Foraged Foliage & Berries For Fall

Porch pots are an old fashioned way to decorate a deck, porch, or other entrance to greet people with something colorful during the fall and winter season. Burning bush, dogwood, viburnums, hydrangea flowers, and other fall colored branches are available for the taking along road sides or your property.

Spicebush on the edge of the woods
Blue Amsonia, a great perennial for fall color is the yellow in this arrangement

Foraging in the Wild

Burning bush has escaped to the wild as an invasive and you can spot it a mile away on the side of the road with its flaming branches.  Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, a native, shines with a yellow light through the woods and Bittersweet, another invasive, tangles through trees.

I found this abandoned hornets nest
The nest is really beautiful!

Rose hips, wild Hawthorne, Jack in the Pulpit berries, Sourwood tree foliage, and Kousa Dogwood foliage and berries- the list is endless. Just walk down your neighborhood streets with pruners and start trimming off some branches. Be sure to be careful where you trim. If it is a neighbor’s property, ask permission first.

Jack in the Pulpit berries

I gathered bittersweet and also the lichen covered branches of this dead tree
The lichen covered branches are really interesting in porch pots
Japanese Maple, Hairy Balls, lichen covered branches, burning bush, blackberry lily berries, winterberry, and nandina

Christmas Porch Pots

Porch pots are an easy inexpensive way to dress up your entrance and they are especially valuable for Christmas entertaining. For my recent article on Christmas porch pots in The American Gardener, go to;

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Christmas porch pot

But in the mid-Atlantic our fall has been such a long Indian summer, the fall foliage is waiting for me to pick and use it.

Orange Fothergillia makes this porch pot stand out
The Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves and Winterberry make this arrangement

Safety Tips

Be careful as your forage for fall materials. Poison Ivy also turns a beautiful color!!  When stopping on the side on the road, pull off far enough that you don’t stop traffic. I always wear gloves, long pants, and good sturdy shoes.

Poison Ivy turns a great color, but beware!
My blueberry bushes turn a brilliant red in the fall
The large yellow leaves are Calycanthus or Carolina Sweet Shrub

Top 10 Materials for Fall Arrangements (Mid-Atlantic Region)

Gather materials and plunge them into a big bucket of water

1 Viburnum foliage and berries-the berries come in red, yellow, pink, and blue

2 Blueberry-flaming red foliage

3 Dogwood-foliage and berries

4 Maple-Japanese Maples and Sugar Maples have awesome colors in the fall

5 Oakleaf Hydrangeas-turning a burgundy color, these are long lasting for foliage or flowers

6 Sassafras-brilliant orange and red foliage

7 Nandina-berries and foliage

8 Fothergillia-beautiful burgundy and oranges

9 Grass Plumes-adds great texture

10 Burning Bush-flame red colored foliage with berries

Variety of fall berries that you could use
Fothergillia turns a brilliant orange color

The Process

Begin with a tall well formed branch as the backdrop

Starting with a pot of soil left over from  your dead annuals, simply insert the cut branches into the soil which will hold everything in place. Soil is better for these large pots rather than floral oasis as it holds up better and the large branches stay firmly in the soil.

Dogwood and Burning Bush branches with Viburnum berries are stuck in a container that had annuals all season
The addition of the yellow and red Viburnum berries add texture and color
Nandina berries draping over the edge adds dimension
Finished container measures 4′ x 4′
Japanese Maples turning color
Color spectrum of Japanese Maples

For the western part of the US, quaking aspens, Salal, and Eucalyptus are valuable additions to your tool box of foliage.

In Colorado, Quaking Aspens are great for yellow and orange foliage colors, photo by Amy Sparwasser

The Year in Review-Top Garden Posts For 2018

 

It’s that time of year again, where I review my most viewed posts from all over the world and I was surprised at some of the posts that were at the top of the heap. The top ten countries that view my blog in descending order are the U.S. Canada, UK, Australia, India, Germany, France, South Africa, Brazil, and New Zealand. I am always amazed at this! India is near the top and reading my blog in great numbers? And Australia and New Zealand are reading too! That just goes to show you that gardening topics are a universal theme.

Gardening is a universal theme
Gardening is a universal theme

I have about 5,000 followers that receive regular emails when I post and my average viewings per day is around 250 to 300 readers. And for the year, I ran around 100,000 visits or page views.

For 2018, I gathered the most popular posts for the year, some of which are old and are continuously viewed from years ago, but others that are new. I work on some posts a year in advance. For instance, I am working on Christmas ones for next year. And I am working on a book with all new projects.

So, here are my top ten posts from 2018.

Top 10 

Planted container in an old bundt pan
Planted container in an old bundt pan

1-Containers With Pizzazz

This is a golden oldie. Container plantings are one of my favorite things to put together, not just in spring, but all year long. Most people do their containers in the spring and are done! But I am coming up with ideas all year long. And with the recent addition of a greenhouse in my backyard, I am going coming up with lots of new ideas. Seasonal, and non-traditional containers are my specialty.

