Keep the halls blooming

For many of us, gift plants and natural festive decorations in our homes are holiday customs followed year-in and year-out. Gift plants are always a welcome and often the most economical solution for that person on your list who has everything. There’s no substitute to match the fragrance of fresh flowers or evergreens in the home, conjuring memories of past holiday seasons. With proper care, plants and other living accessories can continue to be a source of pleasure long after the holidays are over.

To find out which plants are the most popular and easiest to maintain, I spoke to a partner of The Paper Roses Flower Studio in Toronto, which specializes in custom-designed floral interior decorating. Rosemary de Bonis, one of two sisters who own and operate the studio, offered the following suggestions for holiday season gift plants:

  • Poinsettia – Far and away the most popular. If kept evenly moist and in bright light but not direct sunlight, it will last until spring when you can plant it in your garden.
  • Azalea – Given plenty of light, water, food, a humid atmosphere, and a regular trim to keep itshape, this plant will reward you with four or more blooming periods per year for several years.
  • Cyclamen – Need to be kept moist without overwatering, in a cool room with bright sunlight. This plant will bloom again if kept cool and dry during dormancy.
  • Amaryllis – Can be bought as a ready-to-grow kit or as a potted bulb. Easy to care for in a well-lit, cool location; allow to dry out between waterings. The large, brilliantly coloured blooms brighten the darkest of winter days.

Alternatives to the above include paperwhites, spring bulbs such as hyacinths or tulips, gardenias, heather, winter flowering jasmine, and orchids — yes, you can grow orchids on your kitchen windowsill. They love the high humidity of the air near the sink and the bright light coming through the window.

Now, on to the often thorny issue of Christmas trees. Whether you choose spruce because of its classic shape, Scotch pine or balsam because their needles are less likely to drop, always keep your tree moist. Spray it frequently, and keep its water reservoir topped up so it stays fresh and doesn’t become a fire hazard. As an alternative to a cut tree, it’s fun to try an indoor plant such as the Norfolk Island Pine, or a small container-grown conifer which can be planted outdoors later on.

For those who like to use natural material to decorate their homes, there are some interesting possibilities. One is to buy a ready-made cedar garland and add your own creative touch for a unique one-of-a-kind decoration. Bittersweet, holly, mistletoe, rose hips, or snowberries are natural items with good color, or you can, as in colonial days, use seasonal fruits and vegetables. (Like other evergreens when brought indoors, cedar garlands should also be sprayed often to keep them fresh.)

Making your own wreath from scratch is a great deal of fun and easier than you might think. Here are some tips. Assemble the following materials:

  • one old pair of pantyhose or tights (tights are better because they are stronger).
  • enough sphagnum moss, thoroughly soaked, to fill the tights.
    florist pins and strong florist wire.
  • plastic to cover your work surface — this can be a messy job!
  • enough materials to make your garland.

Now, down to work. Cut out the mid-section so that the tights lie in a straight line. Fasten the toes at each end with florist pins. Fill the tights with the wet sphagnum moss, and follow these steps:

  1. Twist the florist wire around two places to hang the garland.
  2. Pin your background material, such as cedar twigs or other evergreen material to the tights and sphagnum moss.
  3. The fun begins when you add the decorative items. Experiment with miniature roses, high bush cranberries, pachysandra and privet berries, grapes, dried hydrangeas, and an imitation bee. You might try holly, mistletoe, cotoneaster berries, rose hips, poinsettia twigs, pine cones, fruits and vegetables — let your imagination run riot!
  4. Hang the garland in a place of honour — a fireplace mantle is an ideal spot.
  5. Spray the garland frequently to keep it fresh.

Whether you give or receive plant gifts or make plant decorations during the holiday season, it’s easy to keep them looking fresh if you meet their basic needs. Enjoy your holiday plants and plant materials!