Holiday Decorations From The Garden

Every year I make a vow to keep the holidays simple. I've been pretty good at sticking to this promise, but my Achilles heel has always been decorating. I just can't help but dress up my home to match the spirit of the season. To keep it low key I purchase some wreaths and fresh cut greenery to combine with items I've gathered in the garden and neighborhood. The arrangements are fun and carefree, just what the holidays should be.

Now, before I race out and begin denuding the landscape of its bounties for my home, I keep in mind that it is important that I be ecologically responsible while gathering materials. Many forms of wildlife rely on native plants for food and shelter during the winter. It is also important that fruits be left for the plant to continue perpetuating itself. I prune plants judiciously; choosing branches that might otherwise break or are already misshaped or damaged, rather than take prime limbs or fruits.

Exploring the uses of our native plants for use in our homes can be very rewarding. Think about using some of these plants and suggestions along with your traditional holiday decorating. You may only have to go as far as your own back yard.

NandinaA popular plant for decorating in the South is nandina (Nandina domestica, zones 6 - 9). Its abundant red berries and green bronze foliage are excellent accents in arrangements and will hold up for an extended period of time when given plenty of water.

SumacSumac (Rhus typhina, zones 3 - 8) is another North American native that I enjoy using in arrangements. While the fall foliage can be spectacular, it is the clusters of tiny berries that work so well for the holidays. I like to gather large limbs to use in simple arrangements set off with a festive bow or ribbon.

Or if I am in need of a little glitz, I like to dress up sumac berries with a light spray of gold tint and a dash of glitter. This also works well with dried oakleaf hydrangea blooms, ornamental grass plumes, and crape myrtle seedpods.

Possum HawFor a more dramatic effect, cut long boughs of possumhaw (Ilex decidua, zones 5 - 9) if you live in the South or winterberry (Ilex verticulata, zones 5 - 8) if you live in the North. A few of these berry laden gray limbs arranged in a vase is a simple yet elegant way to dress up a room for the season.

Beauty BerryAmerican beautyberry, sometimes called French mulberry, (Callacarpa americana, zones 5 - 9) is similar to possumhaw and winterberry in that it is at its best in the autumn and winter, just after it loses its foliage. Once the leaves are gone, the lavender berries are revealed. Its color makes this plant a good choice for more non-traditional or contemporary holiday decorating or floral arrangements for the season of Advent. This plant is gaining in popularity among gardeners. Some nurseries even offer it as a single trunk small tree.

Ginkgo DecorationsAnd if you like to use foliage in your decorating, there are few large ornamental trees with more brilliant yellow foliage as that of the ancient maidenhair tree (Ginkgo biloba, zones 5 - 9). The ginkgo is sometimes regarded as the "now you see it, now you don't tree," because one day you find yourself marveling at its glorious yellow display and the next day all the leaves will have fallen.

If you were fortunate enough this autumn to have gathered some of the beautiful fan-shaped leaves, they can be pressed and used in many clever ways for holiday decor. For a uniquely festive wreath cluster 3 leaves together at the stem and then pin these sets of three around a Styrofoam wreath like shingles. To finish the look, layer fresh Southern magnolia leaves around the back of the wreath and then accent the circle with kumquats, tangerines and limes attached with floral picks. If you were not lucky enough to have access to a ginkgo tree, any colorful leaf that can be pressed and dried can be substituted.

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