. Once I have put the individual ornaments on a tree, I will add the garland.  I can follow the pattern of the lights, spiral down the tree, or make horizontal or vertical stripes.  Good garland is wired everywhere-so individual branchlets can be fluffed out, and stand proud of the silhouette of the tree.  If I am installing garland outdoors, I soak a section in water for a while to be sure it can hold up to wet weather.

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Ribbon makes a great garland. I like a substantial wiring in both edges of the ribbon, so it will pouf out and stay where I want it.  I am one of those ribbon-challenged individuals.  I glue my bows together, as the ones I make with my own hands are  pretty sorry looking. I’ve been known to shorten pants and upholster chairs with my gluegun too.  But wired ribbon makes me look good, as it is easy to arrange.  After all, trimming the Christmas tree is supposed to be fun, not frustrating.

2007 Perenic, Lynn 11-29-07 (10)Lynn’s very unusual and striking Christmas tree is a foam form covered in preserved chartreuse leaves.  This form is the most important visual element; there are only a few ornaments.  The “garland” is actually aluminum wire that floats around the tree like the rings around Saturn.  Only every so often is the wire is secured to the tree.  The column vase with a ball top-a purchase at Smith and Hawkins many years ago.  I filled the bottom of the vase with white sand-this provides a secure base for the tree.  Red tinsel garland, and red and green bead garland fill the ball portion of the vase. 

Dec 16 001This mantle is dressed in a beautifully made artificial pine garland.  Finished in Jeffrey pine cones, it has great textural interest. Now what?

Dec 16 005It’s the small bits that bring it to life. Small plain glass balls-shiny and matte-add depth, interest, and density to any trimming project. Clusters of tiny red ornaments look like berries on a tree.  Clusters of larger red ornaments hung on the interior of a tree get the tree full of color, just as it is full of light; one’s prized ornaments can be front and center on the tips of the tree branches. 

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This is a landscape of a different sort, but a landscape, nonetheless.

Red On Red

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What is it about red at the holidays? How it glows-electrifying.  It does not seem to matter whether the material is ribbon, leaves, ornament, twigs, flowers or paper, red warms up the holiday.  Those ridiculously large amaryllis blooms-I fall for them.  Pointsettias come in a variety of different designer colors, but what beats a well grown pointsettia loaded with red bracts? Red on red-even better.  Combining red materials of different textures will give your holiday that sumptuous look-all from the color. 

Dec 4b 006We decorated this ten foot tall tree  in a foyer entirely of red ornaments.  Large and small, glittered, shiny, matte-a range of reds in different textures. clusters of matte red. Under the tree, a cloud of red sinamay.  The repetition of red provides for plenty of holiday drama. 

DSC04242Red is beautiful with greens-whether they be the blue greens of Noble and Silver fir, or the green-green of balsam fir. As red has a darker value, massing it makes it read better from a distance. A smattering of red at a distance will look better if it is backed up with white, or a light green.    

2007 Payne, Lisa HOLIDAY 12-3-07 (3)When red ornament will be viewed from up close, small splashes work fine.. Wine red needs to be up close; at a distance it will look brown or black-brown.  For this reason, I think chartreuse green and wine red are particularly handsome together.  Red and blue/green-electric on a dull cloudy day. 

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Red combines amicably with any other holiday color.  Red, dark purple and gold has the look of a pageant. Integrifolia dyed red will bleed some if there is rain, or a thaw; care needs to be taken so it does not stain a terrace.   Red also fades in full sun; red twig dogwood is your best bet for good color retention all winter.  But for that fleeting moment that we have holidays, red is smashing.


The Bulbeck lead pot is the anchoring ornament of this garden-summer and winter.  The mass of red integrifolia in a huge pot makes a strong central holiday statement; the satellite grape vine deer sport red holiday collars.  I am unable to resist decorating garden sculpture for the holiday season.  No doubt this is a character flaw on my part, but I do it anyway.  I like to see garden figures with hats and the dogs with collars.   

