All About Gardening and Gardening Q & A

by Pernell Gerver

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"Christmas Decorations from the Garden"

Christmas wreathIt's that time of year again to dress up the home with holiday decorations. The garden is a great source of natural materials that can be used in all sorts of decorations this time of year. Wreaths, centerpieces, roping, swags, kissing balls, boxwood trees, mantlepiece decorations, and windowbox and outdoor planter decorations are just some of the holiday decorations that can be made from materials gathered from the garden. Evergreen boughs, colorful berries, colorful branches, seed heads, dried flower heads, cones, and nuts can all be gathered from the garden and used in a variety of festive seasonal decorations.

The base of just about all wintertime decorations is composed of evergreens. Both needled and broad-leaved evergreens can be used as the base of a variety of decorations. I like to use a combination of different evergreens so there is a pleasing contrast of textures. I think it's more visually interesting.

white pineWhite pine is one of my favorite needled evergreens to use as a background material. The stems are slender and tend to bend gracefully when used in windowboxes and other planters. The needles are soft and long. Spruce and fir have shorter, more rigid needles on stiff stems. Blue spruce has attractive blue-green needles that provide a colorful contrast to the other evergreens.

Rhododendron and mountain laurel are two top choices for broad-leaved evergreens. Rhododendron has glossy, deep-green leaves. Both catawba rhododendron and "P.J.M." rhododendron can be used in seasonal decorations. Catawba rhododendron has large leaves up to six inches long. "P.J.M." rhododendron has smaller leaves, only three inches long or so. Mountain laurel has light green, long leaves. Other broad-leaved evergreen shrubs I like to use in holiday decorations are Japanese holly and boxwood. Both have small, rounded, dark green leaves. Boxwood is the perfect base for a boxwood tree.

My favorite way to add color to evergreen boughs is to insert stems of winterberry and holly. Winterberry is a deciduous type of holly. When its leaves drop in autumn, bare branches lined with bright-red berries are revealed. The berries are long lasting when cut. I use stems of winterberry in my windowboxes to add color. Holly is a familiar broad-leaved evergreen shrub with dark-green, prickly leaves and bright-red berries. Other berried plants that can be used when decorating during winter include blue-berried juniper and bayberry.

Redtwig DogwoodColorful and interesting branches add another dimension to seasonal decorations. The most colorful branches to use are redtwig and yellow twig dogwood. Redtwig dogwood has bright-red, slender stems. Yellow twig dogwood has golden-yellow stems. Both provide bright color. For interesting form, I like to use stems of Harry Lauder's walking stick. The twisted and contorted stems seem to twist every which way and provide a whimsical element to seasonal decorations. They are good to use in centerpieces and small arrangements where their interesting shape can be appreciated.

HydrangeaThe garden is a great source of seed heads and dried flowers this time of year. To make sure I have a good supply of seed heads and dried flowers this time of year, I wait to cut down any dead plants until after I've finished with my seasonal decorations. Take a walk around the garden toward the end of the season and look at plants with decorating in mind. What at first appears to be a dead plant may actually turn out to be an interesting accent in a holiday decoration. Some of my favorite seed heads and dried flowers include astilbe, ornamental grasses, clematis, hydrangea, and chives. Siberian iris seed heads turn deep brown and make nice accents. They can also be spray painted gold for a gilded effect.

Pine conesCones and nuts are popular accents in wintertime decorations. Various types of evergreens provide cones including hemlock, spruce, and white pine. Hemlock cones are the smallest cones, usually under an inch wide. White pine cones are long, slender cones. Because of their varying sizes and shapes, an assortment of cones can be used in all sorts of decorations. Acorns are abundant this time of year. They can be used in their natural state or they can be spray painted gold or silver.

Pernell Gerver's Gardening Q & Aby Pernell Gerver

"Cut Back Silver Lace Vine Annually"

Q. Could you please clear up some confusion about perennial vines? I have three first-year silver lace vines that have done well and grown quite high on their trellis. Should I cut them back? When? I am looking forward to your answer. Thank you for your help.

A. Silver lace vine (Polygonum aubertii) is quite vigorous and fast growing as you noted with your one-year-old plants. I'm glad to hear you went with one of my past recommendations. It is one of the fastest-growing perennial vines I know of. I've noticed as much as 15 feet of growth in a year on my silver lace vines.

Because of this rapid growth, silver lace vine can be used as a quick cover on a trellis, pergola, fence, wall, or porch. Its twining stems easily wrap around any vertical support. It can grow to 40 feet long or more.

In my garden I use silver lace vine on a tall arbor. I chose this particular vine because it tolerates a wide range of growing conditions including dry