There is such a crush of holiday activities leading up to Christmas that I wanted to come up with a fresh way to invite guests over to for a seasonal celebration. So in recent years, I’ve created a new tradition of throwing a garden party in early December. When guests arrive, they get into the spirit by joining me in decorating the garden to attract local wildlife. The festive decorations we create double as edible treats.
To set a celebratory mood for the party, I do a little pre-decorating in the garden. Both guests and feathered friends are greeted at the door with a wreath decorated in dried fruit slices and berry ornaments accented with mini terra cotta pots filled with suet. I also like to wrap garlands around the entryway columns of the arbors. To save time and money I’ve found a neat little shortcut that turns inexpensive artificial garlands into something grand. I buy several long strands and then cover them with clusters of bundled live evergreens stems. Then I wire on accents of pine cones, seed heads and berried branches to give them more color and interest.
Once guests arrive, direct them to tables with ornament-making supplies so they can begin to make the decorations. Some can start stringing cranberries and popcorn, others can tie together bundles of evergreens and berries and add loops of strings make them easy to attach to trees and shrubs. Making bread round ornaments is always a hit. I've found people gravitate to the activities they enjoy.
- pre-sliced sandwich bread
- egg whites (or peanut butter)
- bird seed
- twine or raffia
- cookie cutters in simple shapes
- ice pick
- You can use any pre-sliced sandwich bread for these ornaments, but I've had the best success with the extra thin slices.
- Simply place the bread on a flat surface and cut out your shape with a cookie cutter. Depending on the size of your cookie cutter, you will probably be able to make one ornament per slice of bread.
- Poke a hole through the top of the ornament with a sharp stick or ice pick.
- Brush one side of the bread with egg whites. This is the "glue" for your birdseeds. Sprinkle the egg white covered bread with birdseeds. I like to use a seed mix because the variety of textures and shapes makes the ornament more interesting. In addition, these mixes tend to attract some of my favorite birds such as chickadees, cardinals, finches, nuthatches and siskins.
- Place the seed covered ornaments on a baking sheet and bake in a pre-heated 300 degree F oven for about 5 minutes. Just long enough for the egg whites and birdseeds to adhere to the bread.
- Alternatively, if don't want to bother with the egg whites and baking, you can use peanut butter to act as the glue for the seeds. If you use peanut butter, either toast the bread ornaments first, or allow them to dry over night. This just makes handling the bread easier.
- Take a piece of raffia or twine and string it through the hole you made at the top of the ornament. Tie a knot to create a loop.
- Now you are ready to hang your birdseed ornament out in the garden. I like to place these in locations where I can easily see them from indoors, but also close to shrubs and trees where birds will feel safe.
While the decorations are being assembled, some guests help me give an unassuming, bare-branched “Charlie Brown” tree star treatment as we adorn it in strands of cranberries, dried apple and orange slices, bread circles threaded on raffia, dried flower heads, and orange baskets, creating a veritable smorgasbord for birds. To create a holder for the tree, I wrap a bucket with burlap and fill it with wet sand and gravel. Then I gather sturdy bare branches and arrange them in the bucket, patting the sand around the base of the branches to make them nice and sturdy in the bucket. I surround the tree with a mini-forest of young cypress trees potted in simple frost proof containers. Along with decorating the tree, partygoers are encouraged to deck out every corner of the garden with fruity strands and nutty garlands, all delicious treats for birds and squirrels.