Prince of Evergreens at McLean Nursery

Santa’s workshop at McLean Nursery

On a recent chilly and rainy afternoon I visited McLean Nursery in Parkville, Maryland, to get my annual inspiration for “decking the halls with boughs of holly”. Six cheerful people (and a dog!)stuffed into a cozy shed full of holiday trimmings was a nice respite from the constant deluge of rain.

Hundreds of bows are hung from the rafters ready to be attached to a wreath

Busy with working on dozens of wreaths, bows, and picks, everyone had a specific job to do. Notable for the use of the beautiful array of holly greens and berries grown on site, McLean customizes and creates to order exactly what the customer wants. Even if the customer can’t decide, there are freshly made  unique wreaths lining the greenhouse walls to choose from. If you have ever had a fake wreath adorning your front door, your conversion to fresh is quickly made when you view the dizzying array of wreaths and arrangements and sniff the air.

Hard at work on a wreath

A Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, the Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland and England used holly extensively, decorating their homes throughout the Winter Solstice, and Druids thought hollies had mystical powers. Seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune, holly was often planted near homes for this reason. McLean Nurseries in Parkville, Maryland has a plethora of different varieties of holly planted around the property, so they must have only good luck there!

A work area full of trimmings

Propagating cuttings in cold frames, many thousands of hollies are grown and sold every year at McLean. The busiest time of year at McLean is Christmas, with the business of decorating hundreds of Balsam Fir wreaths for the public and churches.  A great nursery that keeps a low profile, McLean has introduced many new cultivars to the trade that are widely used today and have attained ‘Holly of the Year’ status.

Greens and berries are sold by the pound
Fresh magnolia leaves figure prominently in many of the wreaths

Wreath Making Deconstructed

Wreath making is serious business at McLean. Starting with a base of Balsam Fir, different varieties of greens, including the much-loved holly, are layered in to make a lush looking wreath. Inserting “picked” greens into the base allows you to mix and match all different colors and textures into a wreath. No glue is used. Handwork which is very labor intensive makes the McLean wreaths both beautiful and special, but are reasonably priced.

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 attaching a metal pin around a flower stem making it easier to insert into the balsam fir base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.

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

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
Boxwood trees are made by hand

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

Put A Bow On It!

Ribbon is like icing on the cake. Wired, wide ribbon with big loopy bows and lavish tails is essential to make a wreath stand out from the crowd. Red is a favorite, but gold is right up there in popularity. This year, the popular ribbon was a birch tree look-a-like – very cool!

Resembling Birch Bark, this ribbon stood out
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

If you want to order your own hand-made wreath or deck your halls with fresh greens, drive over to 9000 Satyr Hill Rd, in Parkville, Maryland before Christmas, or call at 410-882-6714. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.

I love the red and white scheme of this wreath
‘Winterberry’ ribbon on wreath

Foraged Winter Greens for Seasonal Outdoor Arrangements

Outdoor seasonal arrangement, done by Gretchen Schmidl (materials: nandina, privet berries, thujopsis, magnolia, chamaecyparis, grass plumes, red twig dogwood, and hydrangea)

What do you do with containers on your front porch or deck once you have yanked out those sorry-looking frost-killed petunias?

Segue into the holiday season with beautiful fall/winter containers using “yard” material. Forage for material from your property on or around your home. Snips in hand, I venture into roadside edges and woods and gather lichen covered branches, fall colored foliage, pine cones, and seed heads for amazing accents for my arrangements. Be sure to get permission from the landowner if you are roaming around to avoid anyone chasing you off their property! I ask neighbors permission to browse on their property promising them a beautiful arrangement in return.

Winter Gold winterberry holly at McLean Nurseries

For my own property, as a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub is – Can I use it in my outdoor seasonal containers? Yellow, red, orange twig dogwoods, curly willow, hydrangeas, foliage with variegated foliage, evergreen magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, and ruby rose hips, are planted on my property with one motive in mind; Are they useful in arrangements inside and outside?

