COLUMN: Wonderful winter baskets

The weather has turned milder after the windy chilly spell we had last week, so let’s dress up the outside and inside of our homes...

Christmas containers are not new

Christmas containers are not new

The weather has turned milder after the windy chilly spell we had last week, so let’s dress up the outside and inside of our homes and add some colour and fragrance to enjoy through the holiday season. Christmas outdoor containers are not new, but wow, have they ever changed.

The new concept is to take cut boughs, branches, twigs, cones, drieds, tropical pods and bling to create a beautiful artistic arrangement that will lift and brighten not only Christmas spirits but also those long cold dreary days of winter.

Where to begin? It starts with the right containers: Clay and traditional ceramics could possibly crack in lower temperatures, so you need to use the new classy-looking plastics and resin pots that stand up to severe cold and frost. A tall, thin styled container or low bowl that can be set on a pedestal are the most pleasing. Window boxes too can look amazing, as well as wall pockets.

All green branches do better if their stems can access some moisture, and they also need stability in winter winds. I love using heavy wet blended soils as a base. It’s important to line your pots with thick plastic to hold in the moisture.

Wet, soggy topsoil or blended bagged soils are easiest to work with. When you put the soil into your container, pack it tightly and keep it wet. The weight helps prevent any blow overs and creates a solid base to place your stems.

Depending on where you live, the selection of greens will vary. Hardy greens, like pine, white and blue spruce, balsam and juniper, would be the best to use. Virtually all the cut branches available in garden stores are simply prunings done on larger trees or on tree farms where they would cut branches from #2 cultivated trees. Sometimes branches on Christmas trees are more valuable than the tree itself. In Zone 5 and above, a far wider range of greens can be used to create beautiful colour blends and textures. Softly textured noble fir is the most popular, followed by soft white pine, cedar, incense cedar, blue berried juniper, golden cedars and Japanese cryptomerias. Each of these greens have such wonderful fragrances.

Twigs create wonderful height and contrast. The shrub dogwood that shines in winter with vibrant stems of red, yellow or unique combinations of both, as in the case of ‘Midwinter Fire’, really brings greens alive.  The twisted stems of contorted willows, now in colours of green, red and yellow, add a unique flavour with  their height and flair.  Contorted filbert branches also create quite an impact.

The strength of these branches offer a nice place to hang cones and other décor. The rising star, however, in all outdoor natural arrangements are pure white birch stems used in varying heights. The brilliance of these stems creates a striking contrast element, as do the unique peeled stems of contorted willows. Bits of uniquely shaped driftwood can also enhance a different artistic look.

Berries pack an amazing punch, and nothing does it better than the deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata.

Tropical drieds create eye-popping finishing touches. From dyed lotus pods, mahogany bell cups, and all sizes of lata balls to dried grasses, twigs, cane circles made from stiff grasses, dried sun palm leaves and twisted ting ting, all have a natural fit and make fantastic finishing touches.

Over the holiday season, many florists and garden centres offer ‘how to’ classes with great instructors – so take advantage. You’ll pick up some amazing tips on creative designing. Remember, this is ‘art’ and your artistic expression is the main point. As in our gardens, this is an issue of personal taste, so go ahead and create without any explanation or apology.

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