Foraged Outdoor Arrangements

Baby, it is cold outside….
Those popular lyrics say it all. We are warming up inside with a glass of wine and enjoying ourselves. But if you entertain or just bring in the groceries, you need some holiday arrangements to greet your guests or lift your spirits. Here are some ideas on doing outdoor arrangements in your old containers that held overflowing annuals which are now toast. Remove those old plants and transform your pots into something magical and stunning. Add mini lights and you have something incredible to greet your visitors as they drive up to your house and enter.

Light up your arrangements with spotlights
Red twig dogwood branches, fresh eucalyptus, greens, nandina berries, gold tipped arborvitae

Foraging

Forage in your garden and on the roadside and at the local store to pick up some treasures. Shopping at a local Wegman’s, I snatched up some gold painted huge pine cones that were fabulous!! Trader Joe’s is also a great resource, perhaps for Eucalyptus and other treasures, like Winterberry. For my post on foraging on the side of the road, check out Foraged Foliage and Berries for Fall.

Laying out the goods
Some foraged lichen covered branches
I grow this gold tipped arborvitae especially for Christmas decorating
Simple but effective vine ball full of tiny lights on a bed of greens

Choose the Right Plants

Growing the right sort of plants in your garden is the first step. I just planted an evergreen Magnolia tree, Brown’s Bracken, so that I can use the branches in future projects. I have started to trim it sparingly, but it is growing pretty quickly and I intend on trimming more in the near future.

Browns Bracken Magnolia on my property

Using the greens and berries from your own property is very satisfying and you can be sure they are fresh. Contacting my neighbor who has a huge stand of juniperus chinensis that rings around her property produced a tub full of juniper branches. She allows me to cut at will and it is a great blue grey-green for Christmas decorations.  Any blue berries are a bonus.

Juniper berries

Also, I grow red and yellow twig dogwoods and curly willow, just for the branches that I use for drama and height in my containers. All of these are easy to grow  and harvest for your projects. Winterberry in both red and gold are another shrub that is easy to grow and important to add color to arrangements.

Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow twig dogwood along with birch logs and cotton branches add drama to this container
Winter Gold Winterberry growing in the garden
Harvesting the bounty of my trees and shrubs in November; the blue black berries are privet
Harvesting gold Chamaecyparis
Dwarf Thujopsis dolobrata, or commonly known as Hiba Arborvitae is a wonderful addition to fresh green arrangements
Closeup of Thujopsis
My red Winterberry in my garden; ready to be picked
Dried hydrangea flower heads are ready to be picked
Incense cedar drapes over the edge of a container
Dusting of snow frosts the surface of this container

Prince of Evergreens at McLean Nursery

Santa’s workshop at McLean Nursery

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

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

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

Hard at work on a wreath

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

A work area full of trimmings

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

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

Wreath Making Deconstructed

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these "flower" like decorations
Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these “flower” like decorations
Boxwood trees are made by hand

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

Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stand proudly next to a special ordered wreath
Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stands proudly next to a special ordered wreath

Put A Bow On It!

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

Resembling Birch Bark, this ribbon stood out
Variety of ribbons
Variety of ribbons ready to be made into bows
I call this "Winterberry" ribbon. I love the red and white contrast.
I call this “Winterberry” ribbon with the red and white contrast
The plaid ribbon give this wreath a down home look
Plaid ribbon gives this wreath an elegant down home look

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

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

Foraged Winter Greens for Seasonal Outdoor Arrangements

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

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

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

Winter Gold winterberry holly at McLean Nurseries

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

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

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

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

Make it Simple Directions

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Outdoor Seasonal Containers

Simple Fall container with nandina berries and foliage, orange-tinged fothergillia, and hydrangea blossoms

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

Segue into the holiday season with beautiful fall/winter containers using “yard” material. As a landscape designer, my first consideration in planting any tree or shrub is – Can I use it in my seasonal containers? Yellow, red, orange twig dogwoods, evergreens with variegated foliage, magnolias, winterberry, red-berried viburnums, interesting evergreens like cedar and thujopsis, and ruby rose hips, are planted on my property with one motive in mind; Are they useful in arrangements inside and outside?

Make it Simple Directions

Keep the old soil in place and cut off at soil line old plants, and you have an instant 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.

Start with a full pot of soil

 

Use an inexpensive wreath on top of the container to cover your edges

Using a preformed wreath will save you some steps in the process of creating an outdoor arrangement. In the above example, I used a 15″ diameter pot topped with a 18″ diameter wreath. You have instant soil coverage and a beautiful base to start with.

Insert your thriller sticks or uprights in the center of the wreath. Here I used yellow twig dogwood, one of my favorites.

Start inserting your largest leaves first. In this case, I use Brown’s Bracken Magnolia with a lovely brown felted reverse. Insert your branches directly through the base wreath.

Add other contrasting foliage, some feathery white pine and yellow tinged false cypress to pick up the yellow twigs. Chunky birch logs and orange winter berry sticks are added last for color. I placed an over-sized Christmas ball in the container but ultimately decided to not use it. Finish it off with a gold three-layered bow.

Layering ribbon makes a lush bow

More Options

Lots of Magnolia paired with gold lotus
The addition of fall tinged Oakleaf Hydrangea adds a lot to this arrrangement
I left a growing variegated ivy here which will last all year long
Red rose hips shine in the sunlight
Here I used some red dyed eucalyptus

Created and photographed by Amy Sparwasser

Holly Love-The Art of Wreath Making at McLean Nursery

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

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

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

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

A peach colored deciduous holly
A peach colored deciduous holly

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

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

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

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

Wreath Making Process

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

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

Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine 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