By Judy Weaver, Mobile County Master Gardener
This could be a good week to walk around your yard, taking inventory of your evergreen foliage for holiday decorating. What could be more fun than bringing the outdoor beauty of your yard into your home? Maybe a friend says, “Love this centerpiece! Where did you get it?” You respond demurely, “I made it with cuttings from my yard.” This column is all about that. So when you are ready, put together the basics noted in this column, head outdoors with your pruners, collect the greenery, put it in a bucket of water in your workspace and have fun designing your own creation.
Dennis Harris (AIFD, CAFA, CMD) of Zimlich’s is one of the most talented and experienced floral designers in our area. Harris recently shared his creativity and tips with Mobile County Master Gardeners who are preparing to make mailbox toppers, mantelpieces and centerpieces for our annual greenery sale at the Mobile Botanical Gardens, Dec. 6 and 7.
Here are some tips from Harris to start you on your way:
Begin with a good structure. A block of oasis is a must. Put unused, dry oasis in a bucket of water and let it naturally sink to the bottom, allowing the oasis cells to soak up the maximum amount of water. Place the wet oasis into a design in a bowl and tape it into place with waterproof floral tape, about three pieces across and two lengthwise wraps all the way around and under the bowl. If you use woody stems in the oasis, consider putting the oasis and floral bowl into a plastic cage to give heavier stems extra support. (And cut those woody stems into a wedge so they don’t twirl in the oasis.)
Cut greenery from your yard. Until you insert them into the oasis, keep cuttings hydrated in a bucket of water. Aim for a variety of color and texture, green and variegated. Examples of plant materials that work well: yew, golden elaeagnus, teddy bear magnolia, holly fern, sweet gum, loquat, camellia, ivy, boxwood foliage, nandina, arborvitae, gardenia foliage, potato vine, citrus foliage, cedar, fatsia leaves, pittosporum, cleyera, holly … and so many more. Foliage that is hardened off and not super tender lasts longest.
Shape it. If you are making a mantelpiece arrangement, keep the back of the piece flat, adding cuttings from the back of the foam forward, balancing the weight as you go so it will stay upright. You don’t want your masterpiece to topple off the mantel because it was front-heavy. To make a centerpiece for an oval or rectangular table, shape your piece to mirror that. For a round table, make your centerpiece round. And mind that it’s low enough to talk over.
Design the piece. Determine the width of your piece and begin by building that lower part of the arrangement first, then work your way all the way around (unless it’s a mantelpiece). Present the greenery like it is growing. In other words, everything should flow from an imaginary central point. It doesn’t have to be symmetrical. It is helpful to stand, working with your design at counter height to better see your work. You will need enough green material to cover the mechanics of your base completely. If you decide to move a cutting that you have inserted into the oasis, clip the stem where it enters the foam and reinsert the clipped stem elsewhere. This prevents leaving an open air pocket in the foam. Once your base is completely covered with all the mechanics out of sight, begin to add a progression of height and volume to your piece. Think cascading. Grouping like-foliage together on different sides can be very attractive. Once you have finished, place your arrangement where you intend to use it and tweak it in place. And remember, the first rule of longevity is to NEVER let your oasis dry out. It cannot be as effective if you do.
Consider accents. Pinecones, bows, berries, dried hydrangea blooms and manipulated foliage such as curled and stapled aspidistra leaves are just a few items you can use as accents. For any non-living item, wire it to a long wooden pick to give it more design flexibility and height. For example, you could create a focal point with two pinecones, one pointing up and one pointing down. Avoid two separate focal points in your arrangement, as they’ll look like two headlights. If you use a bow, bury it a bit in the arrangement rather than floating it on top. LED battery-powered lights on timers can add life to your arrangement.
The satisfying part of bringing the outdoors in is experimenting and embellishing with bits and pieces you collect throughout the year. You can’t help but have fun in the process. Enjoy!
Gardening Events for Your Calendar
What: Annual Greenery Sale, Holiday Market and Art Bazaar
When: Dec. 6 and 7, (9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Saturday)
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile
Don’t worry if you did not pre-order; there will have great selections for you!
What: MG Tent at Farmers Market at Cathedral Square
When: Saturdays through Nov. 23 (7:30 a.m. – noon)
Where: 301 Conti Street, Mobile
What: Alabama Master Gardeners State Conference
When: March 30 – April 1, 2020
Current activity: Inviting sponsors and donors to participate
Contact: AMGA2020Mobile@gmail.com for information about sponsorships and donations for the conference.
Master Gardener Helpline: 877-252-4769, or send your gardening questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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