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

 

Winterthur’s Dried Flower Christmas Tree

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur

A tour of Henry Francis du Pont’s former extraordinary home was my destination this year to enjoy holiday style decorations. An eighteen room dollhouse, fully decorated with Christmas treasures and other handmade pieces was one of the draws for me. Another was the large fir in the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of multi hued dried flowers that looked as fresh as if just picked. The iconic ‘Dried Flower Tree” is a tradition for Winterthur and people are amazed when they see it.

Dried rose and statice on the tree looked fresh
Dried rose, Chinese Lantern, and Statice on the tree looked fresh

Arrangements are placed throughout the house all year-long with fresh flowers, and after they have done their duty in the floral designs, the flowers are taken to the basement of a cottage on the property and dried in the room dubbed “The drying room”. Serving double duty, these flowers once arranged on the tree creates a multi hued rainbow effect that is stunning.

A single rose hangs from the tree
A single rose hangs from the tree, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For the actual process of decorating this tree, which started in 1986, look at the video.

Most of the flowers are picked on Winterthur’s property throughout the year and either air-dried or dried with silica gel, a  crystalline dessicant. Starting in March/April with the daffodil, any flower that can be dried is used for that purpose.

Some of the dried flowers used
Some of the dried flowers used

Everything is then packed into a fumigant tent for three weeks, starting in early October, to kill any pests. In late October, the flowers are brought out and organized by color into long boxes. Starting with the topper, the staff works all around the tree, bunching many of the flowers for a bigger impact. Special flowers like peonies and roses are placed singly on the branches, wired for stability.

Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Dried peony
Dried peony

Queen Anne’s Lace, peonies, daffodils, and zinnias are dried for ten days with silica gel as these don’t dry well with air drying. Others like larkspur, yarrow, billy balls, safflower, cockscomb, money plant, hydrangea, and Chinese lantern are air-dried in a dark place for about a week and then are packed away until ready to be used.

Grasses are also used
Grasses are also used
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For hours and more information about Winterthur, go to Yuletide at Winterthur. Next post will be on the miniature Christmas decorations in the dollhouse at Winterthur.

Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur. picture by Amy Sparwasser

A Colonial Christmas Tryon Palace

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 38th year. Decorations were inspired by the 12 Days of Christmas, historic characters in period clothing were present, and holiday vignettes spanning across three centuries were shown. For a schedule, go to Tryon Palace’s website.

Definitely Tryon Palace warrants a visit just to see the fabulous gardens, that look good even in December.  For another reason to visit, when I stopped by on a hot, hot, day this summer, the docents were conducting ‘Outlander Tours’. The site where Governor Martin held Claire hostage, the Palace is a destination for ‘Outlander’ fans.

Tryon Palace conducted Outlander tours of the Palace
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.

Christmas at Longwood Gardens

Photo by Laura Jones
Fountains against background of lights is magical
Fountains against background of lights is magical, photo by Longwood staff

Christmas at Longwood Gardens

A family tradition for many years, visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, is a feast for the senses. Colorful lights, pine scented greens and paper white floral fragrance, and pipe organ music escaping from the organ room, surround you as you enter the conservatories under glass.  

Shimmering with icicles
Shimmering with icicles


Conservatories

The Conservatories are decked out with traditional Christmas flowers, like Poinsettias and Paper Whites, but non-traditional ones, like tropicals, succulents, and air plants are used throughout. There was even a Tumble Weed Tree! Suspended Christmas trees were a conversation piece (how do they water them? answer-with long poles!) and a quick look in at the original pipe organ which was being played on beautifully, was all part of our Conservatory experience.

A master was playing on the Pipe Organ
Installing the air plant Christmas tree, photo by Longwood staff
Installing the air plant Christmas tree, photo by Longwood staff
Air Plant trees
Air Plant Christmas Trees 
Hop tree
Hop tree
Tumbleweed Tree
Tumbleweed tree
Dripping light chandeliers
Dripping light chandeliers
Ginger Tropical Tree
Ginger tree
Tropical tree with Beehive Ginger, Protea, and Birds of Paradise
Suspended Christmas Trees
Suspended Christmas Trees

Winterberries were everywhere in the Conservatories
Winterberries were everywhere in the Conservatories

 

 

 

 

Music Room

By far my favorite rendering of the ‘Spirit of Christmas’ was the Music Room at Longwood, completed by artist Danielle and Lee Vincent. Their Etsy shop is PreMadeReMade.