Shade container
Shade container
Succulents planted in truck
Succulents planted in truck
An easy but dramatic shade container
An easy but dramatic shade container

2-Christmas at Winterthur

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur, picture by Amy Sparwasser

Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware, has a tradition going back to 1986, of decorating a large tree with dried flowers. And the dried flowers aren’t your grandmother’s musty dusty dried arrangements that dotted the home. These are air dried and silica gel dried (think of those little packets that come with new purchases) to retain their jewel like tones that almost seem fresh. I made my own miniature dried flower tree that I will post about next season in time for the Christmas season.

Miniature dried flower tree
Miniature dried flower tree

3-DIY Birdseed Ornaments

This one was a surprise. There are a lot of bird watchers out there and there must be some super hungry birds that are getting a smorgasbord of home made treats. Easy to put together for anyone, these make great gifts for your bird loving friends.

Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Bird seed ornaments come in all shapes and sizes
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list
Great gifts for the bird lover on your list

4-Taking Root: Delaware Botanic Garden’s Progress Report

Meadow at Delaware Botanic Gardens
Meadow at Delaware Botanic Garden at Pepper Creek, photo by Ruth Rogers Clausen

Put this garden on your radar. It is a world class garden taking shape in Dagsboro, Delaware- on my doorstep! Designed by world renowned Dutch designer, Piet Oudolf (think High Line!), it has been in the making for some years and is scheduled to open in 2019. The development of this garden has been written about on my blog and I will keep you posted as it opens to the public.

 

Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected
Brand new Greenhouses have been erected

5-Decorating the White House 2018

Though I didn’t participate in decorating the White House in 2018, I have done it three times in the past and have lots of friends who sent me updates and pictures of the current decorations. Take a look!

Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Closeup of the Blue Room tree, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
Gingerbread House in 2018, Photo by Marci Lindsey
My volunteer aprons from past years
My volunteer aprons from past years

6-“Hairy Balls” -A Different Kind of Milkweed

Monarch caterpillars cover the Balloon Plant or Hairy Balls  Milkweed

A plant oddity that takes people by surprise when they see it growing in my garden. Having grown it for years, I am tickled when people exclaim over it.  Easy to grow and attractive to Monarch caterpillars, this is a fixture in my garden.

Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with
Hairy Balls are fun to arrange with

7-Pesticide Free Nurseries and Seed Companies

There is a real interest and need for sourcing of pesticide free nurseries and seed companies. Posting this information brought in a lot of comments and appreciation from gardeners who strive to garden organically as much as possible.

8-Miniature Gardens-Whimsical Creations 

My love of creating miniature little worlds has been with me as long as I can remember. The Philadelphia Flower Show has some of the best examples around and I visit every spring for my inspiration. I like to change my miniature gardens with the season and decorate my home with them.Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

Miniature garden seen at Philadelphia Flower Show

A seasonal holiday miniature garden
A seasonal holiday miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden
Halloween miniature garden

9-From the Ground Up-Choosing the Right Ground Cover For Shade

As a landscape designer, I am frequently asked;  “What can I plant in shade under a tree?” Besides Pachysandra, Vinca, and Ivy, in this post I give you lots of plants you might not have thought of that work much better than the “big three”. There are so many perennials suitable for this hard to work with area, and this post give you information on what works.

At the Bloedel Reserve near Seattle
Brunnera variegata, a great ground cover for shady locations that deer won’t eat

10-Floating Beauties

Bowl arrangements are easy and great for entertaining
Bowl arrangements are easy to make and great for entertaining-this picture is from Chanticleer, in Wayne, PA

Bowl arrangements are for those who are too intimidated to arrange flowers. I started making these with leftovers after making a floral arrangement and sometimes like them better than the arrangement that I spent more time on. No mechanics are needed other than a wide open bowl and a few flowers and /or some foliage. Staged inside or outdoors, I have made these in the dead of winter with some odds and ends from my garden.

A winter arrangement with nandina and dried alliums
A winter arrangement with nandina, red twigs, and dried alliums

Comments about my posts are very much appreciated and I always read them and learn from them.

Thanks to all my readers out there, where ever you are, and have a great New Year!

Last Minute Christmas Centerpiece

Centerpiece with orange roses and satsumas

Centerpiece with orange roses and satsumas

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!

Bubble bowl with fake snow and putz house
Bubble bowl with fake snow, lights, and putz house

But to bring it up to another level, I added a fresh flower arrangement on top.

I added a little bit of floral clay to keep the tray from slipping

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!

Satsuma mandarin orange
Satsuma mandarin orange
I had a dozen Milva Roses and cut the stems short and inserted them in the oasis
I had a dozen Milva Roses and cut the stems short and inserted them in the oasis

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.

Start filling in with seeded eucalyptus and purple statice
I filled in with seeded eucalyptus and purple statice and some peach Alstromeria
I added purple statice, purple statice, and seeded eucalyptus
Finish up with gold glittery leaves

 

Bubble bowl with putz house
Bubble bowl with putz house

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.

Merry Christmas!!

Centerpiece on table runner
Centerpiece on table runner

‘Tis the Season for Poinsettias

Princettia Poinsettias branch more and produce more flowers
Poinsettia, Sparkling Punch
Poinsettia ‘Sparkling Punch’
The newer white Poinsettias are really beautiful
The newer white Poinsettias are really beautiful

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:

Lime Green is a new color in Poinsettias

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’, a double ruffled flower
  • 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 at Longwood Gardens

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.