Lay out your materials so you can easily pull your arrangement together; foraged from your yard or a neighbor’s, you can make a big impact for little cost

Using the existing potting medium in your old containers is a sustainable way of reusing the substrate as a quick and easy substitute for floral oasis. Large branches will break up oasis and will fall apart with the freezing and thawing cycle. Inserted branches in soil will freeze in place to keep your arrangement in place.

Start with a soil filled container; Cut back any old frost-killed plants
Start by sticking your branches into the soil, emerging from a central point
Continue adding material, starting with the largest first; Drape berries (Privet) along the edges
Finish off with some fun accents; here is I used pumpkin on a stick and foraged lichen branches
Carex grass in front, magnolia, hydrangea, chamaecyparis, abelia, nandina

Make it Simple Directions

  1. Keep the old soil in place and cut off at soil line old plants. You have an instant blank palette to play with that can take you into the holidays and beyond. The trick is to complete your masterpiece before the ground freezes as you can’t stick anything into a frozen pot. Though, don’t despair if you are presented with frozen clods. I have used a propane torch to defrost the soil enough to insert my branches!
  2. Place a preformed fresh wreath two inches wider than the pot diameter on top of the soil. An evergreen wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. With the addition of a pre-formed wreath, you have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with, and the edges are covered. If you don’t use a wreath, you just need to drape more foliage around the base and edges.
  3. Insert your thriller sticks or uprights (like Birch logs) in the center of the wreath. I love using yellow twig dogwood and pick up the yellow color with gold evergreens. Curly willow is also excellent.
  4. Start inserting your largest leaves/branches first. Bracken’s Brown Beauty Magnolia is a favorite because of the lovely brown felted reverse. But any large-leaved evergreen, like Rhododendron or Aucuba will work. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath angling the branches outwards.
  5. Add other contrasting foliage, some variegated white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs or feathery false cypress. Stay away from Hemlock and Holly foliage as these will dry quickly and brown out. Chunky birch logs, winter berry sticks, rose hips, and large pods are added last for color and interest. Over-sized plastic Christmas balls, jumbo pine cones, hydrangea heads, grass plumes, big colorful bows can all be added at this point.
Arrangement done by Amy Sparwasser (Materials: Camellia, Cedar, Arborvitae, Magnolia, fake berries, White Pine)

If the soil is dry, water the arrangement to keep everything hydrated and to settle the branches into place. Your beautiful container will last 6-8 weeks, more if you keep it in a shady area of your porch. If some material starts to look tired, you can always replace with fresh branches to keep it going.

The accent I used here was seeded Eucalyptus, but everything else was cut from my property

 

Hydrangea, nandina berries and foliage, and orange fothergillia foliage
Winterberry, birch logs, magnolia, white pine
Fall colored oakleaf hydrangea is a wonderful addition to seasonal arrangements

 

The original version of this story appeared on www.HomeGardenandHomestead.com

Easy Thanksgiving Centerpieces

 

Having Thanksgiving at your house?  Whipping up a table centerpiece now will save you a lot of time on Thanksgiving Day.

Living on a pretty large property (2 acres), is a lot of work with weeding, pruning, mulching, etc. The chores are endless. But it is all worth it when I look out my window and see the makings of a Thanksgiving centerpiece, there for the taking. Evergreens, berries, peppers ripening, pine cones, and pods, were at my fingertips. Fresh cut sunflowers, oasis, and picking up a few colorful veggies,  were the only things that I had to purchase to come up with a dynamite centerpiece. Keeping for weeks with regular application of water and misting, you can segue this same centerpiece into a Christmas themed one with different flowers and accessories.

Surprisingly easy if you have access to greens, you can always poach on your friends and neighbors properties if you come up short. Ask first though! Usually people are happy for you to prune or thin their evergreens.