Danielle Vincent making her creations
Danielle Vincent making her creations

An ingenious depiction of the Christmas theme using creative book and paper embellishments with old books from library and flea market sales was captivating! Folded book art, cut paper ornaments, paper sculptures, using creased (no glue!) paper were everywhere. Trees. wreaths, garland, and ornaments were folded, cut, and embellished to carry out the theme.  Taking up to 5 days to complete just one book, this imaginative display caught my interest for a long time as I examined how they masterfully re imagined a library concept for the holidays.  

Book tree
Book tree, photo from Longwood staff
Music room folded books
Music room folded books

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Lights, Camera, Action!

Photo by Laura Jones

The expansion of lighted areas in tree houses, meadow, and fountains, gets you outdoors to explore the grounds.  

Bird House tree, photo by Laura Jones
 
Tree House lit up, photo from Longwood Gardens staff
Outdoor tree, photo by Longwood staff

The meadow especially was other worldly with lighted orbs that changed colors. Walking on a raised boardwalk made this one of the best experiences outdoors.

Boardwalk through lighted orbs
Boardwalk through lighted orbs

 

Outdoor orbs lit up and changed colors, photo by Laura Jones
Outdoor orbs lit up and changed colors, photo by Laura Jones

 

 

Trunks of tree were lit up
Trunks of tree were lit up
Refllections of water added to the light show
Reflections of water added to the light show

A few facts about the displays:

-More than 150 cut trees throughout the indoor display

– 32 miles of lights

– More than 100 outdoor trees lit

– 100 % LED lighting

– Three firepits outdoors

– Fountain shows daily in the Open Air Theater set to holiday music

-Over 3000 Poinsettias used in the displays

To get your timed tickets, go to Longwood Gardens up until January 6, 2019. And for tips on visiting, go to Ten Tips for a Day at Longwood Gardens.

 



 

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.

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

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

Succulent Thanksgiving

Decorating for the fall season is always top of my list of feel good things to do. The variety and colors of pumpkins and gourds that are outside of the normal fall color range is exciting to arrange with. Also, succulents that have grown like crazy all summer need to be pruned, brought in to warmer temperatures, and are a perfect partner for fall arranging.

Hanging baskets of succulents ready for taking cuttings and prunings

Succulents come in an array of sizes and shapes

 

With my Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas post getting tons of views all year long, succulents are maintaining their popularity and usefulness in all kinds of ways. Pumpkin decorating with succulents has reached mainstream audiences and many decorators are using these for their table centerpieces. Go to Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats to see the variety of things that you can do with the combination of pumpkins and succulents for a long lasting table and unique arrangement.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents

Top of pumpkin covered with succulents

Succulents on pumpkin

Picking up an old fashioned wicker cornucopia on my travels inspired me to decorate it with the succulent/pumpkin/gourd idea.

The larger one which measures about 18″ long works better with large gourds and succulents; the smaller cornucopia which measures about 12″ long works with tiny pumpkins and hen and chick succulents

Place bubble wrap in the cornucopia and gather your materials.

Placing some bubble wrap in the cornucopia to support the arrangement was the first step and then gathering my materials. I used fresh/dried gourds, dried pomegranates, air plants, cotton bolls, okra pods, oyster shells, and lots of succulent cuttings. The cuttings will last a long time through Thanksgiving and then I will recycle them into pots to root for next years succulents. Adding dried ornamental corn and baby pumpkins to the mix completes the display. No glue or oasis was used, I just inserted the materials into the bubble wrap.

Place your largest items in first; in this case, the gourds

Add your succulents, pomegranates, and other pods

This cornucopia is a little different the addition of oyster shells; See my post on a Williamsburg Christmas

Other Succulent Ideas

Here are some other succulent Thanksgiving ideas for centerpieces.

Top of a large pumpkin had small pumpkins attached

Houseplant succulent candle centerpiece

Pumpkins, succulents, and air plants on a side board

Table setting of pumpkins and succulents

Succulents and Pumpkins as a table setting