Decorating With Greens

Barb Mrgich
Adams County Master Gardener

Making arrangements and bouquets with fresh greens is a wonderful way to brighten up your home on a brisk winter day. I enjoy the aroma of the freshly cut greens almost as much as their beauty.

Beginning in November, and throughout the holiday season, I raid my yard for greens, dried seed heads, grass plumes, berries, holly, and defoliated sticks from Red and Yellow- twig dogwood. If you don't have your own greens, many nurseries and garden clubs sell them this time of year. You may want to think about planning ahead to grow your own. I actually selected many of the trees and shrubs in my yard with their winter interest in mind because, along with winter interest, comes decorating possibilities. Some of my favorites are the Arizona cypress, Leyland cypress, Gold Mop cypress, Cherry laurel, Beautyberry, hollies, White pine, Winterberry, Red-twig dogwood, and Mugo pine.

If this is an indoor arrangement, you will probably want to arrange your greens in a large vase containing water. For best results, remove the leaves that will fall below water level. Use a floral foam or vase frog to hold the greens in place. Try to use greens with a variety of textures and colors. Add your branches full of berries to the greens. I love the lilac shades of Beautyberry, in addition to the reds of Winterberry and holly. Serviceberry, a much larger shrub, also yields wonderful red berries. For a more casual look, you can put your arrangement in a basket without water. The greens just won't last quite so long.

Cedars with blue berries are an alternative to the traditional red and green

In addition to the berries, don't forget the possibility of using dried flowers. Dried hydrangeas make beautiful additions, as do dry yarrow. I use the yarrow 'Coronation Gold'. Celosia (Cock's Comb) also dries very nicely. Of course, with the exception of the hydrangeas, you have to plan ahead and pick these things when they are at their peak then hang them upside down to dry in an airy spot. The hydrangeas work better if you let them mature and actually start to dry on the plant. Another great dried flower for arrangements is the Strawflower (Helipterum). It is extremely easy to grow and dry, and looks very cute in baskets and wreaths.

It's not necessary to put a wide variety of plant material into each arrangement. Keep it simple and uncomplicated. For a special occasion, pick up a few fresh florist flowers and add them to a vase containing some fresh greens.

For an outdoor arrangement, I like to use a heavy glazed clay pot because of the beauty of the pot. Be sure it has good drainage holes, and elevate it slightly above the ground. Pot feet or bricks work well. Dump out any soil, and fill it three-quarters of the way with sand. Rain water will run right through sand so it will not freeze, expand, and break the pot. If I am using a large plastic pot, I just leave the soil in the pot. I stick the evergreen boughs into the soil and let them freeze into place, and they will withstand quite a bit of wind. Mine generally last well into February. For height and color, I use the Red-twig dogwood sticks along with some tall grass plumes. If I want to use decorative items such as pine cones, I use florist wire to wire them into the arrangement. Sometimes I find that the holly with its red berries looks beautiful, but then the holly leaves curl up very quickly. I pick off the leaves and the red berries will go on for the life of the container.

If you are decorating window boxes, lay the greens on their side on top of the soil. Build your arrangement from the bottom up. When you have everything on it that you want, wrap the entire thing -- box and all -- with green florist wire to keep it in place.

A fun addition to these arrangements is the fruit of the Osage Orange tree. They are about the size of a grapefruit, and are indented with a twisted design. They look just like brains, and that is what we call them. Sometime in November, they fall from the tree. I would never recommend going onto private property without permission, but our brains fall all along the road just outside of Abbottstown. We gather them up and take them home and spray paint them gold. They look beautiful in arrangements. Just impale them on some kind of a spike, and push the other end into the soil.

Don't overlook the idea of artificial flowers added to your arrangement. Nothing is tackier than a fake poinsettia stuck into the ground, but some of the silk flowers found in the craft stores look beautiful as an accent among the greens, and they withstand the weather amazingly well.

Use any or all of these ideas to get yourself started towards a fun way to enjoy your gardening efforts in the off-season. It's a great excuse to spend time outdoors on a beautiful, crisp afternoon. Don't be afraid to experiment with your own ideas using materials you have available. Have fun being creative knowing that with natural ingredients, you can never go too far wrong.

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