Gather ye greens while ye may, from the garden
Posted: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 8:01 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams
You’ve heard it before from other places and (I hope) here. But this time of year it begs repeating: You needn’t depend on boughten materials for your holiday decorating; nature is rife with it.
My assistant’s regimen, following Halloween, is to simply turn those carved porch pumpkins around, with the faces toward the house instead of outward to greet guests. They then do duty for another three or four weeks leading up to Thanksgiving.
Potted chrysanthemums alongside are mostly good for another three weeks or so as well, but, if not, new ones can be had for little or nothing after All Hallows Eve.
The fields and woods are glorious with other things that fit the season: colored leaves, dried seedheads of grasses, nuts, acorns, persimmons, buckeyes and on ad infinitum. It is up to you to arrange them suitably, an art at which My Assistant excels.
It has always rankled me that so many people — nearly all of them — morph right on past Thanksgiving into the Christmas season, with hardly a thought as to the myriad blessings we blithely wallow in day in and day out in this, the greatest country in the world, at least so far.
Be that as it may, Christmas dominates the last six weeks of the year, almost without interruption. Decorations go up in some homes well before Thanksgiving, and in stores even before that. Back in the Middle Ages of my childhood, Penney’s never opened Toyland until Dec. 1 or later.
At any rate, Christmas decorating material is just as free as Thanksgiving stuff. Just roam the roadsides from the comfort of an automobile or take a stroll through the woods.
Holly, of course, is the quintessential Christmas green. With wild holly abundant in our woods, it is no problem to find plenty of it, the females loaded with berries if the trees get any sunlight at all. In deep shade, berries, even on females, will be scarce.
The problem with wild holly is the disfiguring leafspot that often sullies the leaf surfaces with yellowish overtones. Better strains can be found with diligent search that have little or no leafspot.
The best solution, however, is to utilize some of the domestic hollies that abound right under noses, to wit, in our own yards. These are often of Chinese origin, such as the well-known Burford holly that is common as fleas on a speckled pup. Burfords some years are loaded with large bright red berries and make superb decorations. This is one of those years and you should have no trouble obtaining good holly.
Foster hollies, which are American holly derivatives, berry dependably every year and their glossy, smaller leaves are excellent foil. Nellie R. Stevens is a holly hybrid with large, shiny leaves, but berrying is less dependable. Our Nellies have considerable fruit this year, but not as much as the Burfords.
Native “cedars,” which are really junipers (but who cares?), sometimes have loads of blue “berries,” which are actually little cones (they are conifers, after all). These offer a different color approach and the aromatic foliage at the same time.
Speaking of aroma, just about the best thing to come along for Christmas in recent years is the popularity of the Arizona cypress, a conifer with the brightest steel blue evergreen foliage and so high a concentration of essential oils that you can smell one 50 feet away. The cut foliage will smell up a whole house when brought into the warmth. It will last in a vase as long as you want to look at it, well past the usefulness of a poinsettia.
Arizona cypress is available in most nurseries these days, and a three-gallon plant, four feet tall and about $20 to $30, will shoot up to 30 feet or more apace. It can be kept down by shearing, but loses its feathery attraction.
The foliage of southern magnolia is legendary southern seasonal decor. The glossy leaves stay good for weeks in water, far less than that without it. So, when used inside with no water, it must be replaced pretty often. The smaller leaves of some of the lower-growing, grafted varieties such as Little Gem or Teddy Bear are easier to handle and mix with other ingredients than the huge leaves of the straight species.
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Go green and stay cheap.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 11.24.09
Jimmy Williams, The Garden Path