Start with a hurricane globe filled with fruit and a candle; place the oasis on a charger

Starting out with a 10″ oasis ring on an inexpensive charger plate, I had an old glass hurricane shade that I pull out for each Christmas to act as the focal point. If you can’t find an oasis wreath, then just cut your wet oasis into chunks and piece together a wreath shape.  Inserting a cranberry colored candle in the hurricane shade, I dropped some shriveled mini pumpkins (See pumpkin on a stick) and some mini hardy oranges into the space around the candle. Other options are fresh cranberries, dried corn and beans, or nuts.

Start inserting short pieces of greens

Insert your greens first, trying to cover as much of the oasis as you can. But leave room for your other berries, veggies, and flowers. This should only take about 15 minutes. For my centerpiece greens, I used Thujopsis, Nandina, Golden Arborvitae, Leucothoe, and Aucuba.

After greening the oasis, add your berries and fruit; the Nandina berries exactly match the color of the mini pumpkins
Stick picks into colorful peppers
I bunched the radishes together with wire and picked them also
Completed centerpiece without flowers

Once Thanksgiving is over, set the wreath in a cool place, not freezing, and bring it back in at Christmas and add seasonal naturals such as roses, pomegranates, and red carnations. Even a small birds nest or snowmen would add a nice touch.

Sunflowers will last about a week

Materials

Here is a list of suggested materials. Just explore your yard or the woods and you can find many others to make it more interesting.

Evergreens

  • Aucuba
  • Rhododendron
  • Cherry Laurel
  • False Cypress
  • Juniper
  • Nandina-foliage and greenery
  • Andromeda
  • Boxwood
  • Pachysandra
  • Hellebore
  • Pine
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea

Vegetables

  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Lady Apples
  • Cabbage
  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Small Pumpkins
  • Gourds
  • Grapes
  • Radishes
  • Turnips
  • Mini Peppers

 Berries and Flowers

  • Gerber Daisy
  • Mums
  • Winterberry
  • Beauty Berry
  • Sunflower
  • Wax Flower
  • Lilies
  • Grapevine tendrils
  • Roses
  • Hydrangea
  • Bittersweet
  • Lotus Pods
  • Pine Cones
  • Pepper Berries
  •  Hydrangea
  • Rose Hips
The radishes will last a few weeks and then shrivel up
Step By Step

  1. Place oasis ring in warm water and soak for 30 minutes until heavy. Or piece together a ring with chunks of oasis
  2. Place ring on charger and set your hurricane glass in the center
  3. Fill the glass with a candle surrounded by your choice of beans or fruit
  4. Insert cut pieces (3-5″ long) of greens into oasis ring so that the oasis is covered
  5. Insert your chosen veggies after first inserting picks. If you don’t have picks, use short twigs
  6. Add berries, pods, or nuts
  7. Sunflowers go in last. Other suggestions for flowers are carnations, dahlias, roses, lilies, and mums
Veggies and Berries
Placing picks in Veggies, Pods, and Berries
For another pumpkin centerpiece idea, go to my post Thanksgiving Centerpiece .  
For a totally different look, try making the one below with candles and gourds, ready to go in 30 minutes.

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

Succulent Pumpkin Centerpiece

Using a variety of drieds and succulents you can create an easy centerpiece in minutes
Spraying the pumpkin with a clear lacquer adds a nice finish; I saw this in a restaurant

An easy centerpiece to whip up for your Thanksgiving table using a leftover pumpkin from Halloween can be done in half an hour. Drying flowers all summer long from my garden gave me ample stock to pick from and I had a bumper crop of dried sunflowers to use. The sliced dried oranges were dried in my dehydrator and left over from last year. As to succulents, I have a greenhouse full!

My greenhouse has lots of succulents that I am rooting and over-wintering

 

My stock of dried flowers

The green Jarradale pumpkin was my leftover from Halloween and I hot-glued some green moss on top to start. Continue to glue the largest items on the top around the stem. Here I used mini white pumpkins and dried sunflowers.

Start with your largest items first and hot glue them on top
After the largest items are glued, start with the dried flowers; here I used Cockscomb

Next, hot glue the dried flowers. Using the burgundy cockscomb created a nice contrast with the light colored pumpkins.

