Illuminating The Season in Colonial Williamsburg

Holiday wreath made with dried flowers at Williamsburg
Holiday wreath made with dried flowers at Williamsburg

Ah… a Williamsburg Christmas!

Doesn’t that bring to mind fruit fans and apple cones and pineapple motifs? A hot toddy sitting by Christiana Campbell’s Tavern giant fireplace? And horses clopping down the Duke of Gloucester street adorned with boughs of holly and candlelit windows?

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Governors Palace at night

Visiting the historic area of Williamsburg during the Christmas season for the purpose of admiring the door decorations, you think that the colonial people started a great tradition and were extremely creative.

Okra pods, the pointy pods outlining the wreath were used a lot in the decorations
Okra pods, the pointy pods outlining the wreath, are used a lot in the decorations

Contemporary Tradition

But contrary to popular thought, the tradition of hanging fruits, pods, oyster shells, veggies, and other kinds of plant life on your front door started in the mid part of the twentieth century – not in colonial times. Anyone in the colonial period who would waste perfectly good fruit and place it outside to be eaten by deer or squirrels would be committed into the “Public Hospital for Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds”! But in the early Twentieth century, Christmas was growing in significance and there was a Colonial Revival going on.

A simple fan of Magnolia leaves and wheat
A simple fan of Magnolia leaves, cotton burrs, chili peppers, yarrow, and wheat

Decoration Birthplace-Au Naturel

Starting in 1936, the decorations were  simply a few plain wreaths and roping to decorate the Governor’s Palace and Raleigh’s Tavern. Mrs Louise Fisher, placed in charge of flowers and Christmas decorations, went to the library where she turned up examples of period examples from English and American sources that she could imitate- like Grinling Gibbons, master carver to George I in England. Gibbons carved festoons of fruit, flowers, and other bits of nature in borders that decorated Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace, and St. Paul’s Cathedral. By 1939, her “Della Robbia” look was attracting attention and the “Williamsburg Christmas” look was born. It became so popular that in 1969, the Christmas decorations tour began and became hugely popular. Instruction courses, books, article, and how-to workshops followed.

Bird nibbling on berries in a swag
Bird nibbling on berries in a swag

Every Christmas, the exhibition buildings, homes and shops of Colonial Williamsburg are decorated with wreaths and garlands of natural materials for the holiday season. The arrangements go up right after Thanksgiving and remain to January 6th and are hand-made by the employees of Williamsburg on houses in the Historic Area. The flower arranging staff of Colonial Williamsburg Foundation is responsible for the whimsical and imaginative work for all the buildings in the Historic Area that are open to the public.

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Hops, pine cones, and oranges
Decorating the millinery shop
Decorating the millinery shop
Wreath with drummer boy was made for the William Pitt shop which sells a lot of toys
Made for  the William Pitt shop which sells a lot of toys, this drummer boy wreath is unusual
Apples are used extensively in wreaths
Used extensively in wreaths, apples, berries, and boxwood, are a tradition

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Private residences in the Historic Area are decorated by the occupants.

You can buy your own authentic Williamsburg wreath in the Historic Area
You can buy your own authentic Williamsburg wreath in the Historic Area

Contests

There is a hotly contested competition for best and most creative arrangements. The rules are: Everything must be ALL natural, and only items that would have been in Virginia in the 1700’s can be part of the arrangement. That meant no ribbons, bows, fake fruit, Poinsettia, pepper berries, and eucalyptus.

Outside Chownings Tavern is a wreath constructed with oyster shells
Outside Chownings Tavern is a wreath constructed with scallop shells and drinking mugs
Oyster shells play the starring role in this wreath
Oyster shells play the starring role in this wreath, along with quince, pomegranates, artichokes, cinnamon, and sumac

Judged by categories, the arrangements are one of the following: professionally made, hand-made by an amateur, and made by Williamsburg employee in the floral department. Checked daily, the arrangements are refreshed for anything that might have wilted or been consumed by wildlife!

