2018-11-29 / From The Garden

Creating Stylish Holiday Greens

By Cynthia Gibson


Make your own wreaths with balsam boughs. Make your own wreaths with balsam boughs. Fresh greens in the home for the holiday season is an old tradition. Not only do the greens make your home smell good, they also represent rebirth from winter to spring.

Being a young country, our tradition of bringing a tree indoors, along with wreaths, swags and garlands, did not begin until the Victorian era. We also know that after the last bite of pumpkin pie, we start to decorate for the Christmas season. Every other holiday gets one day to celebrate, but Christmas is a month-long festival.

Greens for the home have come a long way. Experimenting with different leaves, berries, pine, boxwood and laurel branches makes for a buffet of greens to create your own wreaths, swags and garlands. The lineup of readily available greens includes pine, fir boughs, cedar, holly leaves with or without berries, laurel, boxwood and magnolia leaves on short stems.


Carrie Slee was among the members from the Newport Garden Club who decorated the Edward King House for the holidays. (Photo by Jen Carter) Carrie Slee was among the members from the Newport Garden Club who decorated the Edward King House for the holidays. (Photo by Jen Carter) Magnolia leaves are deep green, large and shiny. When dried, they become brown and ochre yellow. Popping with color, they add magic to your wreath, swag or garland. You will be seeing plenty of them this year as they are part of a trend that also includes more herbs in wreaths and greenery.

Rosemary has become a favorite herb to include in wreaths and swags. The fragrance is not only pungent, but also memorable and has an aroma second only to Frasier Fir. It is a sturdy herb that grows on straight woody stems and fits perfectly in a wreath. The leaves are silvery and green, making them ideal for adding a silver-grey contrast to your greens.

Balsam boughs are the most fragrant of the greens. Balsam trees do not grow well in Rhode Island. The trees love freezing temperatures for a prolonged time, so they are usually imported from Maine. Balsam just smells like Christmas.


Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport. Nurseries and garden centers sell trees for the holiday season, and boughs are usually also available. Ask for cuttings, which is the remainders of trimming from the bottom branches of the tree before it is netted. Even small sprigs of Balsam will add fragrance to your swags.

Wreaths are easy to make. Use thin copper or green floral wire, and if your boughs have strong enough branches and stems, you can wire the branches together. This is a terrific homemade project for children. Add a small wire loop so you can hang your wreath. The rest is up to you. Sometimes, a pretty bow will be all your wreath may need.

To take the guesswork out of making the perfect circle for a wreath, you can visit a local craft shop, which will have rows of wreath-making supplies. Using fresh greens to poke into the Styrofoam or wire form is a must. Live greens that will slowly dry but last for a month is your goal.

Holly leaves and the berries make such a Christmas statement, as they are the perfect example of nature’s décor in red and green. I have two 20-foot holly trees in my backyard and friends are always asking for sprigs. I readily agree, but they don’t realize that they are also pruning my tree.

Sprigs of holly with bright red berries look great tucked into homemade wreaths made on a form, or simply placed in small vase on a hall table. Holly just makes you happy during the season.

The addition of a red or green bow to an existing topiary is elegant. Looking like green lollipops in a pretty terracotta pot, these plants are lovely when grouped in threes at different heights.

Regardless of your personal choice, we have taken that last bite of pie at Thanksgiving, giving us the go-ahead to start “decking the halls.”

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