Purple is very popular, but is sprayed on
Purple is very popular, but is sprayed on

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!

 

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 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.

Jingle Bells Poinsettia-the actual flower is in the center of the bracts
‘Jingle Bells’ Poinsettia is one of the top selling Poinsettias
Visions of Grandeur Poinsettia with Orchids
‘Visions of Grandeur’ Poinsettia with Orchids at Longwood Gardens

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-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.

Princettia Poinsettia sign at Valley View Farms
Princettia Poinsettia sign at Valley View Farms
Princettia Poinsettias branch more and produce more flowers
Princettia Poinsettias branch more which produces more flowers
  • 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
A white double poinsettia
A white double poinsettia

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.

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.

Princettia Poinsettias

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

 

Decorating the White House 2018

I decorated the blue Room mantel in 2017

Volunteering to decorate at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people, and I have posted on this blog in the past about my experiences working there in 2011 , 2015, and 2017. Though I didn’t participate this year, I have lots of pictures. Anyone can apply, and to my delight, discovered others have been accepted after reading about my experiences. For my past posts, go to Time Honored Traditions, Decorating the White House-Past and Present, Decorating the White House, 2015-Part 1, and Decorating the White House, 2015, Part 2.

Life size snowmen decorated the Rose Garden in 2015

Planning and Application Process

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.

Linda Goldfarb from Oregon volunteered this year from Oregon and placed tiny lights in the trees for “days”; the White House Creche is behind her, photo from Linda Goldfarb

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.

Most volunteers stay at the nearby Kimpton Hotel

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!

Blue Room

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.

I was part of the team that decorated the Blue Room tree in 2015 & 2017
Blue Room tree in 2018 with over 500 feet of blue velvet ribbon, photo by Marci Lindsey
Closeup of the Blue Room tree with the embroidered state names, photo by Marci Lindsey

“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.

Visitors are encouraged to send messages to the people who serve our country
An ornament on the Gold Star tree, from 2011

 

Patriotic ribbon decorates the Gold Star tree, photo by Marci Lindsey

Surrounded By History

Grace Coolidge’s portrait with her beloved collie, Rob Roy is in the China Room where china is displayed from each administration

 

China Room in 2015
China Room in 2018, photo by Marci Lindsey

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!

Vermeil Room

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.

Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower in the Vermeil Room
The Vermeil Room in 2015
The Vermeil Room in 2017
The Vermeil Room in 2018, photo by Marci Lindsey
Topiary tree in the Vermeil Room, photo by Marci Lindsey

Green Room

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.

On a Green Room table, photo by Marci Lindsey
Green Room tree, photo by Marci Lindsey

 

Gingerbread House

Gingerbread House from 2011 with Obama’s dog Sunny out front
Gingerbread House in 2017; the outside is made of pastillage which is a mixture of sugar, gelatin, and water
One of my favorites was the gingerbread house from 2015, made out of dark chocolate

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!”

This years Gingerbread House is of the entire Mall, photo by Marci Lindsey

 

East Colonnade

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.

Cranberry trees line the East Colonnade, photo by Marci Lindsey
East Colonnade in 2015 with hundreds of hand cut snowflakes suspended from the ceiling
East Colonnade in 2017

Reception

Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015
Myself and my daughter at the White House reception in 2015

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.

Invitation to the volunteer reception
My invitation to the volunteer reception in 2015
My aprons and badges from past years

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.

Deck the Halls-Succulent Christmas


Who says you have to decorate with holly, mistletoe and pine? When I spotted succulent Christmas trees made up at a local nursery last Christmas for hundreds of dollars,  I was inspired to create my own for Christmas. Succulents are so versatile that I use them in many decorating ways. Air plants are right up there in popularity and ease of growing.

Very similar in texture and appearance to succulents are air plants: I like to mix them together

Other succulent ideas for a cool gift to a plant loving friend is a tiny garden chock full of succulents and Christmas miniatures. Read to the bottom of this post for ideas on whipping these together. For Thanksgiving Succulent decorating ideas, go to A Succulent Thanksgiving or Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece.

Miniature garden using low maintenance succulent plants

Branch out and explore the many textures and colors of succulents.  To paraphrase the great Will Rogers: I never met a succulent that I didn’t like! I enjoy the sculptural colorful quality of succulents so much that I continue to find ways to use them around the house and garden.

Colors and textures of succulents make these interesting houseplants and good specimens for containers
A succulent container greets you at the door

Succulent tree

DIY Christmas Tree

Preparation

Taking months to fill in, I wanted to make sure that my tree was fully grown in for the holidays, so I started the tree in the early spring. Tiny succulents in two to three inch pots are available in big box stores for a good price and if you have any existing containers of succulents, you can trim the tips off for cuttings. But don’t despair! If you are making your tree now,  simply use more cuttings to fill the surface in fuller.

Succulent varieties in small pots
Succulent varieties in small pots

Aim for a variety of colors and textures when you select your succulent to make the tree attractive and interesting. There are so many varieties of succulents that this isn’t hard to do. Containers are dotted around my property in the fall and I can’t bring them all in, so I take cuttings of them to root into my tree form.

Echeverias are my go-to for tree selections and they form a nice large rosette. One called ‘Red Velvet’ is sold extensively during Christmas because of the garnet colored fuzzy markings.