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Eucalyptus dyed red is a very dark red.  The science of this-the red dye over the green leaf muddies the color. Mixing colors opposite to each other on the color wheel produces various shades of mud.  If an orange terra cotta pot seems too orange, a green wash over top will tone it down. 

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Red  in all its sassy glory at the holidays gives me the same lift as red tulips do in the spring, and a new red jacket.  A gloomy time of year can be energized by red.

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 See what I mean??

The Mantle

2005 Hudas Winter (19)Fireplace mantles were invented so we could put stuff on them, right? I do have clients with contemporary homes that do away with the frivolity of a mantle, but I like them for what I can do with them.  More than most architectural features, a fireplace is a visual representation of the idea of home-a place around which to gather, be warm, and be safe.  A mantle can be home to a revolving collection of objects during the year; their height makes them perfect for displaying those small personal things that benefit from a placement at eye level.  But a mantle is never more in its glory than it is at the holidays.  Traditionally, gardeners drag all sorts of materials in from outdoors, and custom construct a holiday coat that dresses up that shelf over the fireplace.  This mantle began with a natural garland, to which Jeffrey pine cones, nests, cardinals, holly and berry picks were added.  Very warm and cozy.

2005 Hudas Winter (17)I like a garland centerpiece.  In this case, a small wreath constructed of individual pine cone bits identifies the center.  The feathered red birds, a symbol of the wildlife so precious in a garden, are nesting here and there.  A natural garland may dry quickly indoors, but the smell of fresh greens in season is a little bit of heaven at home.

2007 Vlasic, Paul HOLIDAY 12-6-07 (7)Armoires, cabinets and the like can be dressed up with garland as well.  This antique china cabinet has a gorgeous spiky hat of faux pine and giant cones. A stately and quiet nod to the season.  

2005 Hudas Winter (3)Formal fireplaces adapt to dressing just fine.  White berry garlands, clear creamy snowflakes and ornately carved ornaments are appropriate to the limestone, silver, and formal furnishings in the room.   

2005 Hudas Winter (7)If I use ornament on a mantle, I like to hang some over the edge.  This can be a construction problem, if the mantle is shallow, and the garland heavy.  In this case, I loaned my client lead pot feet, which I wired to the garland. These keeps everything securely on top, even though the display spills over the front edge. Some garland I attach to a bamboo pole that runs the entire length of the mantle. Once the heaviest element is stabilized, I can add on.

2005 Hudas Winter (34)This garland is woven with large old fashioned white lights, and red LED berry clusters.  The garland is wired to a heavy iron candelabra. As this fireplace is in the family room, and host to gathering involving grandkids, all the ornament is plastic.  Kids so like to touch things-and why shouldn’t they?  

Bondy_0003A holiday mantle can be glamorous.  The relationship of the large pearly ornaments and birch tubes is an interesting one.  I cannot imagine how the bark is removed intact from a birch log, but here they are.  The light weight makes them perfect for hanging over the edge of the mantle.  White at the holidays is beautiful.

Bondy_0007A pair of tall cone shaped topiaries are finished in off-white double faced satin.  This ribbon is a sumptuous material that shines softly. This treatment over a cone form is so fast and easy, it can be changed out for other seasons.   

2007 Vlasic, Paul HOLIDAY 12-6-07 (16)There is ornament designed specifically for mantles; they are usually narrow and quite heavy.  Close to Christmas, the children’s stockings will be hung from them.  An artificial pine garland is augmented with fresh noble fir; if artificial greens are the order of the day, adding some natural greens greatly improve the overall appearance. 

2007 Vlasic, Paul HOLIDAY 12-6-07 (17)Glass ornaments in wine red and chocolate complete the look.  The faux white pine has pleasingly overscaled needles that give this mantle a very festive look.  I like bringing the feeling of the outdoors inside.

Sunday Opinion: Holiday Spirit

I do believe that gardening is a beneficial activity; I highly recommend it.  The walking, weeding, bending, hauling and digging it requires can provide all the exercise you need, and then some.  While weeding, I can hear the birds, feel the sun on my neck , taste my own sweat and put my hands in the dirt; my senses get their exercise too. I am entertained watching the corgi races while I prune. There is the element of satisfaction that comes with making physical progress on a project.    Riding a stationary bike or lifting barbells has no appeal to me whatsoever.  What’s to see?  I am sure there are circumstance under which I would run, but none of them are pleasant.  Gardening is hard work, but you get more back than an admirable physique-just my opinion. 

