Decking the halls…and the front door…and the mantle…

Deck the halls!

That’s what we hear as the winter solstice and holidays approach. In Vermont, natural greens, berries and cones are the norm. It’s amazing how expensive these “found” objects can be. One way around this, if you don’t own your own meadows and woodlands is to plant the supplies for upcoming holidays.

Granted, it’s too late for this year, but gardeners are always looking forward. Cast your eyes around and see what is interesting right now in the fields, neighbors’ gardens and roadsides. I’d like to offer some ideas for winter interest for decorating or just viewing from your windows.

For greens, the basis of many decorations, I suggest conifers if you have room for trees. Balsam, pine, spruce, yew, arbor vitae and juniper are a start. Now that hardy boxwoods are more common, these make great fillers for wreaths and arrangements. I have grown some that are developed for our zones called “Green Velvet” and “Green Mountain.” There are others introduced since my purchases. The leaves are not leathery like the Southern boxwoods.

Another personal favorite of mine is Ilex merservae (holly). Although we are on the limits of their growth zone, mine have thrived. In colder micro-climates, give shelter such as close to the house. Male and female plants are needed to produce berries that beautifully accent the deep green leaves. Ilex verticillata, a deciduous native holly, produces bunches of scarlet berries on twigs. You will see these from the car windows as you can’t miss them in the winter landscape.

Another berry is gray and rarer here: Myrica pennsylvanica or bayberry. It is hardy in zones 3-4 and requires no special soil and in fact is forgiving of sand and salt. It rarely needs pruning so should be clipped selectively.
Cornus alba or cornus sericea, red-twigged dogwood, has spiked red branches, but only on its newest wood. Thus it needs pruning every few years to renew the color. These twigs make lovely accents in your decorations as well as in your landscape.

If you are not one to “decorate” by trimming your plants, you may still enjoy the season’s beauty by planting for winter interest. The aforementioned greens, berries and branches are a beginning, but consider grasses left for spring cutting to fill the gaps in the garden. Other seed heads from astilbe, cone flowers, brown-eyed Susan, iris, etc., look nice against a snowy background.

I’d like to emphasize not taking greens from property you do not own. Over the years this has made certain plants that are green in winter very scarce. When purchasing material, ask about its origins. Grow your own to be absolutely sure.

I look forward to seeing the wreaths on entry doors no matter what your tradition for the coming holidays. We need the brightness in the dark midwinter. Happy holidays!