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Entrance to Governors Palace
Festive entrance to Governors Palace

You can purchase your own accessories for decorating your house
You can purchase your own accessories for decorating your house

The appeal of these decorations are that they are hand made of natural materials, things that you have cut or collected from your yard, woodland, or beach. Bucking the trend of plastic trees and artificial reindeer, the naturalness is what makes these designs endure. Having the decorations up for up to six weeks, means that you have to use durable dried materials and replenish them if they disintegrate. “Floral cages”, a container that holds wet floral foam to keep things fresh, are popular for this reason.

Fresh pears, strawflowers, and wheat
Fresh pears, straw flowers, and wheat
Osage oranges, dried okra, and cockscomb
Osage oranges, dried okra, dusty miller, and cockscomb

Pineapple Motif

No one knows for certain exactly how the pineapple became an essential element in the Christmas decorations of Colonial Williamsburg, but a look at the history of this common 21st century fruit reveals some clues. Because the exterior of the fruit resembled the pine cone, and the sweet fruit was similar to the texture and taste of an apple, the name changed from its original “anana” to pineapple. A sought-after delicacy in colonial America, the pineapple was considered a sign of the highest form of hospitality because of its rarity and sweet taste.

p1110975By the 1930s, the pineapple was already a well established design element in architecture, ceramics, and art. It only stands to reason, then, that beautiful fresh pineapples would become the centerpiece for the creative decorations for which Colonial Williamsburg is known today.

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Green lotus pods make this wreath stand out
Green lotus pods make this wreath stand out

To read more about the history and see more pictures of decorations over the years, see Christmas in Colonial America.

All pictures are courtesy of Amy Sparwasser.

Holly Love-The Art of Wreath Making at McLean Nursery

McLean Nurseries workshop
McLean Nurseries workshop
Boxwood trees ready for sale
Boxwood trees ready for sale

Decking the halls with boughs of holly is a Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, rooted in Pagan times and plays a pivotal role in Christianity. The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore at his crucifixion and the berries are the drops of blood shed by Jesus. 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!

The nine acres of the nursery are widely planted with evergreen and deciduous hollies and magnolias
Nine acres of the nursery are widely planted with evergreen and deciduous hollies, and magnolias
Deciduous hollies are fenced because of deer
Deciduous hollies are fenced because of deer

The genus Ilex is a popular winter evergreen in gardens, and is easy to grow on any well-drained soil. Grown as a free-standing small specimen tree is common, but it’s ability to resprout from cut stems makes it an ideal hedge plant. The berries are a key part of the holly’s charm, and can come in a range of colors, like yellow, orange and different shades of red. Deciduous hollies, Ilex verticillata, lose their leaves in the fall to display tightly packed berries clothing the stems.  

A peach colored deciduous holly
A peach colored deciduous holly

McLean Nurseries has grown hollies on their nine acres for over 70 years. Many Ilex introductions originated here with the best known one Ilex opaca, ‘Satyr Hill’, named for the street the nursery is on. I planted a hedge of ‘Satyr Hill’ three years ago to create a wind break at the back of my property and I love this variety for its toughness, beauty, and ease of growth. Bill Kuhl, the owner of McLean, grows more than 100 cultivars of Holly and lots of varieties of the deciduous ones, Ilex verticilatta. Other shrubs like Boxwood, Hydrangea, Viburnum, and native perennials are sold at McLean and garden clubs are welcome to tour the nursery.

An array of cut greens and berries for sale
An array of cut greens and berries for sale

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. Visiting McLean recently to see the beautifully designed wreaths that will end up far and wide in the Baltimore area, I love to see the varieties of holly and greens that create a Tapestry of Holly. 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.

A beautiful variegated holly
A beautiful variegated holly
If you want to decorate your house, McLean Nurseries has many fresh cut greens
If you want to decorate your house, McLean Nurseries has many fresh-cut greens, like this Magnolia
Greens are weighed and priced by the pound
Greens are weighed and priced by the pound

Wreath Making Process

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 resonably priced.

