By Tom Kerby and the team at Phillips Garden
It may be November, but the gardening season is not quite over. Keep your place looking beautiful during nature’s downtime by decorating your planters, window boxes, front stoop pots, or just about anything you can stick a spruce tip in, to keep your spirits up through the holidays right ’til tulip time. Here are some tips to get you inspired.
What’s your style? Choose a theme that expresses your style and helps you decide which materials to use. Are you modern or traditional, understated or bold? Use natural greens, dogwood sticks, pine cones, and berries for a traditional look. Kick it up for a modern theme using strong architectural elements, bold colors, large masses of a single elements, or unexpected materials and ornamentations. Another approach is to coordinate your pots with other holiday décor such as wreaths and garlands, inside and out. Or play off the color of your house. Red twig dogwood or birch logs look great against a dark house while dark alder branches stand out against a lighter background. The bluish tint of spruce or eucalyptus coordinates well with grey trim or accents.
Pick a pot. Whatever containers you used during the warmer months are probably just fine for winter decorating, but, honestly, if those pots have bold gold sunflowers painted on them, they may not be the thing. If you are purchasing new, select glazed ceramic, iron stone, or metal containers. The same process that creates a pothole just might bust up your terra cotta planter. Also, size does matter. Though you want your pot to be an appropriate size to fit the site, a larger pot will have more of an impact, and it’s less likely to blow over in the wind.
Get thee to a garden center. We suggest keeping it real when it comes to the basic building blocks. Natural materials look good, smell great, and are, well, naturally beautiful. Many of these items, like spruce tips, pine boughs, sticks, cones, and berries, can be picked up at a garden center or nursery. Specialty nurseries will carry more unique items such as dried pomegranates, magnolia leaves, lotus pods, eucalyptus branches, or grevillea leaves. If you’re really wild, try gleaning things from your own property, such as dogwood sticks, crabapple branches, rosehips, mosses, and hydrangea flowers. And don’t forget the goodies. Head to your favorite craft, home improvement, or hardware store for ribbons, ornaments, balls, and lights. These are the things that can add your personal touch and make your creations special.
Now put that pot together. Regular potting soil or sand work great as a base. If your pot is frozen, bring it into a heated garage or other indoor space (watch out for leaks!) to thaw it out. As for a traditional design, consider starting with a base of spruce tips, arranged either vertically or splayed out, or pine. A strong vertical element, using vibrant sticks, branches, and birch logs, adds some boldness and movement. Fill in around the base with cascading white or red pine, eucalyptus bunches, or incense cedar. Add complementary elements, such as winterberry, rosehips, pods, and cones, either at the base or throughout the design (like decorating a tree!). Larger groupings of these accents have more of an impact than little bits placed here and there. To polish it all off, add holiday-themed ribbons, ornaments, and other flourishes.
A more modern approach might not use greens at all with a dramatic base of dogwood sticks, flame or fantail willow, moss, pine cones, or magnolia leaves. Cut sticks to the same height for a very bold look. A large mass of a single element in a pot might be all it takes to express yourself. Group several of these pots of different shapes and sizes together for a unique and modern design.
Whether you’re going for a traditional or more eclectic look, we suggest keeping it simple. We like larger clumps of a few elements repeated throughout, which makes a bigger impact and really lets each shine. Pick 3-5 things that look great together and repeat them through your design. Your pots will look polished and well thought-out rather than haphazard and scattered.
Now that you’ve got some ideas, here are a few tips for making your stuff stick and look fabulous right through the winter.
Sturdy and strong. Keep in mind that your creations are meant to last for the duration of the season, out in the elements, so they have to stand up to rain, sleet, snow, and stiff winds. Light and fluffy items just aren’t going to make it for the long haul. Consider limiting the wimpier elements to the holiday season.
Plant ‘em deep. Speaking of standing up, the deeper you can shove a spruce tip or dogwood stick into a pot, the sturdier and more stable it will be.
Put a stick on it. Or wire it down. Winter winds will send that oh so carefully placed ornament or ribbon right into your neighbor’s yard, so wire it to a stick or a stake and plant it deep (see above). Alternatively, you can wire it directly onto something that is already firmly planted. Give it a tug. If it’s loose, lock it down.
Christmas in March. Do you want to be that person on your block who is still wishing everyone “Happy Holidays” when the crocuses are pushing up through the snow? No, you do not. Make your base design look good on its own. Make the holiday portion of your pots (ornaments, ribbons, Santa figurines) easily removable so you can update your décor with the changing seasons (hopefully by Valentine’s Day!).
Light up your life. Don’t underestimate the warming welcome after a dreary commute home of a glowing, glittering pot o’ greens. If you choose to light your pots, we suggest white traditional strand lights, preferably with brown wire. If you go with LEDs, use warm white for a subtler glow. But, hey, if your style is all about color, go for it! Wrap the lights around the base materials before adding accents to better hide the wires. Consider using a timer set to turn on at dusk and stay on for a specified time.
Happy hour. When all is said and done, and your pots, window boxes, and planters (or what have you) are all in place, lit up, and looking gorgeous, give them a good drink of water. It settles the soil and secures everything when the pot freezes.
In the end, it’s all about bringing out your creativity and expressing your personal style. Make something that you will enjoy and that welcomes you, your family, and your friends to your home. Most of all, have fun. Spring is not right around the corner.
Tom Kerby has been working at Phillips Garden for the past five years as a Landscape Architect/Project Manager. He has been a registered Landscape Architect for over 20 years, and has collaborated with architectural/engineering firms on projects across the country. He is crazy passionate about creating and building meaningful, beautiful spaces as part of the team at Phillips Garden (www.phillipsgarden.com).