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Miss Floribunda: Holiday decorating outside the box

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Posted on: December 12, 2013

Dear Miss Floribunda,

Although I have an artificial Christmas tree, I like to make live evergreen wreaths, swags, and arrangements  for natural color and fragrance. I have holly in my garden, but I find it too prickly and difficult to work with. I enjoyed using branches from a pine tree in my yard till the 2012 derecho knocked it over, narrowly missing my house.  I don’t intend to plant anything so large and shallowly rooted again, and that includes yews and firs. What would you recommend that I plant to use for December decorating in the future?

Won’t Pine for Yew on Patterson Street


Miss Floribunda
Miss Floribunda

Dear Pineless on Patterson,

I showed your letter to my Uncle Noel and he immediately suggested you plant some dwarf juniper (Juniperus communis, or Juniperus squamata) and a dwarf variety of  bearberry (Cotoneaster dammeri). Fragrant juniper is a lovely shade of blue-green, and the bearberry has attractive white flowers followed by beautiful red berries in the fall and winter. While the juniper is somewhat sharper to the touch than the pine,  the cotoneaster is much less prickly than the holly. Both make handsome and low-maintenance ground covers, by the way.

Considering our relatively mild winters, Noel suggests that you think outside of the usual conifer confines. You could decorate in the Williamsburg way with fruit and magnolia branches.  There are magnolias you can plant that don’t get above 10 feet tall. Not only do they produce blooms in warm weather, they provide you with sufficient foliage for winter decoration. Magnolia branches are easier to work with, last longer and shed less than those of conifers. The broad glossy leaves look beautiful with apples, oranges and pineapples.

For a daintier effect, you could also grow and use the flexible and easily handled boxwood. For redolence and subtle variation of texture and color you might include herbs like sage, thyme and the winter-hardy Arp variety of rosemary.

Here’s my favorite of Noel’s recommendations: Organize some children to make pomanders by studding apples and oranges with cloves and hanging them on festive ribbons. These can be useful after the holidays to perfume closets and other spaces where the air may get stale.

Should you incline towards understated elegance, you would appreciate heavenly bamboo. In the garden it does not spread like conventional bamboo, it does not get over 8 feet tall,  and its sprays of red berries are extremely ornamental in December.  In general, don’t limit yourself and use your imagination.

For these and other decorating ideas, please come to the next meeting and holiday party of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society on Saturday, December 21,  from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. It will be hosted  by Jean and Millard Smith in their home at 3600 Longfellow Street.



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Dear Miss Floribunda, Although I have an artificial Christmas tree, I like to make live evergreen wreaths, swags, and arrangements  for natural color and fragrance....