Q: I see beautiful greenery decorating homes. How can I use things from my yard, and what works best?

A: I saved the answer to this request until this week, and admit to an ulterior motive. Next weekend, Dec. 2-3, the annual Master Gardener Greenery Sale will be held (details below), so shop that sale for below-retail pricing on wreaths, arrangements and reasonably priced bundles of fresh greenery for DIY decorating.

Preparation: Look outside your favorite window — that beautiful, fresh greenery decor you see in the magazines, whether used on a holiday mantel or a winter buffet table for Mardi Gras brunch, is often growing right outside in your own yard. Or maybe your neighbor’s. And if not, it’s offered in fresh bundles at the Greenery Sale next week!

Winter is the perfect time to harvest greenery, because the leaves are mature and have hardened off. If you try to use greenery with tender spring leaves, the tips wilt. Winter greenery is usually well hydrated from winter rains and cooler temperatures, so it will last.

Deeply water the plants for harvest a couple of times in the days before cutting. Immediately place cut stems into warm water, soak overnight, recut to proper length and strip leaves to clean the ends in the water. Refresh live greenery by daily watering and misting. Have realistic expectations for live plant material. Well-prepared material tended daily should last three to seven days indoors. Outside, shaded material can last several weeks if watered.

Incorporating dried plant material enhances your decor: pine cones, interesting bare stems, seed pods such as magnolia or bog lotus or even dried, leftover summer okra pods, and beautiful red winter berries. Make use in a tablescape of winter blooms such as our heritage camellias, forced amaryllis or narcissus, colorful poinsettias or even pots of pansies and violets.

Uses: Mixed natural materials are beautiful draping a banister or newel post, adorning a flat surface such as a mantel or table, as a wreath or embellishing a commercial wreath, tree or garland, filling a window sill or arranged in a vase or container. Upgrade artificial wreaths, garlands or trees by inserting fresh greenery nosegays.

Design tips
When designing a container arrangement, use plant material that is foundational, structural, filling and accenting:

• Place linear, structural stems to give the arrangement its shape (pyramid, triangle, mounding, rounded, etc.). Establish height and width first so that other pieces can be cut and placed in relation.

• Build a bed of greenery as a foundation.

• Place feathery and fine-textured filler.

• Select and place accents, keeping a single main feature placed in a central position (some designers advise placing the main feature first).

• Continue filling in.

• To incorporate bloom, start with a container of bulbs or a violet placed into a larger container, using a floral wet foam ring around it to hold the addition of surrounding greenery.

• Incorporate blooms by making nosegays of accent flowers in water vials to insert into the arrangement; swap out the nosegay as the blooms fade to extend the life of the arrangement or change the look.

Select long-lasting, varying textures and colors to fill each function:

• Use stems with leaves that are shiny or hard-surfaced for longer-lasting greenery, such as boxwood, yaupon, holly, camellia, magnolia, pittosporum, cleyera, ligustrum, viburnum.

• Use strong, linear stems for structure, feathery pieces to build foundations and fill vacant spots, arching stems for form or accent.

• Use long-lasting, feathery evergreens such as Leyland cypress, juniper, arborvitae, cedar, cryptomeria for foundations or infill.

• Use unusual pieces for accents or form, such as ginger, aspidistra, sago palm fronds, rosemary, small pine cones or seed pods, berry stems, even citrus such as kumquat.

Plan for the material to endure:
• Prepare material properly.

• Use wet floral foam or a water vase.

• Extend freshness by using stem water vials, or make homemade water vials by wrapping stems in wet paper towel and covering with a plastic baggie, then wrap in green florist tape and attach with the tape to a florist stake for inserting into the arrangement.

Finally, enjoy the beautiful blooms of camellias and other strong-petaled winter flowers by preserving them in wax. Local camellia enthusiast Dr. Brenda Litchfield offers a “How To” video on YouTube to demonstrate this old-fashioned art (youtube.com/watch?v=RWL7t-BYoWY). Here are the instructions:

• Mix 1 pound of paraffin wax with 1/2 cup of plain mineral oil. Heat to an exact 138 F. using an accurate cooking thermometer.
• Slowly swirl the bloom into the wax (don’t “plunk” it in; gently fold in) until submerged.

• Immediately remove it from the hot wax; briefly shake off any excess and turn it face-up to allow the wax to spread to the interior.

• Immediately swirl the bloom into a pan of iced water and leave for about 30 seconds. Remove to drain and dry, leaving a bloom that looks like porcelain!

Make these a day ahead and refrigerate for a party or hostess gift.

Upcoming gardening events:
What: Mobile Master Gardeners 2016 Greenery Sale (in conjunction with the Holiday Market in the Gardens)

When: Friday, Dec. 2 (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and Saturday, Dec. 3 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)

Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile

Items for sale: Wreaths, centerpieces, mantel toppers, mailbox saddles, twig deer, bundles of greenery for DIY designers

Purpose: Helps provide a scholarship for an area student majoring in horticulture.

What: Farming 101 (for beginning or transitioning farmers) presented by Mobile County Extension Office

When: Tuesdays from Dec. 6 to April 4 (6-9 p.m.)

Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road N., Mobile

Cost: $80 for entire series or $10 per session (includes materials and refreshments)

For more info: Call 251-574-8445 or email [email protected]