Category Archives: winter color

Holiday Wreaths

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose. The garden's been put to rest for the winter covered with a nice blanket of compost. The recent wind storm provided me with lots of material to make a beautiful holiday wreath for the front door or swag to decorate a window. Wreaths are easy and fun to make. They cost virtually nothing and make wonderful gifts for family, friends and neighbors, too.  I was invited to a neighbor's 8th annual holiday wreath making party.  I could hardly wait.

Kinda like a barn raising party without the barn, this fun group gets together for the first two weekends in December each year to inspire each other to create wonderfully unique wreaths and other decorations from natural materials. Each crafter is encouraged to invite another friend or relative and as many as 32 people will be joining my neighbor, Barbara, for the fun over the next two weeks.  Some will come from as far away as Folsom and Roseville and include both men and grandchildren who take part in the festivities.

Creative people amaze me. Amidst dozens of downed branches, the wreath makers started to work. Barbara and her husband started collecting foliage and berries weeks ago in their pick up truck. She laughed when she told me that this year they were very sad because they were unable to get trimmings from their favorite variegated holly as it was being guarded by a pit bull. Mostly they collect from neighbors trees. Green waste cans of friends might supply a wonderful mix of hydrangea flowers and other pruned goodies. Monterey cypress and pines from the Davenport area are coveted along with Hollywood junipers, cedar, leptospermum, eucalyptus sprays and variegated pittosporum foliage. Large piles of English laurel, purple hopseed bush, rosemary and bottlebrush surrounded us. Last year was the first for acacia branches as they didn't know if it would hold up but it worked great and is now a staple. Tristania leaves and berries are another new addition to the wreaths.

Barbara explained that she once took a floral making class at Cabrillo. "I got hooked", she says,"now I'm obsessed". Some "wreathers" as we're called work fast putting together bundles of mixed foliage with lightening speed and attaching them to the frame with wire on paddles. Others are more meticulous grouping each bundle of various foliage with exactly the same mix. That's pretty much it for required tools- gloves, clippers, a frame and paddle wire. A hot glue gun is a nice too for attaching accents like cones, berry clusters, driftwood, lichen, feathers, shells or flowers. Floral picks work nicely for small fruits like Meyer lemons, clementines or small pomegranates.

The record for most wreaths made in a single season is apparently held by Martha who created 7 in the course of two weeks to decorate her home and to give away as gifts. Our hostess, Barbara, holds the record for making the largest wreath which measured in at 36" and graced her front door last year. Wreaths for a front door, she explained, should be able to hold up to constant movement so she is careful not to use berries that might loosen and fall. California pepper and nandina berries usually work in this location. You can bet her front door this year will sport another marvelous creation.

Look outside your door for different shades of foliage and spent flower heads, With just a couple of bags worth of materials you can make wreaths with your kids for many of those on your Christmas list.

Holiday Decorations from Nature

December is all about decorating for me. I usually have several craft projects going at once. Right now I’m working with all the small shells I brought back from Mexico.  My poor relatives. After so many years, their walls are covered with art projects but they always look forward to one of my wreaths to brighten up the front door or an inside wall.

I make several styles of wreath. The quickest and easiest is made by attaching dried hydrangea flowers to a grape vine wreath or a metal frame.  Even a coat hanger can be bent to make a frame.  If you have grapes or honeysuckle vines, you can make a frame yourself. Coil several 3-6 ft lengths of vine together then wrap with more vines until you get a wreath as thick as you want. Allow the wreath to dry. Then attach the flowers with thin floral wire.  You don’t even have to cover a natural wreath frame completely and if your blossoms aren’t completely dry when you harvest them you can finish them off inside.  I also tuck hydrangea flowers into my Christmas tree and use some to decorate an evergreen outside.

From the redwood canopy to the forest floor there is an abundance of foliage, berries and cones that make beautiful holiday decorations. Choose long lasting foliage from juniper, Southern Magnolia, redwoods and pines.  Deodar cedar and spruce drop their needles too quickly.  Be sure to prune to a well placed branch that is at least a third as big as the one you are pruning. Boxwood, citrus leaves, English laurel, red-trig dogwood branches and camellia leaves also hold up well in a wreath or swag.

Berries provide color in the winter garden, food for birds and other wildlife and are attractive in wreaths, swags and arrangements inside as well.  English holly is a classic but stems of cotoneaster, iris foetidissima and nandina berries will hold up well indoors for 10 days or more.  Toyon, a California native shrub, is covered with red berries at this time of year which look beautiful against the handsome green foliage.  If the robins don’t get them, the berries also hold up well inside.  For best berry production, clip branch tips lightly after berries finish but before buds form.  Berries for outdoor color includes Strawberry tree, crabapples, beautyberry, Hawthorn trees, pyracantha and skimmia.

