I was having the family for dinner and want a sensational centerpiece for my table. Too busy all week with work and other chores, I was too pressed for time to do anything about it. But I found an old bubble bowl that had been sitting in the basement from an old flower arrangement. I threw some fake snow in the bottom and placed a bottle brush tree and a Putz house ornament with some small glass balls. The finishing touch was battery-powered tiny lights. And I could have stopped there. That is absolutely all you have to do and it is awesome!
But to bring it up to another level, I added a fresh flower arrangement on top.
A metal saucer that I use for many arrangements was sitting around and it happened to fit exactly on top. I stuffed it with water-soaked oasis and went looking for fresh flowers. When I went to my local grocery store (Wegmans), and found some orange ruffled roses called Milva, I had to have them! Also there, I bought some Satsumas, which is a larger type of Mandarin/tangerine orange which is one of my favorites and is grown in the south-eastern US. Very sweet and juicy, this is the orange that you find in cans called mandarin oranges. The mandarins still had the foliage attached so I knew they were fresh. A perfect pairing, oranges and the Milva Roses!
Gold was the next color that I wanted to use with this coppery orange rose and I found some glittery gold leaves from a local craft store that were sitting in my basement. I added a touch of purple using statice and some seeded Eucalyptus for texture, also some peach Alstromeria, and the arrangement was complete. An easy centerpiece that took about 20 minutes to create, it looked like it took much longer. Adding some Satsumas and gold and silver orbs on my green plaid table runner completed the look. Not the typical red and green arrangement, but I love peach and orange.
At the last minute, I decided to add some variegated white pine from my yard to add some extra texture and I lit the lights and I was done! This should last about a week with regular watering of the oasis.
No flower says Christmas like the beautiful Poinsettia. I was amazed to learn that the Poinsettia is the most popular potted plant by far in the U.S. and Canada. Here are some other interesting tidbits:
History & Legends
The Poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, means “very beautiful”
The showy leaves or petals, called “bracts”, are not the actual flower. The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the bracts and are inconspicuous and contain a sweetly fragrant nectar
The cultivation of Poinsettias originated with the Aztecs hundreds of years ago in Mexico. Montezuma, the last Aztec king, would have Poinsettias brought into the city, which is now known as Mexico City, by caravans because he liked them so much
Aztecs used the bracts, the colored portion, as a dye, and the sap as a medicinal to control fevers
Joel Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. minister to Mexico in 1825, found the plant blooming on the side of the road, which the native people regarded as a weed, took cuttings, and sent some plants to his home in South Carolina
Poinsett shared his finds with other plant enthusiasts and that is how the poinsettia came to the United States
The Ecke family grew Poinsettias in southern California in the 1920’s, primarily as a cut flower and landscape plant and remain to this day, the largest producer of Poinsettias in the US
Grown as field grown potted plants for the cut flower trade, Poinsettias were shipped all over the country by train. Poinsettias really gained wide-spread recognition through media promotions on The Tonight Show and The Bob Hope Christmas Specials. This promotion ensured that Poinsettias were as much a part of the holiday tradition as Christmas evergreen trees
When the flowers or stems are cut, they ooze a milky sap that can cause people with latex sensitivities to have an allergic reaction.
Contrary to popular belief, Poinsettias are not poisonous. This misconception was spread by a 1919 urban legend of a two-year-old child dying after consuming a poinsettia leaf.
Red is the most popular color, and the variety called “Prestige Red” tops the popularity list
Poinsettias are now the best-selling potted plant in the U.S. and Canada!
Breeding of the poinsettia began with the goal of improving cultivars that would retain their leaves and bracts for a longer period. The breeding also created stronger stems, multiple branching, earlier blooming, and the palette of colors that we recognize today. These modern cultivars last longer, bloom earlier, and are available in a vast array of colors from red to white, pink to burgundy, and with many variations including doubling of flowers and flecks of color on contrasting backgrounds.
Spraying of blues and purples and glitter is done to jazz up the color spectrum. It isn’t my favorite way to treat these plants, but recently at a local nursery, I heard people swoon over the purple Poinsettias!
Selecting a Healthy Poinsettia
Poinsettias do great in the home with proper care and will keep their coloration until mid-March. When choosing a healthy plant, look for dark green uniform foliage. But be aware, that lighter colored or mottled bracts typically sport lighter green foliage, and the darker colors like burgundy, will have very dark green foliage. Reject any plants that have dropping leaves, or ones that have pale green or yellowing foliage.
