Illuminating The Season in Colonial Williamsburg

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

Ah… a Williamsburg Christmas!

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

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Governors Palace at night

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

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

Contemporary Tradition

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

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

Decoration Birthplace-Au Naturel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Contests

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

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

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

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Entrance to Governors Palace
Festive entrance to Governors Palace

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

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

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

Pineapple Motif

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

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

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

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

All pictures are courtesy of Amy Sparwasser.

Decorating the White House- Past and Present

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I decorated the Blue Room Christmas tree in 2015; the garland had messages  inscribed to members of the armed forces from their family
The Blue Room tree had sayings from the Constitution on the garland, picture from Linda Foley Vodney
The Blue Room tree in 2016 had a “We The People” theme on the garland, picture from Linda Vodney

Volunteering at the White House for Christmas is a bucket list item for many people, and I have posted on this blog about how to apply and the best way to get accepted at Decorating the White House 2015. I have participated twice, in 2011 and 2015, and to my delight discovered others have applied after reading about my experiences and been accepted.

Mandy Barkley did all the mantels of the White House this year
Mandy Barkley did all the mantels of the White House this year, picture from Mandy Barkley
Linda Foley Vodney was accepted after reading how to apply from my blog
Linda Vodney was accepted in 2016 after reading how to apply from my blog, picture from Linda Vodney
Gold and silver tree in Cross Hall, picture Linda Foley Vodney
Gold/silver tree in Cross Hall 2016, picture Linda Vodney

How to Apply to The White House

Work on the White House decorations starts at least six months in advance by designers at Rafanelli Events and consulting with Michelle Obama via sketches and concepts for each room. During the preceding summer volunteers can apply online from April to August to decorate the White House by going to WhiteHouse.gov. Learning if you make the cut in October, there are about 85 to 90 people across the country selected to take part. Explaining why you want to volunteer in a short essay and sending pictures of your work are requirements on the application.

Waiting in line with other volunteers for the reception
Waiting in line with other volunteers for the reception in 2015
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I am posing on the left with other volunteers in 2015

As a volunteer you do not receive any compensation and you pay your hotel, transportation, and most meal costs for a week after Thanksgiving, 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!

Michelle Obama greets and thanks all the volunteers at the volunteer recepetion
Michelle Obama greets and thanks all the volunteers at the volunteer reception in 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

I have applied every year since 2010, and been accepted twice in that time and each time I decorated has been different. It seems that each year, the decorations get glittzier and more elaborate. But I see many ornaments and props being reused and only ten percent are new this year. Even re-purposed things like the snowmen that sat outside in 2015 are lining the Lower Cross Hall this year.

Snowmen that were placed in the Kennedy Garden outside are inside this year
Snowmen that were placed in the Kennedy Garden in 2015 outside are inside this year

Green Room mantel done by Mandy Barkley, picture by Mandy Barkley
Green Room mantel done by Mandy Barkley in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley

Since I was not accepted this year, some of my pictures are from Mandy Barkley who worked at The White House last year and did all the mantels this year, and Linda Vodney who was accepted for the first time and decorated the Cross Hall of the White House this year.

Cross Hall tree
Cross Hall tree 2016, picture from Linda Vodney
Cross Hall tree in 2015
Cross Hall tree in 2015

For a great article and more pictures of this last Christmas for the Obamas, themed “The Gift of the Holidays”, go to Daily Mail.

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Vermeil Room in 2011

The mantel below in the Vermeil Room, which has seven First Lady portraits on the soft yellow walls and features a collection of “vermeil”, which are gilded silver items or “dipped in gold”, glows with pinks and yellows and a ballerina theme. The colors complement the beauty of the Jacqueline Kennedy and Lady Bird Johnson portraits that are among the First Lady’s portraits in the room.