Echeveria ‘Red Velvet’ has beautiful garnet colored markings
My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

Step By Step for a Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree
Succulent Tree
  • Cut off a piece of chicken wire about 18 inches in length. This length depends on the size of the tree that you want to end up with. Mine ended up at 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide at the base.
  • Form the chicken wire into a cone and fasten together by bending the ends in.
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
  • Saturate sphagnum moss in water and stuff the form with the moss firmly; Be sure to pack the moss so that you have a firm base to work with
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
  • If taking cuttings, I cut the growing  tip off, measuring between 2 to 5 inches in length, and strip off the lower leaves and let the cuttings sit out at room temperature for a day or two to form a callous.
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
  • If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil from around the roots and you are ready to insert this into the moss form
  • Using a pencil or sharp pointed stick, insert the point into the sphagnum moss and wiggle the end to make the hole larger enough to receive the cutting or plant
  • Insert the cutting as far as you can; If the cutting is loose, you can use wire fern pins to hold it steady
  • Place the full moss cone into a pot of soil and fasten the edges to the soil with fern pins
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
  • For the first couple of days, keep the cone in the shade, gradually moving out to the sun, when the cuttings start to root which can take only a week or two
  • To water, submerse the cone into a bucket of water for a few minutes until thoroughly saturated, about once a week; alternatively, you can thoroughly mist the entire tree
  • As the plants grow, you will need to cut off the tips, and use these cuttings to fill in holes

My succulent tree kept growing all summer long and periodically, I would cut off a tip that was getting really long and fill in a bare spot so that by the end of the growing season, my tree was completely filled in.

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in
At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a tiny garden, go to Succulent Creations to see step by step of making other shapes. For decorating pumpkins with succulents for the holidays, go to Pumpkin Treats to see how creative you can get with succulents.

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
I use a lot of Echeveria rosettes on my tree

Finally for Christmas, I placed the pot into a decorative container and decorated with some Christmas balls. As a finishing touch, I stuck some air plants for in for a feathery texture.  Insert them in between the spaces  of the succulents.

Add air plants in at the very end
Add air plants in at the very end

 

To keep the tree alive over the winter, I will place it in a sunny window and water sparingly because succulents can rot easily when they slow growth in the winter. When spring comes, I can increase the watering so that they begin to grow again.

Miniature Gardens

Requiring little care, succulents do well in small containers and pots. Lacking a large root ball, you can pot them up in very shallow containers. Succulents do need sun, so place your mini garden on a sunny windowsill. You can change out the Christmas decorations when the holidays are over for a spring time one in February.

Seasonal miniature garden with succulents in a bonsai dish

Miniature gardens are my passion, and I like to do seasonal ones with all the minis themed for that time of year. See my post on Springtime miniatures at Take Four-Springtime Seasonal Miniature Gardens. 

An open terrarium is perfect for succulents
Making up mini gardens for Christmas gifts
Small terrarium with air plants and lights

Deck the Halls – A Succulent Christmas

 


Who says you have to decorate with holly, mistletoe and pine? When I spotted succulent Christmas trees made up at a local nursery last Christmas for hundreds of dollars,  I was inspired to create my own for Christmas. Succulents are so versatile that I use them in many decorating ways. Air plants are right up there in popularity and ease of growing.

Very similar in texture and appearance to succulents are air plants: I like to mix them together

Other succulent ideas for a cool gift to a plant loving friend is a tiny garden chock full of succulents and Christmas miniatures. Read to the bottom of this post for ideas on whipping these together. For Thanksgiving Succulent decorating ideas, go to A Succulent Thanksgiving or Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece.

Miniature garden using low maintenance succulent plants

Branch out and explore the many textures and colors of succulents.  To paraphrase the great Will Rogers: I never met a succulent that I didn’t like! I enjoy the sculptural colorful quality of succulents so much that I continue to find ways to use them around the house and garden.

Colors and textures of succulents make these interesting houseplants and good specimens for containers
A succulent container greets you at the door

Succulent tree

DIY Christmas Tree

Preparation

Taking months to fill in, I wanted to make sure that my tree was fully grown in for the holidays, so I started the tree in the early spring. Tiny succulents in two to three inch pots are available in big box stores for a good price and if you have any existing containers of succulents, you can trim the tips off for cuttings. But don’t despair! If you are making your tree now,  simply use more cuttings to fill the surface in fuller.

Succulent varieties in small pots
Succulent varieties in small pots

Aim for a variety of colors and textures when you select your succulent to make the tree attractive and interesting. There are so many varieties of succulents that this isn’t hard to do. Containers are dotted around my property in the fall and I can’t bring them all in, so I take cuttings of them to root into my tree form.

Echeverias are my go-to for tree selections and they form a nice large rosette. One called ‘Red Velvet’ is sold extensively during Christmas because of the garnet colored fuzzy markings.

