November has come to an end and with that, the festive season is upon us. Many of us now to turn our thoughts to decorating our houses and even our businesses for the joyous season ahead. A very traditional and beautiful method of doing so is to adorn both the exterior and interior of our dwellings with freshly cut branches and boughs of evergreens. This practice originated in pre-Christian times as a way for the Pagans to mark the Winter Solstice and the increase in day light after the passing of the celebration. Winter, being bleak, dark and cold, often signified death. While almost everything in nature was seemingly dormant during this period, the evergreen plants stood out in stark contrast. As such, Pagans would cut evergreen trees and decorate them. Boughs of holly, laurel and other plants were also utilized in similar fashion. The observation that these plants remained green during the winter, was explained by them being in a sense, magical and symbolic of the return of life and rebirth in spring.
Today, that tradition continues in many cultures and there is a diversity of evergreens and non-evergreens from all over the world to choose and decorate with. Hailing from the northern hemisphere, we find red-stem dogwood and paper birch. While not evergreen, the brilliant red of the dogwood and the white of the birch illuminate any arrangement. The southern United States contributes with the beautiful broad evergreen leaves of southern magnolia, dark green and glossy on their upper surface with a most unique rust coloured and pubescent underside. Circumboreal in nature, the firs, particularly balsam, lend the traditional smell of a Christmas tree. Keeping in step with aromatic firs, are the gracefully arching and soft incense cedar boughs. The southern hemisphere gives us a couple of types of eucalyptus with varied shapes and the silvery cast they are known for. Of course, not to be forgotten and one of the first to be used, there is holly with the branches of female plants covered in bright red berries. This is just a small sample and one must visit their local garden centre or florist for many more. Why not also look towards one’s own garden for a few more boughs?
If the point of keeping these evergreens is to symbolize renewed life while beautifying our homes, then we must make it a priority to keep them green! Here are a few pointers that should help in keeping them looking better, longer.
Firstly, while not possible under all circumstances, try to keep the evergreens out of direct sunlight. Winter sun can be bright and combined with cold winter winds, will dry out the plant material and turn boughs into drab, brittle messes.
Use the ‘Stay Fresh’ type preservatives that are recommended for Christmas trees or the preservatives that come with fresh cut flowers. If you are keeping the greens in a container without water, prune the bottom of each stem or bough and then do a twenty-four hour treatment in a water/preservative mix prior to assembling your arrangement.
Mist your greens as often as possible. At the least, once a day misting with water from a spray bottle to the point that small water droplets form on the foliage. The sunnier and windier, the more frequently this should be done.
Use an anti-desiccant spray such as ‘Wilt-Pruf’. Here at Humber Nurseries LTD, we have had great success using this product on all our greens once they are unpacked and on display. The naturally derived coating minimizes further water loss. Such a spray may not be recommended on any plants with a glaucous or silver-blue colour, if that colour is to be maintained.
If lights are used in any arrangement, use LEDs over incandescent bulbs. Not only will you save energy, but incandescent bulbs put out more heat that will dry the plant material. Of course, when not being viewed, turn any lights off.
Lastly, use a floral foam to arrange the material in. Prior to assembly, soak the foam in water. Our chief decorator, Natalina, prefers wet sand above all, as it keeps the boughs and branches looking fresh and provides good weight to the urn or container, should your area experience high winds.
Most importantly, have fun and all the best over the holidays and for the year ahead!
Humber Nurseries Ltd.