Any gardener with a good variety of plants can create decorations throughout the house – and they are pretty close to free.

“I usually take advantage of all the evergreen shrubs out in our yard,” said Candi Oliver of Gorham, a member of Osewantha Garden Club in South Portland and Longfellow Garden Club in Portland and a flower show judge. “We use yews and rhododendrons of all different sizes, as well as pine, and my daughter has cedar. And I have a lot of different cones that I have collected over the years.

“When I do something for my own it is more of a traditional type of thing, basically mixed greens that look good. When I do something for a flower show, it’s a lot more than that.”

She has winterberry – a Maine native related to holly – on both sides of her driveway, but she said wild turkeys have eaten all of the traditional red winterberries on her while leaving behind all of the orange ones, located on the opposite side. She said she knows where she can get some winterberries, and they will go into her arrangements, as well.

Oliver uses floral foam (Oasis is the most common brand name) for most of her indoor arrangements, because it keeps the arrangements fresher. The floral foam comes in rings as well as blocks, and she likes to use the rings to create a boxwood ring for a table centerpiece.

“I put the ring on a red charger (a plate larger than a dinner plate) and put a candle in the middle of it,” she said. “You can use really small branches for something like that.”

Oliver said she cuts her red-twig dogwood in the spring, when the twigs are a brighter red than they are now, and saves them for use in her Christmas arrangements. (Note: I call them Christmas arrangements because red and green are Christmas colors, and Nancy and I celebrate Christmas. If you don’t celebrate Christmas, it is still nice to have indoor arrangements at this time of year. Call them winter solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or cold-weather arrangements if you want, or make up your own name.)

Oliver also collects interesting-looking branches over the course of the year, such as those from Harry Lauder walking stick or curly willows, and paints them silver, gold, white or red to fit into her arrangements. They provide a bit of color to go with the green.

When she makes an arrangement on her fireplace mantel, she is careful to let none of the greens drape below the mantelpiece because they dry out too fast.

“As a garden club member I probably shouldn’t say this,” Oliver said, “but I often use artificial material on the mantelpiece” just to be safe. What Nancy had done at our house is to use a series of Christmas trees made out of metal, some of them with a bit of glitter, making a mini-forest that is totally fireproof. But in the past she’s decorated our family room mantel with fresh holly from our yard. She used a glass bread pan and crammed it full of Oasis before she cut the holly. She used a spouted measuring cup to pour in some water every few days in order to keep the Oasis thoroughly wet.

One traditional inside arrangement is a boxwood Christmas tree, and when I talked with Jim Masse, nursery manager at Estabrook’s in Yarmouth, about holiday plants a few weeks ago, he told me about the boxwood trees he makes. These are a traditional arrangement popular in the Old World.

“I have a lot of boxwood in my own yard, and I cut that,” Masse said, “but if you don’t have enough you can buy some at any good nursery.”

He says he uses boxwood in a lot of arrangements because it is evergreen, and the leaves are shiny, which is a different and attractive look at this time of year.

To make the boxwood Christmas tree, you simply cut a block of floral foam into a Christmas tree shape, soak it thoroughly, and keep putting boxwood in the foam until it is all covered.

You can add winterberry, holly berries or anything else that would look good to provide some color.

So, holiday arrangements are simple – as long as you make the effort to do it. And you’ll get better each time you try.

Tom Atwell has been writing the Maine Gardener column since 2004. He is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth and can be contacted at 767-2297 or at:

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