Echeveria ‘Red Velvet’ has beautiful garnet colored markings
My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from
An overflowing succulent planter that I took cuttings from

Step By Step for a Succulent Tree

Succulent Tree
Succulent Tree
  • Cut off a piece of chicken wire about 18 inches in length. This length depends on the size of the tree that you want to end up with. Mine ended up at 15 inches tall and 10 inches wide at the base.
  • Form the chicken wire into a cone and fasten together by bending the ends in.
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
Chicken wire can easily be formed into a cone
  • Saturate sphagnum moss in water and stuff the form with the moss firmly; Be sure to pack the moss so that you have a firm base to work with
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
Finished cone stuffed with wet moss
  • If taking cuttings, I cut the growing  tip off, measuring between 2 to 5 inches in length, and strip off the lower leaves and let the cuttings sit out at room temperature for a day or two to form a callous.
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
Succulent cutting with fern pins for fastening the cutting firmly into the moss
  • If you are using small potted plants, remove the plant from the pot, shake off most of the soil from around the roots and you are ready to insert this into the moss form
  • Using a pencil or sharp pointed stick, insert the point into the sphagnum moss and wiggle the end to make the hole larger enough to receive the cutting or plant
  • Insert the cutting as far as you can; If the cutting is loose, you can use wire fern pins to hold it steady
  • Place the full moss cone into a pot of soil and fasten the edges to the soil with fern pins
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
Succulent tree finished with cuttings ready to fill in for the summer
  • For the first couple of days, keep the cone in the shade, gradually moving out to the sun, when the cuttings start to root which can take only a week or two
  • To water, submerse the cone into a bucket of water for a few minutes until thoroughly saturated, about once a week; alternatively, you can thoroughly mist the entire tree
  • As the plants grow, you will need to cut off the tips, and use these cuttings to fill in holes

My succulent tree kept growing all summer long and periodically, I would cut off a tip that was getting really long and fill in a bare spot so that by the end of the growing season, my tree was completely filled in.

At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in
At the end of the summer, the tree is fully filled in

If you want to see how to make other succulent creations, such as a wreath, a sphere, and a tiny garden, go to Succulent Creations to see step by step of making other shapes. For decorating pumpkins with succulents for the holidays, go to Pumpkin Treats to see how creative you can get with succulents.

Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
Decorate the tree with ornaments for a finishing touch
I use a lot of Echeveria rosettes on my tree

Finally for Christmas, I placed the pot into a decorative container and decorated with some Christmas balls. As a finishing touch, I stuck some air plants for in for a feathery texture.  Insert them in between the spaces  of the succulents.

Add air plants in at the very end
Add air plants in at the very end

 

To keep the tree alive over the winter, I will place it in a sunny window and water sparingly because succulents can rot easily when they slow growth in the winter. When spring comes, I can increase the watering so that they begin to grow again.

Miniature Gardens

Requiring little care, succulents do well in small containers and pots. Lacking a large root ball, you can pot them up in very shallow containers. Succulents do need sun, so place your mini garden on a sunny windowsill. You can change out the Christmas decorations when the holidays are over for a spring time one in February.

Seasonal miniature garden with succulents in a bonsai dish

Miniature gardens are my passion, and I like to do seasonal ones with all the minis themed for that time of year. See my post on Springtime miniatures at Take Four-Springtime Seasonal Miniature Gardens. 

An open terrarium is perfect for succulents
Making up mini gardens for Christmas gifts
Small terrarium with air plants and lights

Tryon Palace Christmas

 

Tryon Palace

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.

Doing a demo on outdoor Christmas arrangements at North Carolina History Center at Tryon Palace

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!

Beautiful entry into the Palace; I love the Palm leaf fans that are spray painted

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.

Double iron -work gates are decorated with matching wreaths

Classic Williamsburg fruit motifs are used above doorways
Fresh green garlands were used as well as faux and a mix of the two

“Seasons of Giving: A Candlelight Christmas Celebration” was the theme this year with the Candlelight tradition at Tryon Palace in its 37th 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. Too late for most things this year, I am going to try to make it next year.

Definitely Tryon Palace warrants a visit just to see the fabulous gardens, that look good even in December.

Encompassing more than 16 acres of gardens and landscapes, the Palace gardens were designed by noted landscape architect Morley Jeffers Williams in the 1950s and represent the formal garden style of 18th-century Britain.

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.

Volunteers at work at Tryon Palace

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.

Dried pods and flowers appropriate for period decorating
Dried flowers for sale in Williamsburg

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.

Fruit fan with pineapples
Entry steps to Tryon Palace
Closeup of the rosettes on swag
Closeup of an arrangement
I love the fabric draping of the staircase

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.

Biltmore-The Ultimate Yuletide Destination

All lit up for Christmas, photo from The Biltmore Company
A festive stone lion at the front door, photo from The Biltmore Company

America’s largest home, Biltmore, was the vision of George W Vanderbilt who built the 250-room French Renaissance Chateau, exhibiting the Vanderbilt family’s original collection of furnishings, art and antiques. The estate encompasses over 8,000 acres which includes gardens designed by famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead.

A towering 55 foot spruce in front of the house is hung with large stars; It is lit for Candlelight Christmas Evenings
Hundreds of these stars were on the spruce tree

A tradition that goes back 120 years, Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, transforms into a Yuletide extravaganza from November 3, 2017 to January 7, 2018. I had the opportunity to travel to that area of the country  a few weeks ago and was blown away with the decorations celebrating the theme – “A Vanderbilt Christmas”. Getting in the spirit of Christmas as you go through the house is exciting as you see the amazing decorations. A 250 room house, Biltmore is so large that any decorations could look lost, but there are 55 trees in the house and another 45 trees scattered throughout the estate and everything is done on a grand scale.

