Sunday, November 20, 2011

Around the Garden

The sere season is finally here, even though the temperature is, confusingly, nearly 70 degrees as I write this. The only green I see as I look out my living room window is on a distant spruce tree.

That’s the signal to begin foraging for greenery to decorate the front door, the entry-way, the mantle-piece – wherever signs of life will bring cheer to your home.

Last Thursday, the Middletown Garden Club hosted designer Carol King Platt, who conjured up lavish Thanksgiving decorations from a small collection of cut flowers, eked out with luxuriant greenery garnered from garden and woods.

In less than an hour and a half, Carol whipped up a wreath, a

centerpiece or two, a fireside basket, a Victorian bell jar, and a huge mass arrangement that might fill an unused fireplace or provide a welcome on one’s front steps. (Maria Madsen Holzberg, who auctioned off the arrangements, appears in some of the photos with Carol.)

Thinking that I might do a couple of these for Thanksgivingand Christmas, I performed a little inventory of my green assets. The first surprise was that my ‘P.J.M.’ rhododendron, whose glossy burgundy foliage I normally use as an accent, is beginning to bloom again, for the third time this year.

Here’s what I found in a short walk: witch hazel and pieris (also known as Japanese Andromeda), both in bloom, oak-leaf hydrangea, staghorn sumac, boxwood, scarlet blueberry leaves, evergreen rhodies and azaleas, variegated English ivy, and a few rose hips.

What I didn’t find, but will be on the look-out for, is a good array of needled evergreens. My hemlocks are useless, Carol told us, because they drop their needles way too soon. Spruces are painfully sharp, and can lead to rashes. Yews, firs, false-cypress and juniper are all good bets for centerpieces or wreath-making. English ivy, especially with its blue-gray berries, really perks up a monochrome wreath.

Carol’s practical tips include hunting for interesting bowls and baskets at Goodwill or other recyclers. Some, such as the Revere bowl she used, even come with glass liners.

If you flinch at the thought of using invasive plants such as bittersweet berries, or multiflora rose hips, you can often find silk or wax versions of them that hold up for several years. A few branches of winterberry (Ilex verticillata) make a great substitute for bittersweet.

Instead of using potting soil for outdoor arrangements, consider using a big block of wet Oasis, which will hold your greens through freezes and thaws.

And, if you’re a good hoarder, you probably have a collection of poufy bows from seasons past – remember that a good big bow can hide a multitude of bare stems, tape or Oasis!

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