Tips of berry full holly branches are cut and wrapped with a metal pick maker to add to the wreath base
Tips of berry full holly branches are cut and wrapped with a metal pick maker to add to the wreath base

Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine which attaches 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.

A Steelpix pick machine attaches metal picks to your greens by pressing down on a lever
A Steelpix pick machine attaches metal picks to your greens by pressing down on a lever
A pick ready to be inserted into a wreath
A pick ready to be inserted into a wreath
A wreath stand that acts like an easel to hold up the wreath
A wreath stand that acts like an easel to hold up the wreath

 

Wreath stand with Balsam Fir base ready to be decorated
Wreath stand with Balsam Fir base ready for decorating

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.

Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these "flower" like decorations
Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these “flower” like decorations

Made to order for people who visit every year to pick up their special wreath, each one is unique.

Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stand proudly next to a special ordered wreath
Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stands proudly next to a special ordered wreath
Red ribbon and berries make this wreath pop
Red ribbon and berries make this wreath pop
Closeup of cones, balls, and sugared fruit
Closeup of cones, balls, and sugared fruit
Variegated boxwood stands out on this wreath
Variegated boxwood stands out on this wreath

Ribbon

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.

Variety of ribbons
Variety of ribbons ready to be made into bows
I call this "Winterberry" ribbon. I love the red and white contrast.
I call this “Winterberry” ribbon with the red and white contrast
The plaid ribbon give this wreath a down home look
Plaid ribbon gives this wreath an elegant down home look
Making picks that will go into wreaths, Bill Kuhl, the owner is on the right
Helpers making picks that will go into wreaths; Bill Kuhl, the owner is on the right taking a break

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. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.

I love the red and white scheme of this wreath
‘Winterberry’ ribbon on wreath
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Turnips used in a wreath

Christmas Wreath-Ordinary to Extraordinary

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Decorated Christmas wreaths are a snap using a pre-made wreath base from a garden center or grocery store. The pre-made wreaths created with basic greens make a fine base but adding some additional greens, berries, and ribbon, takes the ordinary to extraordinary.  Below is my base which I purchased at a local store-basic fir branches wired onto a base. Nothing wrong with it all-just could be better!

Starting with a basic wreath base
Starting with a basic wreath base

After trolling through my landscape which has quite a few evergreens and berried shrubs, I added incense cedar, boxwood, and magnolia leaves which really add a textural improvement. My containers grew a bumper crop of Eucalyptus which I preserved with a glycerin solution and I wired some clumps up for a grey green hue. Some variegated white pine added some additional color and texture. Big difference….yes? Oh, and I hot glued all of this onto the base. No wiring, which takes too much time and effort. I find gluing is efficient and quick.

Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath
Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath

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After these additions to the base materials, it was time to amp up the color with berries and ribbon. Gold is one of my favorite colors for wreaths and other decorations, so I chose this beautiful gold wired ribbon and added nandina berries for color and staying power. A find at my local craft store, the gold leaf ornaments added some glitter and dimension. Again, these were all glued in place.

Christmas wreath

Hung and ready for the holidays
Hung and ready for the holidays

For more ideas on wreaths, go to my post A Tapestry of Holly-McLean Nursery. Below is a masterpiece made to order at McLean, using the signature McLean hollies and winterberry.

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Turnips???
Turnips???

Deck the Halls-Homemade Decorating for the Holidays

An outdoor arrangement on a covered porch or deck can use beautiful fall foliage and evergreens from the garden
An outdoor arrangement on a covered porch or deck can use beautiful fall foliage and evergreens from the garden

Grab your glue gun, pruners, or pastry bag, and browse your favorite Pinterest boards and blogs. Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner, and I’ll be serving up a hearty helping of crafting inspiration to get your house ready for the onslaught of family and friends. Rounding up my favorite posts on decorating for the holidays and adding new, these are inspiration for anyone who has a mantle, tabletop, or front porch/patio to add some holiday cheer. For a great source of glass containers, lanterns, urns, and other outdoor accessories, go to Arhaus.