Adding sprays of dried Dusty Miller

Continue adding dried flowers to cover the top and sides of the pumpkin. One of my favorite foliage drieds is Dusty Miller (Senecio cineraria). Drying beautifully, it looks almost as good as fresh.

Adding dried oranges gives the pumpkin a dimensional effect

Adding dried blue hydrangea and some flexible metal fern fronds adds to the richness of the design. Be sure to go down the sides of the pumpkin to create a lush look. It is almost finished!

Add the succulents at the end with some quick dry glue (not hot glue)
Pumpkin with succulents

Dried blue salvia and succulents were added at the end and the last finishing touch was a piece of kiwi vine. Don’t hot glue your succulents! They will melt with the high heat. Use a quick drying glue. I use E6000 available at any craft store. Air plants are a great addition also but be sure not to hot glue these either. Fresh plant material doesn’t work well with hot glue.

This creation will last for weeks, even until Christmas. To make it last longer, don’t sit the pumpkin in the sun and the cooler the better for temperature.

For more pumpkin ideas, go to Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall, Pumpkin Treats-Decorating With Succulents, and Succulent Thanksgiving.

 

After picking my own sunflowers from a farm I enjoyed them fresh for a week and then hung them upside down in a dark place to dry
Dried Sunflowers

Tips For Making Your Carved Pumpkins Last

With Halloween around the corner, pumpkin carving skills need to be honed and executed on the most perfect orange sphere that you can find in the pumpkin patch. If orange isn’t your thing, there is a rainbow of colors to choose from. Check out my post on Decorating Pumpkins-Pumpkin Eye Candy.

White pumpkin owl family

If carving a pumpkin is too much trouble for a pumpkin that lasts for about a week, consider decorating your squash with succulents which will last for months.

Green pumpkins look good with succulents
Use drieds along with succulents
Spraying your pumpkin gold adds some glam
Wisps of grass add a good design element to this pumpkin

For how-to on decorating pumpkins with succulents, check out Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.  

Picking the Best

When you are at the farm stand picking out your perfect specimen, be sure to look it over for soft spots and gouges into the outer skin. If either of these are present, your pumpkin will likely rot before you can start decorating it. Poke and prod the pumpkin all over to make sure it is healthy. Have a plan of what you would like to carve as that determines the shape, size and orientation(sideways, upright, upside down) of your final creation. If you want the pumpkin at its best on Halloween, don’t carve it too early. One day ahead or the day of is perfect so that the pumpkin holds up.

This makes a great sideways pumpkin

Picking out from a local market means you won’t get a bruised and battered pumpkin that traveled far from the farmer.

An outdoor work area is preferable as the job can get quite messy. Using brown/butcher paper or a trash bag underneath makes cleanup a snap.

Carefully paring away of the skin adds to the expression of this face

Making Your Creation Last Longer

  1. Make sure you thoroughly clean out and scrape the guts. The cleaner and drier you get with the gooey pumpkin innards, the longer it will last.
  2.  Rinse the entire pumpkin in cold water and dry.
  3. Spray the pumpkin insides with a solution of  1 Tablespoon of peppermint soap or bleach to a quart of cold water. The peppermint soap acts as an anti-fungal and the bleach kills any organisms that lead to rot and decay.
  4. Apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly to the outside to stop the pumpkin from drying out.
  5. Place pumpkin in fridge in a plastic bag to store overnight or place outside in the cold. The colder it is (not freezing!) the longer it will last.
  6. Rehydrate with a spray of water when you take the pumpkin out of the bag.
  7. Don’t use real candles as the heat and melted wax will hasten the demise of your pumpkin.
  8. To last the longest, paint your pumpkin.

For the best tutorial on carving, I use YouTube. 

 

Use a drill to punch holes in your pumpkin for a unique effect
Draw from a template if you want an elaborate design
Attach accessories to make your pumpkin unique

Painted face on the bottom of a pumpkin
Group your pumpkins for a bigger impact
Attach other fruits and veggies with toothpicks
Love the butterflies!!