The Vermeil Room with Lady Bird Johnson portrait was decorated with a teddy bear theme in 2015
The Vermeil Room with Lady Bird Johnson portrait was decorated with a teddy bear theme in 2015

 

A mantel decorated by Mandy Barker in the Vermeil Room
A mantel decorated by Mandy Barker in the Vermeil Room in 2016, picture from Mandy Barkley
Close up of the mantle of the Vermeil room
Close up of the mantel of the Vermeil room in 2016, picture from Mandy Barkley

Volunteers with a love of decorating are accepted every year, but it helps if you have floral/interior design experience or people-centered work, like volunteering, teaching or nursing. I have worked with lots of people at the White House who were teachers or people in the education field and Gold Star mothers. Regardless, you work with a cross-section of people from all walks of life and all age ranges.

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The Gold Star tree was hung with mementos in 2011
 I was in charge of a team that made these cedar gold stars that hung in the East Wing in 2011

I was in charge of a team that made a dozen cedar gold stars that hung in the East Wing in 2011

A Little History

Working in the White House which is a “living museum”, is so interesting that you realize the tremendous stories and history of the place. Just glancing around, you are surrounded by hints of what took place in the past. When I spotted the gorgeous full length portrait of Grace Coolidge, I was intrigued and was 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!

Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie, Rob Roy
Grace Coolidge with her beloved white collie, Rob Roy in the China Room painted by the famous illustrator of the era, Howard Chandler Christy

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!

Gingerbread House

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.

Gingerbread house 2016, picture from Linda Foley Vodney
Gingerbread house 2016, picture from Linda Vodney

The gingerbread house in 2015 was again modeled after the White House and designed by Executive Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, and made with 250 pounds of gingerbread, 150 pounds of chocolate and another 75 pounds of sugar and gum paste. Covered with dark chocolate, this whopper weighed in at almost 500 pounds! This 2016 season’s house, created also by Pastry Chef Susan Morrison, is made of 150 pounds of gingerbread, 100 pounds of bread dough, 20 pounds of gum paste, 20 pounds of icing, and 20 pounds of sculpted sugar pieces.

Gingerbread house in 2015
Gingerbread house in 2015
Detail of the gum paste nutcracker on gingerbread house
Detail of the gum paste nutcracker on gingerbread house

This year’s theme, ‘The Gift of the Holidays,’ was chosen to reflect the joy of giving and receiving, along with such gifts as service, friends, family, education and good health. For the official White House tour book for an explanation of each decorated room, go to 2016 White House Tourbook which everyone gets a copy of when touring the White House.

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I decorated the Red Room in 2011
Closeup of the Rded Room mantel in 2016 done by Mandy Barkley
Closeup of the Red Room mantel in 2016 done by Mandy Barkley, picture by Mandy Barkley
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East Room mantel decorated with a giant ferris wheel in 2016, picture by Mandy Barkley
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East Room mantel decorated in 2015 with reindeer
I help create these gardens in the East Room that had moss, hellebores, and boulders
I help create these gardens in the East Room that had moss, white hellebores, and boulders in 2011
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A pom pom Bo greeted people as they entered the East Wing in 2011
This Bo in 2011 was made out of trash bags!
Bo in the Library in 2011 was made out of trash bags!
Lego houses decorated the trees in the Dining Room
Gingerbread houses decorated the trees in the Dining Room representing the 50 states and 6 territories in 2016, picture by Linda Vodney

Volunteer Reception

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Giant nutcracker at the volunteer reception in 2016, picture by Linda Vodney
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, Michelle Obama. Allowed to bring one person with you to see the “big reveal”, which is the culmination of all the decorators hard work in its full glory at night is a huge treat.

Invitation to the volunteer reception
Invitation to the volunteer reception
the volunteer reception in 2015
Volunteer reception in 2015
The variety of iced cookies is staggering!
The variety of iced cookies is staggering!
Cheese tray at reception in 2015
Cheese tray at reception in 2015
I am in front of the Blue Room tree with my daughter which took 3 days to decorate in 2015
I am in front of the Blue Room tree with my daughter which took 3 days to decorate in 2015
The East Colonnade was decorated with snowflakes from all 5o states and 6 Pretecorates
The East Colonnade in 2015 was decorated with snowflakes from all 50 states and 6 territories to create a winter wonderland
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Group picture of all the volunteers in 2015

Next year I will apply again with the new administration. It will be interesting to see what happens!