When purchasing, make sure that the plants are well wrapped or sleeved before transporting, as low temperatures, even for short periods, can damage the plant.
Care-5 Tips to Keep Poinsettias in Tip Top Shape Until April
Yes, you read that right-until April! The newer varieties will last until April, namely the Princettia varieties. These varieties branch more readily which produces more flowers, and are shorter- not so top heavy as older varieties. I brought home one of these pastel pink ones from my local nursery, Valley View Farms, as it was so different looking from the old mammoth flowered Poinsettias.
Keep in indirect, natural daylight
Water when soil is dry to the touch-overwatering is the biggest cause of leaf drop and death
Keep in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees
Make sure the pot drains, removing the foil wrapper if necessary
Fertilization is not necessary
Reflowering-Tough But Not Impossible
It is possible to get your poinsettia to “rebloom” next year, but you need to follow strict requirements for light, temperature, and fertilization. Following all these rules is way too much trouble for me, so I consider this plant a “throwaway”. Poinsettias are very inexpensive and I leave the growing of them to experts who have the right equipment to make this happen. If you really want to get your Poinsettia to bloom again, go to University of Illinois for detailed instructions.
Contrary to popular opinion, Poinsettias are not poisonous, but neither are they edible. There was a study done that determined that a 50 pound child would have to eat 500 leaves to get really sick! And the leaves supposedly taste awful. The Poinsettia plant is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family of plants, which includes the rubber tree, where natural latex comes from. So, If you are allergic to latex, and ingest this plant, you may have some degree of discomfort, but not fatal. Likewise, if you handle the plant, you could develop a rash. Poinsettias are not harmful to pets either, unless they ingest leaves or bracts in very large quantities. Cats who chew on the leaves may salivate and can vomit if the leaves are swallowed, but it will not kill them.
Decorating With Poinsettias
Rather than scattering Poinsettias around the house, try grouping them together for bigger impact. I also like to place Poinsettias in baskets along with other plants, pods, and cones, to add interest.
As cut flowers, Poinsettias are great, but you rarely see them used this way. The plants are so inexpensive, that I don’t feel guilty buying one, and cutting the flowers off for arrangements. You can get an entirely different look by using them as cut flowers and they last a long time in a vase, over a week!
Located in New Bern, North Carolina, near the intercoastal waterway, you can experience North Carolina’s colonial past in a beautiful historic building that dates back to 1770. John Hawks, a London architect, was brought here by Royal Governor William Tryon to build an impressive brick Georgian style structure to house his family and to become the first permanent state capitol of North Carolina.
An invitation to speak at Tryon Palace in North Carolina, gave me an opportunity to see how this colonial palace decorated for the Yuletide season. Similar to Williamsburg style with “della robbia” type of decorations – lots of fruits, pods, and other natural decorations are used. See my post on a Illuminating Christmas in Colonial Williamsburg for more colonial style decorations. Tryon Palace has never been on my radar before but now I can’t believe that I have never heard of it!
The use of fabric really was stunning and unusual- a treatment that I would love to duplicate. Beautiful fabric swags are gathered in at the top of the ceiling in the Council Chamber (top photo); The room is used for dancing on Candlelight evenings. The first sessions of the assembly for the State of North Carolina were held here after the revolution and housed the state governors until 1784. After fire destroyed the building in 1789, the building and grounds were rebuilt and restored to its present glory.
“Seasons of Giving: A Candlelight Christmas Celebration” was the theme this year with the Candlelight tradition at Tryon Palace in its 38th year. Decorations were inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas, historic characters in period clothing were present, and holiday vignettes spanning across three centuries were shown. For a schedule, go to Tryon Palace’s website.
Definitely Tryon Palace warrants a visit just to see the fabulous gardens, that look good even in December. For another reason to visit, when I stopped by on a hot, hot, day this summer, the docents were conducting ‘Outlander Tours’. The site where Governor Martin held Claire hostage, the Palace is a destination for ‘Outlander’ fans.
For Christmas decorating, 29 volunteers, among the other staff of Tryon Palace, help out. Moving objects, creating faux food displays, coordinating holiday tours, and assisting with adhering to “period correctness” are all part and parcel of the many details of creating a special Christmas experience. Hadley Cheris, Gardens and Greenhouse Manager, is the point person for all this activity, and is energetic and knowledgeable about the creation of the historic decorations.
For more posts on decorating period houses, go to Hampton Mansion. The importance of using age appropriate materials – like fruits, pods, and fresh greens – that were available during the historic period is important to keep the antique context of the house.
