This holiday season, beautiful decorative treasures can be found right in your backyard.
Chances are most of your holiday decorating needs are right outside your Cape or Islands back door. Even small landscapes can provide the abundance of colors and textures of greenery perfect for doors, arrangements, mantles, and Christmas crafts. From foundation plants to perennials—and even perimeter-of-the-property vines—much of your winter décor is already in your own backyard.
Needled evergreens are the backbone of many holiday projects. The first step in making wreaths, swags, and mantle or table arrangements is to cut branches from these shrubs and trees. For example, white pine, the long-needled tree that graces so many South East Massachusetts properties, is perfect for all decorating.
Cutting white pine branches ends up thickening the growth of these large trees the following year, so don’t hesitate to do your pruning now. Cut white pine boughs about two to three feet long, harvesting from several areas of the tree.
Other needled evergreens that are beautiful when cut are the dark green Hinoki false-cypress and yews, and the lighter Arborvitae and juniper foliage. Needled evergreens that are blue in color make any arrangement richer. Great Cape and Islands choices are Blue Atlas cedar, Vanderwolf’s pines, Wichita blue junipers, or similar varieties which add colorful seaside hues to any holiday design.
Broadleaf evergreens are common in Massachusetts landscapes and will add depth and color to decorations. Rhododendron, holly, and Pieris (andromeda) are three common plants that are lovely in holiday décor. The green buds on Rhododendron, red berries on holly, and burgundy flower stems on Pieris provide additional drama to any design.
Other widespread landscaping plants that work well for holiday decorating include variegated Euonymus, such as Emerald Gaiety or Green and Gold. In addition to white or yellow leaves, many of these shrubs take on an additional blush of pink once the temperatures cool. In fact, just about all of your evergreen plants will add color, so the first step in greening your home for the holidays is to gather clippings from most of your shrubs and trees.
Whether you’re filling window boxes, creating wreaths and swags, or making mantle and table arrangements, it’s helpful to use the following method. When filling containers, start with blocks of water-soaked floral foam. This green foam, often called Oasis and available at local craft centers, supermarkets and garden centers (be sure to get the oasis for “wet” designs), holds water and releases it to the greens as needed. It can be used outdoors in window boxes and pots, or inside in any container that is watertight.
If your window boxes still have dirt in them, nestle the soaked Oasis down into the soil. If you’ve already emptied the boxes for the winter, place the wet floral foam into plastic liners or use a plastic garbage bag to line wooden boxes before adding soaked Oasis blocks. For indoor arrangements, stretching two or three pieces of waterproof floral tape from the edge of the container across the foam blocks anchors the arrangement firmly in a dish planter.
Begin creating all arrangements with the needled evergreens. If you have white pine boughs, start with these—they are light in texture, but fill in a great deal of space. Cut the branches to the desired length and stick them into the floral foam, or use as is for the base of swags, wreaths, and roping.
After the white pine, add other needled evergreens using a mix of textures and colors. Next, add in broadleaf greens such as Rhododendron, Pieris, Euonymus, and holly for focal points.
Once all the greens are in place, look for other natural embellishments to add into the mix. Lichen-covered pine branches, often with pinecones still attached, are beautiful when added to window boxes and urns. Such twigs and boughs routinely drop off of pitch pines during windstorms.
Assorted pinecones make lovely additions to your holiday greenery. Loose cones can be secured by wrapping a strand of wire around the base of the cone so it can be tied in place. Search your yard for a variety of types and sizes, from the tiny hemlock cones to the sap-frosted cones that fall from white pines.
Other seedpods and fruits can be gathered from the landscape as well. Many rose bushes are still covered with dark red rose hips at this time of year, and these add festive touches when placed in with the greens.
Winterberry holly branches add a bright red note and many perennials such as iris have decorative seedpods that give geometric interest.
Add cones, berries, and pods to arrangements after all of the greens are in place. In most cases, this will finish things nicely, but if you still think that a little something more is needed, look to the far edges of the yard. Even the plants that we commonly think of as pesky weeds can be attractive for holiday décor.
Twisted wisteria vines are lovely when looped into arrangements; the dark color and contorted nature of these vines shows off well against greenery.
In addition to the abundance found in the backyard, many people like to finish off their arrangements with treasures found on the beach. Seashells and driftwood complement evergreens and celebrate not only the season, but also the seaside region where we live.
Just as a variety of natural materials contribute to decorations that are pleasing to the eye, an assortment of containers holding those greens are appealing too. Don’t be limited to filling traditional boxes or pots. Metal pails, clamming baskets, and birdbaths are charming when filled with holiday greenery. Many of these items add a unique sense of place for holiday celebrations on Cape Cod.
C.L. Fornari is a well-known gardening expert on the Cape and Islands. She is an author, lecturer, and radio host on numerous gardening subjects.
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