Deck the halls – and the porch, the table…

Use different kinds of foliage, with ribbons and unbreakable ornaments, in your outdoor container. PHOTO: Mary Fran McQuade

Are you lusting for one of those glamorous holiday urns or arrangements that you see along the street this time of year? Does the price stop you faster than a patch of sticky icing on a kitchen floor?

Don’t sigh, my dears. I have some holiday magic that will put a fabulous container of real greens at your front door without breaking the bank. With the same magic, you can create wonderful table or mantelpiece designs at a fraction of the cost you’d pay in stores.

Note: There’s a certain trade-off between time and money. If you have the cash and the inclination, go right ahead and buy the biggest, fattest outdoor arrangement that you can. If you’d rather save some bucks, spend time outdoors with your family and indulge your playful side, read on.

What you’ll need:

  • A container. If you have an urn of some kind, that’s great. But you can also use any large container that held flowers or veggies in the summer. For an outdoor holiday arrangement, the bigger the container, the better.
  • Lots of evergreen branches – white pine, Scotch pine and spruce are especially nice. If you have a cottage, get out there with your clippers and do some pruning. If you don’t, invest in a couple of bunches from the garden store. And if you buy a fresh Christmas tree, keep all those branches you trim off at the bottom. STORE THESE OUTDOORS until you’re ready to build your urn.
  • Trimmings. The more you have to choose from, the easier it will be. Take a walk with your clan and gather up small twiggy branches, seed heads, and pinecones. Scrounge around the house for less-than-perfect plastic ornaments, bright ribbon, outdated costume jewelry, single earrings, wine corks or even toys like plastic dinosaurs, dolls and stuffies.
  • Paint and sparkly stuff to dress up your ornaments. Craft paint in your favourite colours is good to have on hand, along with sequins, beads and glitter. (If you have old jewelry, take off the shiny bits and use them). White glue and a hot wax gun are also useful tools.
  • Thinnish wire or yarn.

What you’ll do:

  1. Put the foundation material in your container. Potting soil used during the summer is ideal, but you can also use garden soil or a ball of chicken wire if you’re ambitious.
  2. If you have a symmetrical branch or small evergreen tree, centre it in the container, then build your base from the bottom up. Use long branches of long-needled pine or spruce, whichever you have. Cut them at an angle and they’ll be easy to stick in your soil or other foundation material. Build up as many layers as will fit, varying the greenery to please the eye.
  3. Now you can poke in your trimmings. If you wedge them tightly between the base branches, they should stay in place. If they wobble, use a piece of wire or yarn to attach them to a branch.
  4. Involve your whole family in adding trimmings and be as original as you want. If your kids would like a dinosaur or doll tree, why not? Or let them jazz up wine corks and other “found” ornaments with paint and sparkles.
  5. Step back and check your design for balance, proportion and eye-appeal. You may need to tweak it a bit with some added glitter or paint or even little bows here and there, with a big bow at the top or the base.

Table and mantelpiece arrangements

Cranberries and beads strung on wires add colour to this easy design. PHOTO: Mary Fran McQuade
Cranberries and beads strung on wires add colour to this easy design.
PHOTO: Mary Fran McQuade

To create small indoor designs of greenery and flowers in containers, follow the same general rules.

  1. Choose your container. White, silver or gold lets the greenery stand out.
  2. Build a foundation for your design. Floral foam is the usual choice – it’s firm, holds water and can be cut to size.
  3. Soak the foam ahead of time and fix it firmly in your container. If a base of greenery will be overhanging the container’s sides, use clear tape in a big X to anchor the foam to the container’s sides.
  4. Begin by adding evergreens to form a base for your design. The same as for an urn, cut the stems at an angle so they’re easy to poke into the foundation.
  5. Add the flowers you’ve chosen. For a holiday design, you don’t need many, because you’ll be using a lot of evergreen foliage to fill. Simple red and white carnations or small roses are easy to handle. For the candle centrepiece shown, Beach Garden Society member Marsha Pine strung cranberries and beads on wire and stuck them into the foundation instead of flowers.
  6. Fill in with additional foliage in a smaller texture than the base material – boxwood is a favourite of experienced designers.
  7. Check to make sure your design looks good from all viewing points. Keep it well watered and put it in a cool location at night, if possible.
  8. For a big table, use several small containers, instead of one large one in the middle, to encourage conversation and create a more intimate atmosphere.

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