Pointsettias also hold up well inside either as a cut flower or a living plant.  They need a very bright spot in the house and allow the soil to dry slightly but not completely between waterings .   Deprive them of either of these requirements and the lower leaves will yellow and drop.  Also be sure they aren’t sitting in water at the bottom of the container.  Pointsettias are brittle but if you break off a branch, sear the end of the stem with a flame and it will hold up quite well in a vase or arrangement.  It’s too cold here in the mountains for pointsettias to survive outside at night usually.

But aren’t pointsettias poisonous?  Ohio State University conducted extensive research and concluded that although pointsettia leaves and flowers might give you a stomach ache if you ate them, they wouldn’t kill or seriously hurt you.  With this in mind, you should still keep pointsettias out of the reach of small children.

Happy Holidays to all my faithful readers.

Color in the Winter Garden

‘Tis the season… to enjoy your garden from inside on a wintry day when the weather is cold and blustery. Why not dress up your entrance with winter blooming plants to welcome you home or place them where you can see them outside a window? Besides bedding plants like primroses, violas and pansies, there are colorful shrubs that bloom during the winter. Here are some good additions to your garden to brighten things up.

Yellow is always a cheery color in the garden at any time of year. The deep golden flowers of Mexican marigold or tagetes lemmonii  are carried on branch ends sporadically all year, peaking in winter and spring. Finely divided leaves are strongly fragrant when crushed and smell like a blend of marigold, lemon and mint which is why deer avoid them. Prune them lightly to control shape and size. They grows  3-6  ft tall and as wide.  Another shrub that blooms all winter and has yellow daisies is euryops.  They, too, are deer resistant and grow to about 3 ft.    If you have a little more space, try ‘Rose Glow’ leptospermum near a ceanothus ‘Concha’.  The contrast between the deep red flowers of the tea tree with the bright blue flowers of the California lilac will certainly get your attention. These larger shrubs reach about 6 ft tall and as wide.

Camellias are another great shrub that start blooming in the winter.  Actually, Camellia sasanqua start flowering in the fall and some like the popular  red ‘Yuletide’  bloom right at Christmas time.  ‘Chansonette’ is another beautiful  variety with rich pink flowers.  Sasanqua camellias can tolerate a little more sun than the more common camellia japonicas.  They come in a variety or forms from compact shrubs to open vining types that can be espaliered.   If you don’t have any of this variety they would make a good addition to your garden.

has been the standard in U.S. and European gardens since the 1800’s when they were introduced from China and Japan.  Their flowers range from formal types like my favorite, ‘Nucchios’  Pearl’   to anemone form, rose form and peony- like flowers .  Their flowering season can be early (Oct-Nov.), midseason (Jan. – March) or late ( March – May ) which is why it seems that camellias are always blooming.

Adding Winter Color to the Garden

The flowering trees and shrubs of tropical Maui are behind me and I’m back in our temperate rain forest of redwood trees and all things green.  Sure, a few early blooming shrubs are flowering this time of year and are a welcome sight but I look for color in other places. If you’re looking around your garden now and seeing mostly green, here are a few suggestions to brighten things up.

Native to moist places from Northern California to Alaska,  the Red-twig dogwood is stunning in the fall with its  brilliant red foliage. In the winter, dark red stems provide a nice contrast to evergreen plants. This multi-stemmed shrub grows rapidly to 7-9 ft high and spreads to 12 ft or wider by creeping underground stems and rooting branches making it good for holding banks. Shade tolerant with small fruits that attract birds follow 2" clusters of creamy, white flowers in the summer.

Looking for a plant that’s deer-resistant, beautiful and has edible stems, too? Plant a few cherry rhubarb among your other perennials in a sunny or partial shady spot. Leafstalks have a delicious tart flavor and are typically used like fruit in sauces or pies. The leaves are poisonous, however, which is why deer avoid them.

If a tree has showy bark in winter it earns it keep in the garden. Marina strawberry tree has rich, reddish brown shredding bark on branches that tend to become twisted and gnarled with age. This evergreen tree is also pretty in the fall and winter when rosy pink flowers appear at the same time as the strawberry-like fruit. It’s a good garden substitute for its relative, the native madrone, and performs well in a wide range of climates and soils.

I also like my Coral Bark Japanese maple in winter for its striking red twigs and branches. Upright and vigorously growing in fits into narrow spots. I really like the bright yellow fall foliage, too.