The Garden Management System
Software your Garden will Love   
from HMK Consultants

Festive Fauna
Centre of the City, Toronto, November/December 2004

With the sparkle of tinsel, the warm glow of a crackling fire and presents under the tree, at Christmas time we decorate our homes to create the feeling of peace and tranquility and often, of times gone by. Fresh, fragrant evergreen boughs rest on a window sill, surround doorways or form a stunning centrepiece, with shimmering ornaments and lacy white ribbon.

Indoor garland choices are usually fir, pine and cedar, and can last a few weeks, if you keep them cool and prepare them well. For outside decoration, add spruce, laurel, boxwood and juniper to your options. Holly will dry out and crisp within a day or two, so use moist floral foam in the arrangements to keep them as hydrated as possible. For all garlands, spraying with Wiltpruf may help them maintain their freshness, and is available at many garden centres. If you’re the creative type, your decorations may be made from the bottom branches of your Christmas tree, but beautiful, perfect boughs can also be purchased.

To keep your decorations fresh over the holidays, create and place your decorations no more than a week or two before Christmas. Re-cut the stem or branch ends on a long angle when you get home, to give them as much absorption capacity as possible, then immediately place in water. Soak garlands in the bathtub overnight so let them absorb as much moisture as possible. Keep all garlands, boughs and flowers away from heating vents, fireplaces and sunny windows, and mist every couple of days.

In keeping with the evergreen theme, dip pine cones in egg, then dust with cinnamon. Stand these in a basket beside the fireplace. Just before guests arrive, toss a pine cone on the fire to fill the room with a festive scent. Bundled as gifts, they make a great party favour, as well.

For free-standing table arrangements, try ivy, holly, yew, magnolia, boxwood, viburnum and hemlock, and maybe some cut branches from a red-bark dogwood, and display them either in a container you can water or anchored in dampened floral foam. Keep floral arrangements in the garage or somewhere cool when they are not on display, to keep them fresh and long-lasting.

Remember that garlands and arrangements made of real plant material will begin drying out as soon as they are cut. For maximum safety, don’t use greenery with candles or on the mantel of a working fireplace. If you share your space with kids or dogs, remember that they’ll eat anything, including the poisonous berries of holly, yew, ivy, Jerusalem cherry and mistletoe. And keep a broom handy to sweep up the dropping needles and leaves.

When buying your Christmas tree, pick one that is healthy and green, with a fragrant smell and flexible needles that are not browning. Bounce the tree a couple of times on its stump and check if just a few, or far too many needles drop off. Check the bottom of the tree to make sure that after you cut about an inch off the bottom, the tree’s appearance will still suit your needs.

To keep your Christmas tree looking good as long as possible, it needs to be put into water right away. First, cut about an inch off the bottom of the tree at a slight angle, then mount it immediately in a stand full of water. Your tree could drink up to a gallon on its first day in your home. Of course, keep the tree well away from open flame and heating vents, and ensure that it is well-balanced and won’t tip over. Check the tree reservoir regularly and don’t let it run dry.

For a more long-lasting decorating choice, live plants are readily available option. Plants always add a feeling of hominess, and Christmastime is no exception. Growers usually come out with a selection of plants, whether blooming naturally or forced for this time of year. Care instructions can be attached on a tag, if not already included, when giving as gift. Most are pretty low-maintenance.

Cyclamen, azalea, gardenia, Jerusalem cherry and English ivy all enjoy a cooler (below 60ºF) temperature. The soil should not dry out, but don’t let them stand in a puddle. Christmas cactus and Christmas peppers like the soil a little less moist, but should not dry right out. All of these plants like the strongest light you can give them at this time of year.

Amaryllis like their soil moist, but not damp and temperature towards the cooler side in your house. Other bulbs, such as paperwhites, tulips, hyacinth, ranunculus and Christmas crocus need to be kept moist but well-drained in their bowl gardens, and will bloom longer in cooler temperatures. They give the best blooms in good light.

Poinsettias do not like to be too wet, or too dry. Water just when the soil stops feeling damp. They will last longer with cooler temperatures and strong light. If you treat them right, they will last through the winter and make an interesting planting in your garden next summer.

So whether giving as gifts, or decorating your home, add some natural wonder to your usual glitz and glam, and have a joyous holiday season.

Helen Kirkup
HMK Consultants
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Also by Helen Kirkup:
The Kirkups: Pioneers & Travellers
Available now on