Mantels and Living Spaces

Mantel in cobalt blues, teal, and lime green
Mantel in cobalt blues, teal, and chartreuse-Mantel Magic

A well-styled and accessorized fireplace mantel has lots of layers and harmonizing colors. A neutral background helps set it off perfectly. For how-to on creating the perfect mantel,  go to Mantel Magic to see step by step on layering for a lush look as well as some White House examples when I worked at the White House. Arranging a sofa or sectional to create an intimate family space or a place to set your Christmas tree is also important during the holidays. Go to Arhaus to see all the options to creat a cosy and inviting space.

Decorated mantel in the Vermeil room at the White House
Decorated mantel in the Vermeil room at the White House-White House Decorating

A mantel of silver pine cones at the White House
A mantel of silver pine cones at the White House

Miniature House & Gardens

Miniature gardens are fun to create with kids as well as adults and you can accessorize them for the season with tree ornaments or mini village finds at your local craft store. Go to Fairytale Christmas or Miniature Christmas Garden Craze for ideas on gifts for yourself or others on DIY dish gardens or terrariums. Bringing nature in for house bound people, these are always a hit to give and receive. Set one on your desk at work in your cubicle to look at when you need a dose of green, living things.

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Christmas miniature garden

Baking and decorating a gingerbread house every year is a tradition at my house and gingerbread house parties are a big hit with my family. Fairytale Christmas has great examples of Gingerbread creations. Storing my Gingerbread houses in plastic over the years gives me the opportunity to enjoy these all over again.

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White House veggie garden in frosting
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My brother-in-law is very intent on finishing his lighthouse gingerbread house
Gingerbread house with gum drop garden
Gingerbread house with gum drop garden

Succulents

Easy to grow succulents with juicy leaves, stems, and roots have always been fascinating to me as a great architectural touchable plant. Working/crafting with them for Christmas was a natural for me and they make perfect little decorated trees that last and grow as a beautiful miniature tree. For how-to on making a succulent tree, go to Succulent Christmas. 

Succulents are inserted into a moss and wire form and will root and grow
Succulents can be inserted into a moss and wire form and will root and grow

For a different twist on terrariums, try planted succulents, inserted with white pumpkins, cymbidium orchids, ornamental balls, beaded wire, and tiny lights. A wonderful centerpiece for a holiday table or as a entrance table eye catcher.img_0955

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 Outdoor Fresh Arrangements

For fresh arrangements to place on your front porch to greet visitors and last for months, go to Grand Entrance to see how fast you can put together a stunner. Using a base of a pre-made evergreen wreath and other greens, you can simply push the stems into potting soil of old containers from the summer. When the weather turns freezing, the inserted stems just freeze into place and last for months. Here are some examples of fall containers that can transition into winter and can continue to greet guests for months to come.

A beautiful fall arrangement of orange Fothergillia foliage, Nandina berries, Hydrangeas - done by Sally Barker
A beautiful fall arrangement of orange Fothergillia foliage, Nandina berries, Hydrangeas; when the Fothergillia foliage drops, add some evergreen branches – done by Sally Barker
Outdoor arrangement with golden arborvitae, red twig dogwood, seeded eucalyptus, nandina berries, and thujopsis
Outdoor arrangement with golden arborvitae, red twig dogwood, seeded eucalyptus, nandina berries,  thujopsis, white pine
Peach winterberry, magnolia, gold arborvitae, yellow twig dogwood, and red dyed eucalyptus
Peach winterberry, magnolia, gold arborvitae, yellow twig dogwood, and red dyed eucalyptus
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Rose hips (red) are the star here

Indoor Arrangements

Fresh holiday arrangements are easily whipped up in minutes after you gather the right materials for an indoor show. Holidays are a great time to force Amaryllis too. Amaryllis bulbs are inexpensive and in bloom can last for a full month of color. Go to Amaryllis Primer and Amaryllis Planter for more information on forcing these and incorporating the bulbs into arrangements.