Exposure to nature teaches a thing or two. There are no end of events in my garden that make clear I am neither the president nor chairman of the board of said enterprise-nor will I ever be up for either position.  This is a grown up experience-realizing you are not in charge, nor are you the center of anything.  I am the sole depositor to the garden bank account.  As nature doesn’t fix what she wrecks, you learn what stewardship is all about.  I’ve not met the gardener that does not respect the sanctity of life.  I’ve heard tell of toad families rescued from window wells,  goslings trapped in the swimming pool netted out to safety-in spite of the flapping fury of the goose Mom. My gardening clients talk to and play with my dogs when they are here, and I know the names of their dogs.  No one bothers the insects in my garden-although I do throw my Japanese beetles in the trash.  The arborvitae hedge that will take three years to recover from ice damage taught me more than I ever wanted to know about patience.  Maintaining a garden is a daily lesson in what is meant by committment.  Learning to garden is a process with no end and no diploma; the only person likely to be clapping and dancing about your hellebores would be you.  Anyone who has trouble identifying what constitutes a reality check would be set straight with a little gardening. 

The gardeners I know by and large have good manners.  They don’t mow on Saturday morning at 8am-only non-gardening people do that.  They don’t keep boats, bikes and trash cans within view of neighboring gardens. They clean up after their dogs and kids.  They do not burn garbage in their fireplaces. What the world sees of them is neat and orderly. The neighbor behind me-I have spent untold amounts in trees and fencing, the sole purpose of which is to obliterate my view of his 2007 and 2008 Christmas tree skeletons, his decaying canoe, his broken pots, dead bushes, and unmowed grass.  He is most definitely not a gardener, nor is he a serviceable housekeeper. Gardeners are happy to share their gardens.  This extends to offering cuttings or a start, or some useful advice.  I see this willingness to share evident no matter the size, circumstance or scope of their garden. 

Gardeners do seem to have values.  Only once in fourteen years have I have something stolen from the store-an old and spectacularly beautiful lavender topiary.  What made me so mad about it was knowing the person who stole it could not have been a gardener; I am sure it was dead within a month. I do not guarantee any plant sold at my shop.  I would not want to suggest to anyone that I have control over what they do not do, or do too much of.  Gardeners know that ignorance of the horticulture is no excuse. They do not demand restitution-they own their own trouble.  They are an honest lot; a nickel in the driveway gets taken to the counter. They don’t envy the gardens of others-they appreciate them.  I can be thoughtless and act poorly the same as the next person-but my garden reminds me that the heat of the moment pales in comparison with the big picture.

I like the holidays for these same reasons.  They bring out the best in people.  The holidays remind us that if we are able, we should help others in whatever way we can.  This may be volunteering, or contributing or instructing-something my garden does routinely for me.  Decorating for the holidays makes people feel good and act better.  I have seen lots of smiles, and been treated to an equally large number of “happy holidays” and “Merry Christmas” greetings.  Rob, whose optimism, patience and good manners rarely desert him, helps people plan to decorate, or entertain in a garden-like fashion. It’s nice to see adult faces lighting up once a sense of holiday spirit takes hold; I see him make this happen all the time. Last year an outspoken client came to the register with a wreath she wanted-in the next breath she is telling me her work hours had been cut and changed, and she really had no business buying it .  I told her I would take whatever she had in her wallet in settlement of the debt.  I took her twelve dollars, and she left smiling.  Two days later she was back-a platter heaping with her homemade baklava in tow. Good spirit-there’s nothing quite like it.     

 I have never seen so many gardens lit for the season as I have this year. Some are beautiful, some are dramatic-some are out there-but what they share in common is the gesture of light against the dark. I can attribute some of this to our warm November weather; Janet thinks the reason has to do with an instinct and the good will to provide light in a dark time.  A spirited gesture. I think she may be right.