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Holiday Greens and Decorations

Holiday Decorating with Greens and Nature

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The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.

The Holiday Train Show at the New York Botanical Garden.


Courtesy of "Sonia's Garden"
and The New York Botanical Garden

Here are several suggestions for how you can use greens from your garden, garden center or nearby craft store to make lovely decorations this holiday season.

Holiday Swags: Swags are evergreen branches tied together for hanging. It is best to use a variety of greens with different textures. Variegated boxwood, eucalyptus, magnolia leaves, variegated holly, berried holly, berried juniper, incense cedar, white pine, and Frazier fir all make good selections.

Swags can be tied together at each end with floral wire and then decorated with a large bow. Simply take several long branches of evergreens, bunch them together, and tie them at the base by wrapping a sturdy floral wire around the stems several times until secure. Wrap a bow around the end to cover your work.

Ornamental seed heads, pine cones, and ribbons can be tied to the swag to give it a festive look. Pine cones, nuts, and seed heads can be placed along the evergreen stems by wrapping them together with floral wire. Floral tape is often used to soften the look of unsightly ends of cones or seed heads.

Evergreens will dry out less quickly if sprayed with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt Proof, which can be purchased at your local garden center. Alternatively, spraying the arrangement with water will help extend the longevity of the evergreens and keep them looking fresh.

Pine Cones: Collect pine cones as soon as they fall from trees, but don’t collect in botanical gardens or parks because it is illegal. Allow the cones to open up in a warm area, so that any seeds left in the cone can fall out. If desired, wash the cones in water, using a stiff wire brush to remove any soil.

To remove the pitch from fresh cones, bake the cones on a cookie sheet at 200 degrees Fahrenheit until the pitch melts (approximately 30 minutes). Do not over bake or they will turn dark. Buy an inexpensive baking pan for the purpose; do not use a cookie sheet that you use for baking. This baking process leaves an unpleasant odor, so make sure you do it on a day when you can open the kitchen windows. Baking the cones also kills any bugs that might be hiding in them. Pine cones can be preserved by spraying them with clear lacquer. If this process seems too labor intensive, decorative cones can be purchased at craft stores.

Wiring pine cones: Fold a piece of floral wire in half and slip the loop end down around the lower end of the cone between the scales. Twist the wire a few times to tighten it. The wire can be wrapped onto branches for swags. If the wire is exposed in the arrangement, floral tape can be used to conceal it.

For centerpiece arrangements, craft stores sell wire attached to small stakes that can be easily inserted into centerpieces (floral picks with wire). Simply wrap the wire around the bottom of the cone, sliding it between the scales to make the construction disappear.

Cranberries: Cranberries can be used creatively during the holiday season—not just as a relish or jelly. Fill a clear vase with cranberries instead of pebbles or marbles. It will hold flowers in place and looks wonderful with floral arrangements that include holiday greens. Use hard cranberries and wash them well before placing in the vase. The cranberry floral frog should last for a week. Cranberries can also be strung together with a needle and thread to make a holiday garland.

Pomanders: Pomanders are aromatic spheres that are prepared by studding citrus fruit with cloves. Take an orange or lemon and poke holes with a knitting needle or nail. Space the holes evenly and closely together. Fill holes with cloves. Interesting designs can be made, and a ribbon can be wrapped around the fruit and tied in a loop at one end for hanging.

For added fragrance, here is a popular recipe: Insert cloves into citrus fruit and leave fruit to dry. When the fruit is completely dried out, prepare a mixture of one-part orrisroot (found in drugstores) and one-part mixed spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and mace). Coat the fruit in the mixture. Let it dry for two weeks and then shake off excess mixture and tie with ribbons for hanging.

Centerpieces: It is easy to create a beautiful evergreen centerpiece for your holiday table. Select a bowl that can accommodate a large piece of florist’s foam (brand name, Oasis) in the bottom. Before you place the foam in the bowl, you need to presoak it. Simply let the foam float on top of the water and leave until it changes color.

Cut your evergreens with pruners—they always need to be freshly cut to last—and place the greens into the foam. Browse through our versatile selection of pruners for this and other gardening tasks in our online shop. Pruners also make a lovely gift for that special gardener in your life.

Water daily and spray the greens with water to keep them looking fresh. If you are collecting greens from your own backyard, remember to wash them and shake them well to get rid of any insects that may be hiding in the needles.

Suitable material: colored dogwood stems, magnolia, holly, boxwood, berried juniper, incense cedar, Frazier fir, and white pine. Add flowers, pine cones, fruit, cinnamon sticks, or large nuts to the arrangement.

Words of caution: Never use florist’s foam twice—it will not re-hydrate properly. If you have soaked too much, store the remaining pieces in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator for several days. When soaking florist foam, let in hydrate naturally; if you press it down into the bowl of water to accelerate the process you will form air bubbles in the interior and it will not fully or evenly hydrate.

Keep reading to learn how to make your own holiday wreaths.

For more gardening tips visit us online at www.nybg.org. For great garden and garden-inspired product, visit us at www.nybgshop.org.

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