Amaryllis bulbs can be inserted in fresh greens arrangements
Amaryllis bulbs can be inserted in fresh greens arrangements
'Red Lion' Amaryllis in full bloom
‘Red Lion’ Amaryllis in full bloom-Amaryllis Primer

 

A growing lemon cypress in a birch container decorated with drieds
A potted cypress in a birch container decorated with drieds in Lemon Cypress Christmas Tree
Fresh and drieds decorate a white pumpkin for Christmas
Fresh and drieds decorate a white pumpkin for Christmas

Boxwood is the ultimate green for decorating at Christmas and the classic piece to create with boxwood is a small tree which at a nursery can set you back $75. If you have boxwood shrubs growing in your garden, trim them up and use the pieces to make a great little centerpiece. Try your hand at making this simple but beautiful classic at Boxwood-The Ultimate Green for Christmas.

Boxwood trees are easy but take a lot of greens
Boxwood trees are easy but take a lot of greens and patience

Stay tuned for new ideas on decorating your outdoor and indoor spaces for the holidays in the next couple of weeks as I unearth my Christmas decorations and cut my greens.

Boxwood -The Ultimate Green for Christmas

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Ripping out 50 failing English boxwoods on a landscape job this year turned into a decorating opportunity. Rather than taking the old shrubs out and chipping and shredding them, I decided to use the still green parts for some boxwood Christmas trees.

Boxwood tree before decorating
Boxwood tree before decorating

A traditional decoration, boxwood trees are simple to make but time consuming. Boxwood sprigs  inserted into saturated oasis lasts for at least 2 months in a green fresh looking form. After the holidays, you can even keep your tree which will dry nicely, and spray it gold for next year. Boxwood trees are easy to make and inexpensive if you have boxwood on hand. If you have to buy it though, it is expensive. I own several shrubs that need some attention and wait until early December to give them a thinning so I can use all those fresh greens and not throw them away.

'Green Velvet' Boxwood, a gold award winner from the Pennsylvania Hort Society is my 'go to' boxwood
‘Green Velvet’ Boxwood, a gold award winner from the Pennsylvania Hort Society is my ‘go to’ boxwood

When I thin my boxwood, I just grab a bunch of boxwood and snap it off at the woody stem. I call it ‘snapping boxwood’ and savvy gardeners do this to keep all their boxwood healthy. Beautiful boxwood requires periodic thinning to let air circulate throughout. Most people will sheer their shrubs which just stimulates the boxwood to grow in even thicker, blocking air flow.

Boxwood clipping with two-handed shears
Boxwood clipping with two-handed shears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Snapping off hunks of the foliage, creates spaces within the boxwood which aids in air circulation and leads to a healthier shrub. When I talk ‘boxwood’, I am referring to both English, American, and Korean. Though the English is superior for making wreaths and trees, I use any kind that I can get.

Fastigiate boxwood or upright boxwood produces long straight stems for trees
Fastigiate boxwood or upright boxwood produces long straight stems for trees

Boxwood Tree Directions

  • Soak your cut boxwood in a tub of warm water overnight to hydrate the greens and keep them fresh longer

  • Choose a small plastic container and add a chunk of oasis for the base. Tape in with florist tape and add some picks.

  • Insert your cone on top of the picks

Select a small container and chop off a chunk of oasis to fit in the bottom: tape in with florist tape and add some picks to attach the larger piece
Select a small container and chop off a chunk of oasis to fit in the bottom: tape in with florist tape and add some picks to attach the larger piece
  • At this point I add a few wood picks from the side of the cone into the base to make sure everything is secure

Insert an oasis cone on top of the picks; you can also add a large block of oasis and shave it into a cone shape
Insert an oasis cone on top of the picks;  alternatively you can use a large block of oasis and shave it into a cone shape
  • I pick out a nice looking boxwood piece to form the peak. Once I stick that piece in, it gives me a guide to green up the rest of the tree.