Bows & Ribbon

More than 1000 bows are used inside the house with twice that many in the surrounding estate. Velvets, metallics, burlap, satin, and printed cotton are all used with a blue velvet one my favorite.

This jeweled cobalt blue velvet ribbon was my favorite

In the Banquet Hall, there are two trees flanking the triple fireplaces; 1000 yards of ribbon were used to create these ribbon swirls!
Detail of the multi-looped bow on top of the tree; it takes 15 yards of ribbon for these!
Rosettes of ribbon held up the garlands in the Banquet Hall
I loved how the ribbon ends were scrolled
Another beautiful tree topper

Think “Gilded Age”, a period of economic prosperity in the U.S. from the 1870’s to the early 1900’s, the age of The Titanic, and you will see evidence of this everywhere. These weren’t simple decorations – lavish, elaborate, and rich were the words that came to mind when I entered the house.

George Vanderbilt opened Biltmore House for the first time to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895. Biltmore’s Christmas events are based on what has been learned from the archives about that first holiday celebration.

On the day the tree arrives on November 1, hundreds of people line up to see the show

The Changing of the Firs

Since 1975, the Andrews family of North Carolina, has supplied the 35-foot-tall Fraser fir trees that are erected in the seven-story-high Banquet Hall during each holiday. A side of their mountain overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains dedicated to the estate, the Andrews family grows these trees especially for Biltmore’s holiday celebration.

One of the 35 foot Fraser firs being roped into place in the banqueting hall, photo from The Biltmore Company

Taking approximately 50 Biltmore staff members to carry in, raise, and secure the Fraser Fir in the Banquet Hall, I was amazed to learn that the tree is replaced mid-season!  Because of fire safety of the house, the replacement comes in around 4 AM of the day it is to be replaced and everyone rushes to decorate and is finishing it up by 9 AM when the first guests arrive. In addition, the fresh garlands of white pine and Fraser Fir are replaced weekly to maintain a fresh look and fragrance!

The Banquet Hall was decorating in blue, silver, and green

Wreaths & Kissing Balls

Wreaths are made of fresh white pine and Fraser fir, with sprays of golden arborvitae, holly, or other natural materials such as twigs and cones. About 360 fresh wreaths are used as well as 130 faux pieces are placed around the estate. Over 100 kissing balls, both fresh and faux are used, some with the signature topper bow.

Different types of kissing balls

Gilded Age Decor

A unique time in American history, the Gilded Age included the construction of grand and elegant estates filled with high society and glamorous parties. Rich layers of color accented with metallic touches of gold, silver, and platinum reflects the luxury of the times.

Fans decorate the trees in the library

Fans decorate the trees in the library

Tapestry Gallery

A huge rectangular room, the Tapestry Gallery contains tapestries from 1500’s Flanders woven from silk and wool. These were intended to show how the seven virtues−faith, prudence, charity, chastity, temperance, fortitude and justice−would always prevail over vice.

Multiple trees line the Tapestry Gallery

The Nativity Scene

Christmas Traditions

Starting on Christmas Eve in 1895 when George Vanderbilt welcomed his family and friends for the first time to his new home in North Carolina, the family started a tradition. He and his wife, Edith, and their daughter, Cornelia, spent many Christmases together in Biltmore House, and started a gift-giving tradition that is still honored today. Mr. Vanderbilt’s descendants – the Cecil family, now the estate’s owners and caretakers – host the annual employee holiday party, just like the Vanderbilt’s did. Making sure each child of the estate employees receives a gift, an employee party is held. A team fills the Winter Garden floor with more than 1,000 wrapped gifts for the party and Santa and the Cecil’s will hand them out to each child.

I love this mantle decorated with an unusual treatment of garland

The Conservatory

Tall arched windows look out onto the terraced butterfly garden and the Walled Garden beyond, and the pointed glass roof lets in an abundance of natural light at the Conservatory, a short distance from the house.

The Conservatory overlooks the walled garden

 

 

Beautiful mantle in the conservatory
Orchid wreath at the conservatory
Bromeliad tree in Conservatory

 

There are over 1,000 traditional poinsettias found in the Christmas displays around the estate, along with over 1,000 Amaryllis, Christmas cactus, orchids, peace lilies, cyclamen, begonias, and kalanchoe and potted green plants.

A Decorating Heritage

Seven full time floral designers as well as 14 staff on the floral reserve team starts very early for the onslaught of over 300,000 visitors. It takes lots of help from Engineering, Housekeeping, Museum Services, Horticulture, Guest Services, Security, and Events, to make the magic happen. Read an interesting article about Kathy Barnhardt who was the Floral Displays Manager for 40 years at Biltmore. Kathy started fresh from college at Biltmore with decorating just five trees in the house from paper ornaments that she and her mother cut out! She just retired this year, but she certainly started many of the decorating traditions seen today.

The theme is selected a year in advance, and the preliminary work in a warehouse starts in July. Actual decorating of the house commences in October. Sounds like a White House Christmas! See my post on Decorating the White House .

