All Natural

holiday installation (2)A client whose exuberant husband was campaigning for more in the way of holiday decorations outdoors had only one request.  All natural materials, please.  Garlands comprised of fresh fir, grapevine, tallow berries, pine cones and magnolia are as natural as could be, and fit right into an existing landscape. All of the materials came originally from the landscape.  The textures, colors and forms are easy on the eye, meaning is just about impossible to over do a natural look.  I was not worried that my client would feel overwhelmed.  I was sure it would just feel warm.

holiday installation (3)Properly judging the volume and scale needed can make a world of difference in the result.  For an entrance garland, big sugar cones have much more impact from the ground than white pine cones.  Magnolia leaves read well from a distance, as they are large. White tallow berries stand out, as everything white in the garden does. Rolls of grapevine come spring loaded with volume.  What might look over scaled on the ground will look just right, hung high on the wall of a building. To be sure we would have enough volume, we had 2 25 foot lengths ready to hang.

holiday installation 9The first garland was attached from the right top corner of the front porch.  The first 11 feet would be attached at frequent intervals across the width of the existing fascia board, to the left. The last 14 feet would drape down the left side of the porch.

holiday installation (4)Making sure a garland is firmly attached is a must.  I have no idea how much this garland weighs, but the last thing you want is garland sagging in the wind and snow.

holiday installation (5)Having multiple points to attach the garland means you have the ability to place it exactly as you wish.  For this porch, hanging the garland straight across and parallel to the ground would leave the view of the stone arch on the wall intact. Multiple points of attachment means the weight is spread out. Outwitting gravity just takes a little more time and care. It is easier to swag a big garland. The weight and gravity will see that your loops look graceful.  But some architecture calls for a clean and simple look.  A swag here would run counter to the lines established by the architecture.

holiday installation (6)Garland 2 was attached at the top left corner, and hung from the left all the way to the right side.  This means there is a double thickness of garland above the door, and a single thickness down each side.  A porch of this size calls for a substantial garland, hung outside the coach lights. The garland is a frame for the porch, and will not interfere with any coming and going.

holiday installation (8)We did run brown corded lights all along the grapevine.  This will help to illuminate it at night.  All you can see of the lighting in this picture are the light bulbs.  The brown cords up high blend invisibly into the grapevine. The overall look of the garland is appropriate to the size of the porch, and looks very warm and inviting to my eye.  The containers are simple. A roughly spherical shape of boxwood in the center is surrounded by silver fir.  The topiary forms are strung with lights that describes their shape.  There are garland lights tucked into the greens.

holiday installation (7)A pair of large windows in the front are faced down with steel boxes from Branch.  The boxes were made wider than the window, and have a subtle bow front.  The centerpiece from the fall planting was augmented with 2 additional pieces of the same material.  These were added to the left and the right of the original centerpiece.  The front 2/3rds box is stuffed with a mix of silver fir and boxwood.  The rear 1/3rd is all boxwood.  The boxes have lights near the centerpiece assembly, and in the greens.

holiday installation (1)Every year we hang one of Rob’s light rings in the window, with a plain magnolia wreath in the center.  We wire the wreath to the ring in four places, so it stays put even on windy days. This year we added a garland over the top. A single garland is centered over the window, and hung high enough so the stone arch is still visible.  The garland stops 16″ above the box, so as not to interfere with the shape established in the container. This is a warm winter look, with a splash of holiday.

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.