Establish the contours of your tree and add the top pieces first
Establish the contours of your tree and add the top pieces first
  • Starting at the bottom, I break off pieces of boxwood and insert them into the oasis around the edge of the container first and move up. I added another variety of green (thujopsis) to the tree to give more textural interest. But if you are a purist, stick with boxwood

I added some other greens to the mix to make it more interesting; or you can keep it all boxwood
I added some other greens to the mix to make it more interesting; or you can keep it all boxwood
  • Add floral touches, like white pom poms, red roses, and small Christmas balls directly into the oasis; be sure to leave gaps to insert these elements

  • Insert your pieces of boxwood and flowers with care; If you insert them too densely, you could break apart the oasis

Insert your completed boxwood tree into a pretty container; here I used a footed mercury vapor container
Insert your completed boxwood tree into a pretty container; here I used a footed mercury vapor container
  • Spray the tree with an anti-dessicant, like Wilt-Pruf to keep the tree fresh for weeks

  • For care, I will mist it with water maybe once a week, and make sure that the oasis is thoroughly soaked through to keep it green and fresh

Add roses and white pom poms
Add roses and white pom poms

Decorating “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton Mansion

Hampton Mansion all lit up for a festive Yuletide night
Hampton Mansion all lit up for a festive Yuletide night

Every year, I help with the decorating of “The Palace in the Woods”, Hampton National Historic site in Towson, Maryland, for their Yuletide celebration.  Dating back to the eighteenth century, Hampton is a large estate built in the Georgian architectural style, situated on many acres including a farm, greenhouses, slave quarters, an orangery, large Italianate gardens, horse stables, cemetery, and an English style park-like setting. Built as a country seat just after the Revolutionary War by the prominent Ridgely family, the house and its immediate surroundings are just a remnant of the Hampton estate of the early 1800s.

Many large mature trees surround Hampton Mansion
Many large mature trees surround Hampton Mansion
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from t...
English: Hampton mansion, Maryland, USA from the southwest. Hampton National Historic Site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Decorating the Mansion along with the Park service is a lot of fun, and gives me ideas on decorating my house with fresh greens, garland, natural materials, and fresh flowers and fruit – all materials that were used back “in the day”, Williamsburg  or Colonial style.

Park rangers Amanda and Brooke are very helpful and knowledgeable about decorating the mansion for Christmas
Park Rangers Amanda and Brooke are very helpful and knowledgeable about decorating the mansion for Christmas
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The Christmas tree in the music room is decorated with handmade Victorian ornaments

Located in the music room, the Christmas tree exudes Victorian elegance with the hand-made ornaments reflecting the ornate Victorian era. The screens in the background are hand painted with colorful scenes and the furnishings reflect the lavish decorating in vogue at that time for the very wealthy. The mansion  showcases Mid-Atlantic life from before the American Revolution to after World War II.

Peacock hand painted screen
Peacock hand painted screen
Drawing room wall paper
Drawing room wall paper
Another beautiful painted screen at Hampton
Another beautiful painted screen at Hampton
The candlelit table is set for a big celebration
The candlelit table is set for a big celebration

Place settings are in the cranberry colors befitting the Yuletide season, and sideboards and tables are set with the house silver and groaning with food ( good quality fakes), but set up for a typical Christmas spread of the period.

Food good enough to eat!
Food good enough to eat!
Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years
Portrait of Eliza Ridgely, Lady With a Harp, by painter Thomas Sully, the American heiress and mistress of Hampton for many years
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Red Roses were used in most of the arrangements

The Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland take charge of the festive greenery decorations, as well as the fresh floral arrangements, all with the time period in mind when choosing materials. Slated to be restored in the near future, the dilapidated greenhouses were used by the Ridgelys used for out of season food and forcing flowers. Many of the clubs of District III, Baltimore and Harford County, participate and get together to carefully decorate the towering Christmas tree and make lots of labor intensive boxwood wreaths and arrangements.