What’s Next?- Titanic Exhibition

One of the costumes on display at Biltmore, photo from the Biltmore company

The first exhibition of fashions from “Titanic,” the Oscar-winning film that celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, will launch at Biltmore in February 2018 in “Glamour on Board: Fashion from Titanic the Movie.” Set for Feb. 9 through May 13, 2018, the exhibition represents the extensive wardrobes preferred by transatlantic travelers like George and Edith Vanderbilt in the early 1900s.

More Images

 

Time Honored Traditions-Decorating the White House 2017

Volunteering at the White House for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people. It is a great honor to be accepted to decorate at the White House and I have written about previous years. This year was the third time that I participated and I always meet people at the White House who have applied after reading about my experiences and been accepted.

Great friendships are formed between the volunteers

 

Mandy Tucker Barkley and her sister Reisha Rust are both talented designers

Lots of people apply, so if you are enthusiastic about Christmas decorating, have experience with designing or decorating, and enjoy working as a team, you have a good chance of being accepted. Most of your day is spent standing or climbing ladders and scaffolding, and doing such tasks as rewiring Christmas ornaments for hours at a time. But as anyone will tell you, its lots of fun meeting like-minded people from all over the country and being part of a cohesive, passionate and caring team of people. I love it!!  The best part is the friendships that are formed that last a long time.

Cinda Baize with long-time decorator Bill Hixson who has participated in decorating for 37 years!
Touring the Willard Hotel in D.C. with my fellow decorators

Over 150 volunteers from 29 states were selected. Everyone works during Thanksgiving week for a partial week or the entire week. I elected to work the entire week and since I live within driving distance, I drove home for my holiday meal. But others who were flying in to work, found a local restaurant for Thanksgiving.

Getting ready to go the volunteer reception

Around 12,000 ornaments, 53 trees, and 71 wreaths, were used to transform the state floor and the lower level into a winter wonderland.  The theme “Time-Honored Traditions” was designed by First Lady Melania Trump to pay homage to 200 years of holiday traditions at the White House.

Taking selfies outside the White House

Monday morning before Thanksgiving at 6AM, we all gathered in the lobby of a D.C. hotel and started our first day of work. The first few days we worked at an offsite warehouse doing prep work, like wiring new ornaments and removing old wires from recycled ornaments. Many ornaments are recycled from previous years and are stored from year to year. Another team worked at the White House early, wiring up the many Christmas trees with lights.

Many ornaments are reused from previous years

I along with a helper, worked on four different boxwood topiaries. Two were double ball topiaries and the others were large ( 12-15″ diameter)single balls. Tedious and exacting work, inserting short lengths of fresh boxwood into the Styrofoam took us almost two days. Others were working on wiring ornaments, organizing room boxes, making Cricut paper cutouts for garlands and trees, wiring garlands together, and going through old ornaments.

One of the boxwood topiaries that I worked on
I worked with a team that made these beautiful tree skirts edged in gold ribbon
Marcie worked on these beautiful dark green bows and the mantels in the East room
The fresh garlands were extremely heavy and took 4-5 people to carry, picture from Theresa Cardell Houston
I worked in the Blue Room which included an 18.5′ tall tree and the mantel

Volunteers and staff at the White House were always cheerful and accommodating and each person had a story to tell about how they applied and got chosen. I met some old friends from previous years and caught up.

Deanna Berry helped me out with the topiaries and tree skirts
I worked with Theresa in 2015 in the Blue Room; here she is with her husband Don, photo from Theresa Cardell Houston

Blue Room

I was thrilled to work in the Blue Room again as it is the center of the State Floor with a breath-taking view of the South Lawn. Oval shaped, the Blue Room has been the traditional place for presidents to formally receive guests. After making and placing some “ribbon bursts” on the beautiful State tree, I moved on to decorate the mantel. I love doing mantels, more so than decorating trees, so I was excited. After the huge garlands were placed on the mantel we wired the garlands up with tiny white lights. Making sure that the wires were concealed by fresh greenery, I and my helper Cherry, labored on the garland for several hours, pushing the wire into the body of the garland. We ended up adding five strands of lights to completely cover it. The ends of the garland were left to “puddle” on either side for an elegant rich look.

Many garlands, like these in the East Room, puddled on the floor on either side
Blue Room mantel details

Adding large blue velvet bows with dove-tailed ends in the center and on either side started the process of decorating the garland. Antique gold oak leaves, state seal balls, and large gold balls were added to the garland which mirrored what was used on the towering tree in the center of the room. More blue velvet ribbon pieces were added weaving through the garland and I added large gold sprayed sugar cones on either side dangling from gold-wired ribbon. Being careful that the garland doesn’t touch the walls and possibly damage them, the whole process took about a day and a half to complete.

Completed Blue Room mantel

Each of the gold state seal balls were engraved with all 56 state and territory seals and I made sure to include a variety on the mantel.

Presidential Seal above the Blue Room door

Green Room

My next favorite room was the Green Room which is dedicated to crafts, paper, and classic design. Covered in a delicate green silk fabric chosen by Jacqueline Kennedy and striped cream, white, and coral drapes and furniture, it is located adjacent to the Blue Room. Because of its proximity, I checked on the decorating progress frequently and was awed by the silhouettes and Cricut cut pine cones and mistletoe. Cricut is the brand name of an electronic cutting machine that looks like a printer. Intricate botanical shapes were produced in the warehouse and then put together to form beautiful forms on the Green Room mantel and tree.

