Holiday decorating with plants
by Jacqueline Soule
One way to save your nerves and your budget this holiday season is to do some free-to-low-cost decorating with plants. Utilizing boughs of evergreens is a wonderful way to start. Depending on where you live, there may be pine, cedar, cypress, juniper, yew, spruce or fir available. Many will last two to three weeks once cut, filling the air with their appealing aroma. Simply place the cut boughs in an appropriate-sized container of water. If you're having trouble finding an evergreen to prune, visit a Christmas tree lot. They generally let you take all the lopped-off greens you care to haul. And after the holidays, the acidic needles make excellent compost for alkaline western soils.
There are other things from the plant world that can be used for holiday decorations. Take a stroll to find wild seed pods, dried flower heads or even pine cones. Get the kids involved. You can color these treasures with gold or silver spray paint, and let the kids add gobs of glitter. Colorful pipe cleaners or ribbon make simple hangers for little fingers.
Stringing popcorn and cranberries is easy task to do with a darning needle and dental floss. The secret is to put the needle through the cranberry the long way - through the little star of the former calyx. Use the strands to decorate an outdoor tree and not only will it look pretty, but the birds will recycle them for you after the holidays.
If you're concerned about the "green-ness" of a cut Christmas tree or if pets make such trees an impossibility in your home, try a Yule log instead. Any large log can take the place of a Christmas tree. Use a drill with a wood bit to bore the holes for candles. Decorate it with bows and evergreen sprigs, but don't forget to remove the evergreens before burning. They're highly volatile and can cause a fire.
Additional punches of unexpected color in your house plants will brighten any room. Adorn your potted greenery with seasonally bright ribbons and bows. Or tape old holiday cards together into a sleeve which fits around the pot. Add a big bow on a chopstick or length of floral wire pushed into the soil.
Above all, remember to relax and enjoy the season. Old expectations may rattle their chains and try to haunt you, but take it slow. When you feel stressed, take a deep breath and look around. Rest your eyes and restore your spirit with the natural beauty of plants.
Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D. is a botanist, writer and educator. A member of the Garden Writers Association, she writes gardening columns for a number of newspapers throughout the Southwest. A self-avowed "Darwinistic" gardener, Jacqueline prefers plants that need as little care as possible while providing color, texture and movement in the landscape.