One of the volunteers working hard on an arrangement
One of the volunteers working hard on an arrangement

 

Using fresh cut greens, a volunteer puts together a large arrangement in a towering urn
Using fresh-cut greens, a volunteer puts together a large arrangement in a towering urn

 

Landing arrangement with peach roses
Landing arrangement with peach roses from 2013
We use a wide variety of fresh evergreens
We use a wide variety of fresh evergreens
The Orangery being used by Garden Clubs to arrange the flowers
The Orangery being used by Garden Clubs to arrange the flowers

 

We meet in the old Orangery to work our magic on beautifying the mansion.  Armed with fresh-cut greens, we bring cut flowers, greens, and cutters. The Park Service also will cut some special greens from the surrounding landscape, like ivy berries, holly, and boxwood, which are beautiful and were certainly used when the Ridgely family lived there.

Mature Ivy
Mature Ivy has great black berries
Decorated table at Hampton
Decorated table at Hampton

At night the mansion is full of musicians, carolers, and docents who will answer questions about daily life of the Ridgelys, as well as the many slaves who lived on the grounds. The Hampton estate was the home of the Ridgelys through seven generations, and also of the enslaved people, indentured servants, and paid laborers who supported them, from before the American Revolution to after World War II.

One of the bedrooms with toys that were used in the time period
A bedroom interpreting the life of the children living at Hampton
Paper dolls were typical toys of the time period
Paper dolls were typical toys of the time period
Doll with tea set in one of the bedrooms
Doll with tea set in one of the bedrooms
The servant call bells are still in place
The servant call bells are still in place

One of the many garden club arrangements
One of the many garden club arrangements

Poinsettia – History and Legends

Poinsettia, Sparkling Punch
Poinsettia, Sparkling Punch

Can you guess what is the best-selling potted plant in the United States and Canada? I was amazed to learn that the Poinsettia is the most popular by far. 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 center portion that is green and yellow is the actual flower
The center portion that is green and yellow is the actual flower
  • 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

Poinsettia Valentine
Poinsettia Valentine
  • 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!

Poinsettias with blue hydrangeas
Poinsettias with blue hydrangeas

Color Palette

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.

Glitter applied to Poinsettias at the supermarket
Glitter applied to Poinsettias at the supermarket

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 have lighter green foliage. Reject any plants that have dropping leaves, or ones that have pale green or yellowing foliage.

Jingle Bells Poinsettia-the actual flower is in the center of the bracts
Jingle Bells Poinsettia-the actual flower is in the center of the bracts
Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia with Orchids
Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia with Orchids

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.

Sleeved poinsettias
Sleeved poinsettias

Care

Poinsettias thrive in indirect, natural daylight- at least 6 hours a day. Do not place them in direct sunlight, as this may fade the bract olor. For longer bloom, keep in temperatures of 65 degrees to 70. Keep the soil moist, and water when the soil feels dry to the touch. Do not allow the plants to sit in standing water. If your plant comes in a foil wrapper, remove this so the pot can drain properly or puncture so that the wrapper can drain. Fertilizer is not necessary while blooming.

  • Keep in indirect, natural daylight

  • Water when soil is dry to the touch

  • Keep in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees

  • Make sure the pot drains

  • Fertilization is not necessary

A white double poinsettia
A white double poinsettia

Reflowering-Tough but not Impossible 

It is possible to get your poinsettia to “reflower” 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  http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07412.html for detailed instructions.

Peach Poinsettia
Peach Poinsettia
Monet Poinsettia
Monet Poinsettia

Poisonous??

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.

Decorating with Poinsettias
Decorating with Poinsettias
Use your poinsettias in groups
Group your Poinsettias for bigger impact

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!

Poinsettias used as a cut flower
Poinsettias used as a cut flower