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Christmas From The Garden

Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore & Linda Christine

We met Gigi Huckabee in the November/December GardenSmart newsletter, “In the Dirt.” In that article, Gigi talked about the different shrubs she grows in her garden, which she clips for indoor Christmas decorating. Linda Christine is also a Master Gardener who uses flowers and greenery from her garden year round to create beautiful floral arrangements for friends and family affairs.

Gigi says, “You need to think in terms of when to decorate. My advice would be, if you want to use live greens, to start with your outside decorating. The killer of fresh greenery is the heat in the house.” Two weeks before Christmas is the right time to bring outside greenery indoors for decorating.

“Pick in early morning or late evening. Condition your material by putting it in your bathtub, or a big plastic bin, and soaking it.” Gigi says to use tepid water, not ice-cold water, and lay the material down in it. Let it soak overnight so it hydrates through and through. Soaked material layered into a display will last about two weeks. “If you want to do an arrangement in water, that will usually hold up for about three weeks.”

“When you go to cut your greenery cut about a third more than you think you will need,” Gigi says, because when you get working you don’t want to have to quit and wait while more material conditions in water.
A trick to use when you don’t have a bunch of natural materials, or you want that extra lush, full designer look, is to use artificial arrangements or swags as bases and then fill in with natural materials from the yard. “The artificial layer keeps the whole arrangement from looking skimpy.” Whenever you do a mantel or a table arrangement down the center of your table, Gigi says, “You need to layer. You have different materials that you use differently depending on their own characteristics as to how you use them.” Leyland cypress is a good bottom layer, it lies flat, “and is a wonderful plant to put inside,” Gigi says.

Then you can layer Southern magnolia leaves on top, along with arborvitae, variegated pittosporum, holly, Florida anise, and variegated bush ivy. She adds the bush ivy toward the last. “I don’t put it in water, it lasts without,” Gigi said. Tuck boxwood sprigs into any spots that need filler. “I use American box,” Gigi said. “Boxwood is just great. Even when it’s dry, it stays in place. It doesn’t shed on you.”

Gigi’s Christmas arrangements are different every year. This year her mantel is packed with nuts and pinecones, which almost totally cover the greenery base. Dried oakleaf hydrangea blossoms and the white berries of the popcorn tree (Sapium sebiferum) are tucked in here and there along the length of the display. Gigi uses French horns on the mantel and in the wreath.

The popcorn tree, also known as Chinese tallow, berries are a Southern traditional decoration, probably because they are plentiful this time of year. It is a very invasive species and should not be planted. Gigi collects the berries from escaped trees on the roadside.

The artificial wreath is dressed up with bundles of dried flowers, garlic blossoms, yarrow flower heads, and Formosa lily seedpods and that most Southern of all for accent, cotton bolls.

Greenery that isn’t housebroken, that sheds and dries out too quickly in the house, is used outdoors as window ledge displays and door swags.  Gigi uses Southern cedar and white pine outdoors. “I use the white pine on the outside because pine tends to bleed sap and it tends to shed a lot. It smells wonderful but does shed easily in the heat (indoors).”

Linda Christine, gardener, Master Gardener, and artistic crafty person lives in Aiken, South Carolina in a garden jam-packed with evergreens and flowers. Linda, like Gigi, uses her garden as a source for her beautiful floral arrangements. At Christmas time, flowers aren’t even needed in the lovely arrangement done up in a thrift store coffee mug. Linda purchases the mugs as she finds them and saves them for Christmas. This year she has made twelve of these table arrangements for her area’s Master Gardener Christmas dinner.

Notice how Linda has used contrasting foliage and shades of green, as well as variegation, and builds her arrangement from flat to full in the cup, just as you would on a table or mantel. She collects holly, boxwood, variegated pittosporum, leafy azalea stems, variegated Leyland cypress (x Cupressocyparis leylandii ‘Silver Dust’), and variegated holly tea olive (Osmanthus heterophyllus 'Variegatus'). She then uses three red twig dogwood sticks, lightly sprayed with paint, to give the arrangement height without weight.

Decorate small in a cup or go large on a mantel. When you apply the tricks from these masters, it’s easy to achieve a natural look in your indoor rooms.

Gigi Huckabee is a Master Gardener and a freelance magazine writer living and gardening in Lexington, South Carolina. Gigi and husband Eddy’s circa 1800 decorated home and their garden has been featured in many regional magazines.

Linda Christine is a Master Gardener who lives and gardens in Aiken, South Carolina. Linda and her husband Sam’s garden has been featured in numerous local and nationwide magazines.

Posted December 14, 2012

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