Holly Love-The Art of Wreath Making at McLean Nursery

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

Decking the halls with boughs of holly is a Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, rooted in Pagan times and plays a pivotal role in Christianity. The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore at his crucifixion and the berries are the drops of blood shed by Jesus. Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland and England used holly extensively, decorating their homes throughout the Winter Solstice, and Druids thought hollies had mystical powers. Seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune, holly was often planted near homes for this reason. McLean Nurseries in Parkville, Maryland has a plethora of different varieties of holly planted around the property, so they must have only good luck there!

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

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

A peach colored deciduous holly
A peach colored deciduous holly

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

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

Propagating cuttings in cold frames, many thousands of hollies are grown and sold every year at McLean. The busiest time of year at McLean is Christmas, with the business of decorating hundreds of Balsam Fir wreaths for the public and churches. Visiting McLean recently to see the beautifully designed wreaths that will end up far and wide in the Baltimore area, I love to see the varieties of holly and greens that create a Tapestry of Holly. A great nursery that keeps a low profile, McLean has introduced many new cultivars to the trade that are widely used today and have attained ‘Holly of the Year’ status.

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

Wreath Making Process

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

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

Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine which attaches a metal pin around a flower stem making it easier to insert into the balsam fir base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.

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

 

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

Wreaths are all hand crafted and range in size from 14″ to a huge wreath that can measure 36″ in size for large areas. Green holly, variegated holly, winterberries, incense cedar, blue-berried juniper, magnolia, andromeda, boxwood, and false cypress are inserted using picks. Next pine cones, fruits, and other pods are added. Space for a gorgeous bow is left on the wreath, with the bow wired on as the final touch.

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

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

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

Ribbon

Ribbon is like icing on the cake. Wired, wide ribbon with big loopy bows and lavish tails is essential to make a wreath stand out from the crowd. Red is a favorite, but gold is right up there in popularity.

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

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

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

Deck the Halls-Homemade Decorating for the Holidays

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

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

Mantels and Living Spaces

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

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

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

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

Miniature House & Gardens

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

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Christmas miniature garden

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

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

Succulents

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

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

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

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 Outdoor Fresh Arrangements

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

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

Indoor Arrangements

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Succulent Pumpkins for the Fall

Finished succulent pumpkin
Finished succulent pumpkin with pods and drieds
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Finished peanut pumpkin with succulents and fresh flowers

A Natural Fit-Pumpkins & Succulents

Pumpkins and succulents-a happy pairing! With some glue, moss, succulent cuttings, and an interesting pumpkin, you can create porch decor or a great centerpiece in minutes. These last for months too. And if you have any extra flowers available, you can stick them in to get a quick color burst for a party or event.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents
Pumpkin decorated with succulents, step by step

Material List

  • A pumpkin or large gourd

  • Sheet moss or sphagnum moss

  • Assorted cuttings of succulents- I was moving most of my succulents indoors to beat the frost, and this gave me the opportunity to trim the growth back. I simply nipped pieces of succulent tips from living plants, trying to vary colors, shapes, and textures

  • Assorted pods, i.e. pine cones, okra pods, lotus pods, milk weed pods, and berries. For one of my examples, I used nandina berries and foliage which dries quite nicely, and okra pods

  • Fresh Flowers for a quick change of color

  • Tacky glue or glue gun

  • Spritzer for moistening moss

  • Berries, pods, and foliage to add to the pumpkin
    Berries, pods, and foliage to add to the pumpkin

    Step By Step

  1. Find a wide topped pumpkin and cut the stem off; I used “Cinderella” variety which has a grayish orange color, deep pleats, and  a wide roomy top. For my other example, I used a “peanut pumpkin”(see note below). I think a white or green pumpkin would look fabulous. Also, gourds would be funky too.

  2. Glue moss on top about 1/2 inch thick with a glue gun or tacky glue.

  3. Arrange your succulent cuttings to form a pleasing arranging, making sure that you use the larger chunkier pieces first, and using long pieces to trail around the edges. Stick the stems into the moss with glue so that they adhere. A hot glue gun works best for this.

