Once the fall gardening season winds down, grocery stores and garden centres tend to really pull out all the stops for the holidays. You’ll find tables of greenery – pine, cedar, spruce, magnolia, and more! – and other accessories to adorn containers, garlands, wreaths, and other holiday décor. But don’t be afraid to experiment with the diversity of materials you can find in your own yard and garden. You never know what amazing beauty awaits! Here you will find some ideas from Tara, Jessica, Amy, and Niki that will hopefully inspire you to head out to your garden and gather some gorgeous natural materials for your holiday embellishments.
Tara says: I can attribute my love of incorporating nature finds into my decorating to my mom. Growing up, it wasn’t unusual for seashells, driftwood and dried flowers to be artfully displayed among the more typical decorative items, like vases and other knick knacks. I myself love to gather natural things I find in my path, like acorns and stones and sticks.
I find it kind of painful to pay big bucks at the nursery for sticks and branches that I can find in the yard. I’ll usually shell out for items I don’t have, like pine, seeded eucalyptus, and magnolia, fun accessories, or interesting sticks, like curly willow and dogwood. Also, the giant pine cones from B.C. in the main image were $2 apiece at a Christmas market. But the rest I “shop” for in my yard. I also reuse a fallen birch branch that I carried home from a hike a couple of years ago. My garden provides cedar, euonymous, and juniper branches, boughs of colourful red and orange berries and sticks for my containers.
Jessica says: Ok, I’ll admit it. I love going all ‘Martha Stewart’ for the holidays! While I’m certainly no whiz with a cookie sheet and Kitchen Aid mixer, I can rock the handmade decorations with the best of them. For eight years, I worked in a flower shop that designed and made natural decorations for over three dozen houses and businesses every year, so I’m comfortable saying that I got pretty darned good at it. We made hand-woven bay-leaf garlands, handmade swags, and hand-wrapped wreaths. We embellished crystal chandeliers with juniper berries and cedar sprigs. We attached long, loosely twisted layers of bare grapevines across the front eaves of people’s houses and wrapped them in miniature twinkling lights as a beautiful alternative to those ubiquitous “icicle lights.” Every year, we used scores of fresh-cut evergreen boughs, holly sprigs, juniper berries, red twig dogwood branches, dried magnolia leaves, boxwood stems, pinecones, privet berries, rose hips, winterberry stalks, and other natural materials. It was fun to see what we could come up with.
Though I haven’t worked for the shop since my son was born nine years ago, I still utilize many of the materials and techniques I learned about back then when decorating my own house every year. But instead of purchasing what I need, I harvest it from my own backyard. I clip branches from my white pines, cypress, cedars, arborvitae, junipers, boxwood, and firs to build garlands to wrap around the front porch and lay over the fireplace mantle, as well as to make a wreath for my front door. I mix up the “embellishments” for my wreath and garland every year depending on what’s available in the yard. I’ve used dried ornamental grass flowers, viburnum berries, beautyberry branches, pine cones, rhododendron, and mountain laurel leaves, and even dried milkweed pods and branches from a fallen white paper birch.
Niki says: Unlike Jessica, my crafting talents are rather limited, but that doesn’t stop me from trying! I definitely believe in going ‘au naturel’ for the holidays and typically, I dress up our front doorstep with plenty of assorted greenery – spruce, pine, hemlock, false cypress, boxwood, as well as birch and dogwood branches, berries, and whatever other bits I can collect and clip from our garden.
This annual ‘gathering’ has become a family affair, with even the kids taking part (well, at least for the first half hour), as we tramp around the property making piles of our assorted treasures. As I lug back the branches and begin to make garlands and arrange winter containers, they glue and glitter acorns, and bedazzle (is that a word??) pinecones. For the best results and a smooth finish, use fine glitter, not flaky.
Last year, when I expanded my ornamental garden, I based several of my plant choices on their ability to provide me with greenery, branches or berries for our holiday decorating. Here are a few of my favourites:
• ‘Berry Heavy‘ and ‘Berry Nice’ winterberry: Damn, I love native winterberry, which grows in the ditches and swampy areas of my neighbourhood, but for my garden, I went with several improved selections that offer both tidy growth and heavy berry production. Both of these winterberries yield intense red berries that persist into mid-winter, and earn bonus points for their deer resistance. Quick tip – As holly has male and female flowers on different plants, make sure to plant at least one male shrub to provide adequate pollination.
• ‘Arctic Fire’ dogwood: Don’t underestimate the power of a simple branch. From curly willow to chunky birch, the garden provides a selection of twigs for arrangements. In my new border, I included three ‘Arctic Fire’ dogwoods, a winter wonder that grows about five feet tall and wide, and lights up holiday containers with its electric red branches.
• ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood: I’m a sucker for boxwood and I’ve got about a dozen ‘Green Velvet’ plants to supply greenery for homemade wreaths and garlands. As I clip, I carefully thin the plant to allow more light to reach the centre. This results in a huge pile of boxwood clippings for my decorating efforts, and improves the overall health of my plants.
What do you use from your garden in your holiday arrangements?