I was wandering through the front display of the nursery where I work when I caught eye of some newly made Christmas porch pots, bringing back memories of the first ones I had created some 30 years ago.
In comparison, they were relatively simple affairs, but what made them so memorable was the woman I had assembled them for.
Mrs. ‘H’ was an elderly German client with a two-acre residence in the British Properties – this was just her vacation cottage, as home was in Hamburg.
She spoke no English (at first), was quite demanding and always seemed to have that stern Teutonic demeanor, but she reminded me a lot of my Austrian grandfather, so we seemed to get along just fine.
Between my few words of German and our shared knowledge of botanical Latin (along with a few gestures), we managed to communicate satisfactorily. She had a number of painted concrete urns along the edge of her patio and in summer these were always planted with the traditional red geraniums, accented with trailing blue lobelia.
She occasionally used the property at Christmas, at which time we would convert these to decorative greens. ‘Thuja’ and ‘Ilex’ were her expressed preferences, so I cut short boughs of red cedar and berried English holly from her garden to make these.
The exact proportion of greens to holly was very important to her and she would often stare out the window to provide guidance, which not surprisingly was three no’s (‘nein, nein, nein’) spoken with a pronounced frown or a single ‘schon’ or ‘beautiful’ said with an equally expressive smile.
Despite that somewhat gruff exterior, Mrs. ‘H’ was a softy at heart and would often bring back chocolate and small Christmas gifts for my girls, and there was always a generous snifter of brandy for the gardener at the end of the year.
Of course, you don’t have to be German to enjoy making seasonal pots at Christmas and despite appearances, they are rather easy to put together. Start with your old summer planters or hanging baskets and simply cut all the dead plant material at ground level, as the roots provide extra support for your cut greens.
Don’t worry if you have already emptied these, just pack them with container soil, water and compress it down firmly. You will need some sort of base greens to start with – red cedar, pine and true firs all work well and can be found in most gardens.
Taller accents also add depth and for this you can choose some redtwig dogwood stems, winterberry (a deciduous holly) or even a few corkscrew hazelnut stalks with their unpredictable twists and emerging catkins.
A little contrast goes a long way in these arrangements, so try to find some gold accents, such as variegated English holly, threadleaf cypress or even some Ilex crenata ‘Golden Gem.’
Natural elements like some short stems of white birch, evergreen magnolia branches (with a beautiful brown reverse) and large pine cones, which have been wired to a support stake also add interest, and can be found at your local nursery if don’t happen to have them at hand.
Finally, you are ready for your holiday flourishes, such as large bows, painted wicker orbs, Christmas bulbs or even a tasteful bird decoration. These add that personal touch and can be arranged to match your overall seasonal décor.
For more ideas on Christmas wreaths, planters or baskets, just visit my website at mikesgardenguide.wordpress.com, type ‘Christmas’ into the search engine and the articles will pop right to the top.
In the meantime, happy decorating.
Mike Lascelle is a local nursery manager and gardening author