  4. Add berries, pods, or anything else that goes with the fall theme, gluing in place.

  5. Spritz the moss so that it is moist.

Peanut Pumpkin

Peanut pumpkin (Cucurbita maxima ‘Galeux d’Eysine’) is an heirloom pumpkin known for its distinctive peanut-like growths adorning the exterior of its pink hued rind. The “peanuts” are actually a buildup of excess sugar in the flesh of the pumpkin giving it its unique texture. Those warty protuberances tell you the flesh is extra sweet for making pies and other dishes.  See some other varieties of pumpkins at Pumpkin Eye Candy.

Peanut pumpkin
Peanut pumpkin

Maintenance

It is best to keep the pumpkin outside in the chilly weather when you don’t want to show it off. I keep the decorated pumpkin out during the week on my front porch under cover, and bring it in on the weekends when we are around the house more. Pumpkins need cold weather to stay firm through the season. A warm house will speed up the inevitable decomposition and I want mine to last through Thanksgiving. Sometimes the succulent cuttings even root in the moss and you have more succulents to pot up.

Spritzing the pumpkin
Spritzing the pumpkin
Succulent pumpkin without the berries and pods
Succulent pumpkin without the berries and pods

More Centerpiece Ideas

For more centerpiece ideas, go to Centerpiece Ideas for Thanksgiving.

Decorated with fresh flowers
Decorated with fresh flowers
Gourd decorated with drieds
Gourd decorated with drieds

Dried Flowers 101

After each growing season in my garden, I assess what I grew, making up a wish list of new things to grow for next year. Planning what new varieties to try is half the fun of gardening! But this time I am going back to growing some old varieties that have fallen out of fashion that I haven’t grown for years, and these include everlastings or dried flowers.

Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon
Steely blue Sea Hollies come in all sizes; these seen in Oregon
A larger variety of Sea Holly
A larger variety of Sea Holly

Air drying flowers or everlastings is simple and a great way to preserve your flower harvest for months to come. Knowing the correct varieties that dry well is key to successfully drying your blooms. I have dried flowers on and off for years; this was in vogue in the 70’s and 80’s and I have noticed a resurgence of interest, but people aren’t sure about which flowers are suitable.

A small colorful dried arrangement
A small colorful dried arrangement

After a recent visit to Priorwood Gardens in Scotland which is known for their dried flower culture and gardens, I was inspired to try this old craft again. Priorwood is a specialist center for the craft of dried flower arranging and has a dedicated drying room.

Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has dried flowers from their gardens for centuries
Priorwood Gardens in Scotland has had dried flowers from their gardens for centuries

A delightful historic walled garden in the Scottish Borders in Melrose, Priorwood is a rustic walled garden where the plants grown are selected for their suitability for drying.  Maintained by the National Trust for Scotland, Priorwood is a delight to visit to learn about drying varieties and methods.

The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds
The shop at Priorwood Gardens is decorated with drieds
Priorwood Gardens entrance
Priorwood Gardens entrance

Brimming with old-fashioned flowers such as Strawflowers, Teasels, Cardoon, Ammobium, Statice, Love in a Mist, Pearly Everlasting, and Yarrow, I walked the pathways identifying the ones that I recognized.

A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens
A large swath of white Pearly Everlasting at Priorwood Gardens
Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink
Yarrow is an outstanding dried flower; the rose color will fade to a light pink

If you are an Outlander fan, I visited Claire’s herb garden in Culross, Scotland where many drieds and herbs are grown also. In the Outlander show Claire walks the pathways gathering medicinal herbs for preserving in her medical practice in 18th century Scotland. Most flowers are fleeting but preserving them by drying extends the beauty and usefulness of them.

Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire's Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown
Culross Palace in Scotland is the location of Claire’s Outlander herb garden; here Teasels are shown
Claire's Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways
Claire’s Outlander herb garden is neatly divided by gravel pathways
Culross Palace gardens where scenes from Outlander were filmed
Culross Palace gardens
Rose Hips dry beautifully
Rose Hips dry beautifully
Poppy seed heads dry nicely
Poppy seed heads dry perfectly

 

Dried flower arrangements last for months
Dried flower arrangements last for months

Steps to Perfect Dried Flowers

  1. Choose flowers that are not completely open as they will continue to open through the drying process.

  2. Cut flowers in the morning, after the dew has dried using sharp sheers.

  3. Strip off all foliage.

  4. Group flowers into small bundles and gather together with rubber bands. This allows the rubber band to contract and not lose its grip as the stems shrink.