The 29 volunteers contributed over 250 hours of work over a week and a half period. Decorating begins November 13 and is completed on November 22 at Tryon Palace. Included in the decorating are three historic homes, the exteriors of 13 buildings, and seven large entryways/gates.
Candlelight tours are popular as well as circus acts, history vignettes, Jonkonnu troupe (African-American holiday celebration), music performances, and candlelit grounds are all part of the Tryon Palace experience. For more information, go to Tryon Palace.
Work on the White House decorations starts at least six months in advance by designers who consult with the first lady, Melania, via sketches and concepts for each room. During the preceding summer volunteers can start applying online to decorate the White House by going to WhiteHouse.gov. Learning if you make the cut in October, there are about 85 to 120 people across the country and some overseas selected to take part. Explaining why you want to volunteer in a required short essay and the option of sending pictures of your work are on the application.
As a volunteer you do not receive any compensation and you are responsible for paying your hotel, transportation, and most meal costs during Thanksgiving week, so this isn’t an inexpensive proposition. But the experience of working at The White House is exhilarating and so much fun, that everyone is really excited, even if you are just wiring up ornaments and moving boxes! Many jobs are repetitive such as wiring up the trees with lights or making bows. I was on the bow team in 2015 and must have made over 500 bows in three days! But you are working with interesting and dynamic people who like to decorate as much as you do.
Since I decided to not apply this year, most of my pictures are from another volunteer that I worked with last year, Marci Lindsey and also a new volunteer from Oregon, Linda Goldfarb. Thanks for your pictures!
The Blue Room is one of three state parlors on the first floor in the White House and is distinctive for its oval shape and contains the largest tree in the mansion.
President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump accepted the official 19 1/2 foot Fraser Fir that went on display that anchors the holiday season in the central part of the mansion. Removing a massive chandelier is necessary to accommodate the tree which is anchored to the top of the ceiling.
“American Treasures” Theme
The First Family is celebrating their second Christmas at Pennsylvania Av. and the theme this year was “American Treasures” to honor the unique heritage of America. The patriotic spirit is evident in all the decorations throughout this living museum that is held in trust for all Americans.
The theme is especially prominent in the Gold Star family tree In the East Wing with displays of patriotic ribbon. Decorated by Gold Star families, this tree honors all our troops and families who have sacrificed greatly to protect our freedoms. I recognized the patriotic stars and stripes ribbon as we used that last year also. A high percentage of the decorations are reused/recycled from year to year. Digital tablets are placed in front to encourage visitors to write messages to the armed forces.
Surrounded By History
Working in the White House which is a “living museum”, is so interesting that you realize the tremendous stories and history of the place. Just glancing around, you are surrounded by hints of what took place in the past. When I spotted the gorgeous full length portrait of Grace Coolidge in the China Room, I was intrigued and inspired to find out more about this remarkable woman. The wife of Calvin Coolidge, President from 1923-29, she was voted as one of the 12 most remarkable living women of 1931. One of the most popular hostesses of the White House, she adored her white collies and Rob Roy was the first dog that appeared in an official White House portrait. She even kept a pet raccoon at the White House briefly!
Tragically on June 30, 1924, sixteen-year old Cal, one of Grace’s boys, played tennis on the White House courts, and developed a blister on his toe which became infected. Blood poisoning set in. In a day before antibiotics would have cleared his system of the spreading infection, Cal died at Walter Reed within a week.
Another nugget that I uncovered about Grace, was her famous meeting with Helen Keller and companion Anne Sullivan in a silent newsreel clip. Fascinating stuff from looking at a White House portrait!
In the Vermeil Room, which means Silver-Gilt, you are surrounded by more First Lady history and the colors of muted gold is a great back drop for Christmas decorations.
The Green Room, one of three state parlors, had a very handsome tree this year, decorated with a variety of fruits, and vegetables. Designed to remind Americans of the country’s great harvest bounty, grains were showcased on the tree along with artichokes, and fruit.
Constructed by the White House pastry chef, the gingerbread house is always my favorite decoration. A tradition started in 1969, it seems that each year, it becomes more elaborate and detailed.
This years creation is not a house, but an entire replica of the Mall, including the Capitol, the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, the Washington Monument and the White House, complete with tiny green wreaths with red ribbons on each window.
I asked the White House pastry chef what happens to old gingerbread houses, and she told me with a twinkle in her eye that, “They go to the North Pole!”
More than 40 topiary trees line the East Colonnade as guests make their way toward the East Garden Room, where the First Family Christmas card and ornaments are on display.
