Written and Photographed By Gayle Fisher
Decorating with evergreens and berries is one of the oldest wintertime traditions. In fact, decorating with such items predates Christmas and can be traced back to pagan times when the winter solstice was celebrated. I love bringing in fresh evergreens I usually wait until till the middle of December so that the fresh material doesn’t become overly dry. Biltmore changes out trees and live cut decorations every two weeks, to keep everything fresh for their visitors.
During the holidays, we find windows decorated with greenery and the wreaths on the doors are laden with apples, pineapples and other fruit. The natural decorations are a tradition that the first immigrants brought with them from England. Today’s decorations in Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital are much more elaborate than those that would have been used 400 years ago.
Before you order your garlands and wreaths try a natural Christmas by looking at the greenery growing in your own yard. You can make an easy arrangement if you have boxwood. Take a hard fresh apple. Cut a small hole in the top that would fit a candle (I like the small white emergency candles). Take your cut boxwoods and make a green base by sticking the stems into the apple. The apple keeps the boxwood fresh and you have an all-natural window or table decoration. A small saucer or wax paper underneath keeps the surface clean and children love to make this fun
Other evergreens that are easy to find and use for decorating are:
Holly: (genus Ilex) vary dramatically, some are evergreen, some deciduous; some are 12-inch bushes, some 50-foot giants. However, most sport the characteristic shiny leaves and bright berries that deck the halls during the holiday season. This most traditional holiday greenery comes in several forms, both green and variegated. Female plants display bright red berries. Make sure that holly does not freeze after cutting, or the leaves and berries may blacken.
Boxwood: (Buxus semperviens): This small-leafed shrub is a longtime favorite for fine-textured wreaths and garland. It has an aroma that is either loved or hated, so be sure of your reaction before bringing it indoors! Some people (including me) think cut boxwood smells like cat pee. Another easy decoration you can make with boxwood is to take a clean small ceramic pot and florist oasis. Simply insert your boxwood into the wet oasis making a miniature Christmas tree. Even after it dries out the shape is still beautiful. This cute mini tree also makes a great hostess gift.
Eastern red cedar: (Juniperus virginiana): This native juniper may have a grey or blue cast with a slight bronzing of the tips in the winter. The branches have a wonderful cedar scent and produce an abundance of light blue berries. We see this plant growing along the road side and in abandoned fields. The aroma is great but the needles are super prickly you may need gloves to handle. I always line my mantles with this plant - the smell is wonderful.
Ivy: (helix): This vigorous vine is readily available in many yards. It makes an excellent green for holiday arrangements and is especially effective in raised containers from which the vines can tumble over the edges. The cut ends must be kept in water, though, or the leaves will quickly wilt.
White pine: (Pinus storbus): The soft, bluish-green, long needles are beautiful in their own right, but the cones the plant produces add an extra element of interest. The foliage is often wired into roping to hang indoors and outdoors. I was raised in the mountains of North Carolina where this tree is a native. All white pines growing here are planted there are no volunteers here in East Tennessee.
Southern magnolia: (Magnolia grandiflora): The large leaves are a glossy, dark green that contrast well with the velvety, brown undersides. Magnolia leaves make stunning wreaths and bases for large decorations. The leaves hold up very well, even without water. The leaves make a beautiful centerpiece for your dining room table. Try layering the leaves using both sides green then brown this adds interest to the arrangement.
Decorating for Christmas is always a joy. I think my home always looks sad after I take down the Christmas greenery in January. So enjoy! As the song says “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.”