The White House calligrapher created the ‘Merry Christmas’ banner
Gold silhouettes were hand cut of president’s profile
Green Room tree
Detail of the Cricut paper tree box; this was on all four sides
Detail of the beautiful green striped ribbon with Cricut cut shapes
Framed vignette scenes were hung in both windows by the same beautiful ribbon; They depicted previous first families celebrating Christmas with their families
More framed silhouettes and cut paper trees were placed on tables throughout the room

Red Room

On the other side of the Blue Room is the Red Room with carmine red walls and drapes, an Aubusson carpet, and a gilded wood French chandelier.

Red Room tree

A peppermint candy theme was carried throughout the room with apothecary jars placed on the tree, mantel and sideboards. Exploding with lollipops, crushed candy, old-fashioned ribbon candies and red and white cookies (all real), the room was alive with color. The plaid red and white wired ribbon was gorgeous and paired perfectly with the white ribbon edged in red. The tree box similar to the Green Room was faced with Cricut paper pieces with an iced cookie from the White House kitchen topping everything off.

Glass apothecary jars were attached to the mantel
An explosion of candy in the Red Room

Cross Hall

The trees in the Cross Hall were carefully decorated with fake snow

 

Billowy snow was placed at the base of the trees; uplighting enhanced the fairy tale look

The Cross Hall runs East to West on the main floor of the White House connecting the East Room and the State Dining Room and includes the Grand Foyer.  A forest of trees decorated with crystal ornaments and glittery snow greeted visitors as they entered.

Towering trees of snow and crystal

The decorations celebrated the first themed White House Christmas, which was the ‘Nutcracker Suite’ in 1961, To create depth on the trees, we placed the ornaments close to the trunk as well as towards the outer tips of the branches. Light strands were treated the same way; The string of Christmas lights was twisted around the branch from trunk to branch tip and wrapped back to the trunk to start on another branch.

East Room

The East Room is the largest room in the White House and used as a reception room. The trees here were decorated with a gorgeous emerald-green velvet ribbon with a shiny gold reverse. I was part of the team that cut out the matching tree skirts and the ribbon was used to edge the hem for an elegant touch.

East Room tree skirts

Bursts of emerald-green ribbon were added to the trees with ornaments in varying hues of green for a lush elegant look. The mantels were treated similarly.

East Room mantel
Bow detail
A nativity scene is on display in the East Room

East Colonnade 

The long hallway in the East Wing is always a great decorating opportunity. In 2015, I loved the snowflake theme. But this year, the towering frosty branches that arched overhead were a sight to behold.

East Wing frosty branches

Up lighting the branches created a magical feeling at night.

Dining Room

The Dining Room mantel in gold and silver
Dangling ornaments on Dining Room mantel

Vermeil Room

The Vermeil Room contains portraits of First Ladies and houses the silver-gilt collection or “Gold-Ware” which is on display. I love the portraits that decorate this room and the decorations pick up the gold theme.

Portrait of Lady Bird Johnson over looks the room
Detail of mantel
Eleanor Roosevelt has an interesting portrait in the Vermeil Room
Detail of the beautiful beaded tree skirt in the Vermeil Room
Portrait of Mamie Eisenhower

Library

The library contained a Christmas tree made out of books- a novel approach to a Christmas tree! The books were artistically stacked on a tiered shelf with boxwood peeking out from the “trunk”.

Boxwood was behind the books

In a glass case next to the Library’s mantel is a copy of Charles Dickens’  “Christmas Carol” that belonged to Franklin Roosevelt who was said to read it to his family on Christmas Eve.

Diplomatic Reception

The Diplomatic Reception Room tree next to the historic wallpaper

One of three oval rooms in the White House, the Diplomatic Reception Room is papered in antique French scenic wallpaper. I loved seeing the details of the wall paper which was obtained by Jacqueline Kennedy.

One of the scenes on the wallpaper

One of the most interesting feature of the Diplomatic Reception Room is that a previously unused chimney was opened up in 1935, and a new mantel and fireplace installed for Franklin Roosevelt’s famous “fireside chats.”

The gold eagle was a flag pole topper!

Gold Star Tree

The Gold Star tree honors service members and their families, particularly those who have given their lives for our country. Decorated with gold stars and patriotic ribbon, the tree is interactive, allowing visitors to write holiday messages to service members.

Reception

First Lady Melania Trump thanks all the volunteers for their hard work, picture from Theresa Cardell Houston

To cap off our hard work decorating, we were treated to a volunteer reception where we could see the results of everyone’s hard work revealed. Lamb chops, tenderloin, smoked salmon, and lots of other goodies are laid out in a buffet. And the White House has the best mac and cheese and egg nog ever!

The volunteer reception in the Dining Room
Spread of food at volunteer reception
The gingerbread house was covered in pastillage, a sugar based dough that dries hard
Detail of the wreaths on the gingerbread White House; fresh green wreaths were placed in the same windows on the real White House
The White House kitchen produces thousands of iced sugar cookies for parties
First day at the White House

For previous posts on decorating at the White House, go to Decorating the White House-Past and Present, and White House 2015.