A volunteer reception is held at the conclusion of all your decorating efforts on the last evening and you get a formal invitation from the First Lady, Melania Trump.
Throughout the month of December, the White House will host more than 100 open houses and receptions. More than 30,000 visitors will walk the halls taking part in public tours.
Many visitors will have the opportunity to enjoy the staff and volunteer’s work over the coming weeks as the building is opened to private holiday receptions and public tours.
For more pictures of Christmas decorations, go to White House.
On a recent chilly and rainy afternoon I visited McLean Nursery in Parkville, Maryland, to get my annual inspiration for “decking the halls with boughs of holly”. Six cheerful people (and a dog!)stuffed into a cozy shed full of holiday trimmings was a nice respite from the constant deluge of rain.
Busy with working on dozens of wreaths, bows, and picks, everyone had a specific job to do. Notable for the use of the beautiful array of holly greens and berries grown on site, McLean customizes and creates to order exactly what the customer wants. Even if the customer can’t decide, there are freshly made unique wreaths lining the greenhouse walls to choose from. If you have ever had a fake wreath adorning your front door, your conversion to fresh is quickly made when you view the dizzying array of wreaths and arrangements and sniff the air.
A Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, the Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland and England used holly extensively, decorating their homes throughout the Winter Solstice, and Druids thought hollies had mystical powers. Seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune, holly was often planted near homes for this reason. McLean Nurseries in Parkville, Maryland has a plethora of different varieties of holly planted around the property, so they must have only good luck there!
Propagating cuttings in cold frames, many thousands of hollies are grown and sold every year at McLean. The busiest time of year at McLean is Christmas, with the business of decorating hundreds of Balsam Fir wreaths for the public and churches. A great nursery that keeps a low profile, McLean has introduced many new cultivars to the trade that are widely used today and have attained ‘Holly of the Year’ status.
Wreath Making Deconstructed
Wreath making is serious business at McLean. Starting with a base of Balsam Fir, different varieties of greens, including the much-loved holly, are layered in to make a lush looking wreath. Inserting “picked” greens into the base allows you to mix and match all different colors and textures into a wreath. No glue is used. Handwork which is very labor intensive makes the McLean wreaths both beautiful and special, but are reasonably priced.
Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine attaching a metal pin around a flower stem making it easier to insert into the balsam fir base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.
Wreaths are all hand crafted and range in size from 14″ to a huge wreath that can measure 36″ in size for large areas. Green holly, variegated holly, winterberries, incense cedar, blue-berried juniper, magnolia, andromeda, boxwood, and false cypress are inserted using picks. Next, pine cones, fruits, and other pods are added. Space for a gorgeous bow is left on the wreath, with the bow wired on as the final touch.
Made to order for people who visit every year to pick up their special wreath, each one is unique.
Put A Bow On It!
Ribbon is like icing on the cake. Wired, wide ribbon with big loopy bows and lavish tails is essential to make a wreath stand out from the crowd. Red is a favorite, but gold is right up there in popularity. This year, the popular ribbon was a birch tree look-a-like – very cool!
If you want to order your own hand-made wreath or deck your halls with fresh greens, drive over to 9000 Satyr Hill Rd, in Parkville, Maryland before Christmas, or call at 410-882-6714. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.
What do you do with a container on your front porch once you have yanked out those sorry-looking frost-killed petunias?
Segue into the holiday season with beautiful fall/winter containers using “yard” material. As a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub is – Can I use it in my seasonal containers? Yellow, red, orange twig dogwoods, evergreens with variegated foliage, magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, interesting evergreens like cedar and thujopsis, and ruby rose hips, are planted on my property with one motive in mind; Are they useful in arrangements inside and outside?
Make it Simple Directions
Keep the old soil in place and cut off at soil line old plants, and you have an instant palette to play with that can take you into the holidays and beyond. The trick is to complete your masterpiece before the ground freezes as you can’t stick anything into a frozen pot.
Using a preformed wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. In the above example, I used a 15″ diameter pot topped with a 18″ diameter wreath. You have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with.
Insert your thriller sticks or uprights in the center of the wreath. Here I used yellow twig dogwood, one of my favorites.
Start inserting your largest leaves first. In this case, I use Brown’s Bracken Magnolia with a lovely brown felted reverse. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath.
Add other contrasting foliage, some feathery white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs. Chunky birch logs and orange winter berry sticks are added last for color. I placed an over-sized Christmas ball in the container but ultimately decided to not use it. Finish it off with a gold three-layered bow.