  5. Hang upside down in a cool, dark, dry, indoor spot where air can circulate.

  6. When flowers are done drying, they will feel dry and stiff to the touch. This may take several days or several weeks, depending on conditions and the type of flowers.

    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry
    Hanging bunches of flower upside down to dry
    Claire's Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown
    Claire’s Outlander garden in Culross, Scotland, where many herbs and dried flowers are grown
    Strawflower
    Strawflower
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    Strawflower
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    Strawflower

     

    Everlastings to grow for drying

    • Sea Holly(Eryngium ) – perennial

    • Winged Everlasting (Ammobium alatum) – annual

    • Chinese Lantern (Physalis alkekengi) – perennial (seed pods)

    • Artemesia – perennial

    • Hydrangea- perennial

    • Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata) – annual or perennial

    • Sweet Annie (Artemesia annua) – perennial

    • Cockscomb (Celosia cristata) – annual

    • Bells-Of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis) – annual

    • Love in a Mist (Nigella damascena) – annual (primarily the seed pods)

    • Money Plant or Honesty (Lunaria annua) – biennial

    • Yarrow(Achillea spp.) – perennial – perennial

    • Strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum) – annual

    • Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) – annual; go to Plant Geek Alert

    • Statice(Limonium spp.) – perennial and annual

    • Bachelor’s Buttons or Cornflower (Centaurea cyanus) – annual

    • Lavender (Lavandula spp.) – perennial

    • Roses (Rosa spp.) – perennial/shrub, flowers and hips (fruit)

    • Peony-perennial

    • Tansy-perennial

      Bachelors buttons
      Bachelors Buttons

      nigella
      Nigella or Love in the mist is grown for its seed pods

      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany
      Statice for sale at Farmers market in Germany
Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks
Ammobium is a wonderful dried, easy to grow, and dries exactly as it looks
Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age
Tansy flowers are button like orbs that have brown edges as they age
Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone
Wait until hydrangea blooms turn leathery to the touch and then put them into a vase of water and keep there until all the water is gone
Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry
Bunch up your lavender bundles with rubber bands and hang to dry

Spring Floating Beauties

This is an updated post on fall floating gardens, Floating Beauties, with spring arrangements.

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Visiting Chanticleer Gardens in Wayne, PA, I have always been entranced with their wonderful floating arrangements made out of fresh seasonal materials displayed in a generous proportioned bowl. Easy to put together, even for the flower arranging challenged, there are no mechanics involved, just an eye for what goes together.

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Ferns, Peonies, Blue Bachelor Buttons, Geum, Japanese Maple

After flower arranging you often have bits and pieces left over which you hate to throw away. An opportunity to use these pieces in a stunning arrangement is easy to do with a large waterproof bowl. Lasting four or five days, these floating beauties can be changed out for what is perfect at the moment.

This arrangement can make a big statement on a patio
This arrangement can make a big statement on a patio
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Grouped containers at Chanticleer

How To

  • Pick out the perfect wide bowl; fill 3/4 up with fresh water

Pick a low wide bowl, even though this bowl has a beautiful pattern, you won't see it when the flowers are floating
Pick a low wide bowl. A swirling pattern makes it interesting
  • Browse your garden, picking up a variety of foliage, berries, and flowers-or just use left over flowers from arranging

  • Start arranging your foliage as the backdrop. Add your larger statement flowers at the end.

    B
    Bleeding Heart motif in a cobalt rimmed bowl pops
Cafe au Lait Dahlia
Fall arrangement with Cafe au Lait Dahlia, Japanese maple, Hydrangea, Viburnum berries fall foliage

A perfect centerpiece for a party or for you alone to enjoy, this type of arrangement takes minutes to make, for you to enjoy for at least a week.

floating
Yellow Mums, Green Button Mums,, Alstromeria
Gerber, Rhododendron, Asparagus Fern, with glass balls
Gerber, Rhododendron, Asparagus Fern, with glass balls