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Nothing says "holiday" like the scarlet berries of Winterberry Holly. (Photo by Beth Monroe)
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‘Blue Star’ juniper has silvery-blue foliage. (Photo by Grace Chapman Elton)
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Weeping yaupon holly makes a great specimen plant. (Photo by Grace Chapman Elton)
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Yellow- and red-twig dogwoods add architectural interest. (Photo by Grace Chapman Elton)
I love having fresh-cut flowers and foliage in my home year-round, but especially when the weather is crisp and cold. It reminds me that while part of my garden is sleeping, some plants are in their prime. There are many plants that provide exceptional winter interest in the landscape, while also providing a palette of colors and textures perfect for holiday arrangements.
Cut arrangements during the winter months have the benefit of lasting much longer than purely floral arrangements because they tend to focus on evergreen foliage, berries and colorful twigs. Harvesting plant material for cut arrangements is a form of pruning, so choosing plants that can take a bit of pruning year-round, using proper pruning techniques and not overharvesting is essential so that your cutting plants remain an attractive part of the garden.
Holly plants with large red berries come to mind when we think of the holidays, but this plant group has much more to offer. The weeping yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria ‘Pendula’) is another native plant that has bright-red berries, small leaves and a funky weeping shape that makes it a great specimen plant. Deciduous hollies (Ilex verticillata) lose their leaves in the winter, while producing berries that last for weeks, making them a wonderful plant for cut arrangements. ‘Berry Poppins’ is a red-berried cultivar that does well in the landscape as well as in winter containers, while ‘Winter Gold’ has delicate apricot-colored berries. It is important to remember that all hollies are dioecious, meaning they have male and female flowers on separate plants. Berries are only produced on female plants if a male pollinator is planted nearby.
Boughs of green
Evergreen magnolias (Magnolia grandiflora), with their thick shiny leaves, are also great filler plants for holiday arrangements. ‘Little Gem’ is a cultivar with smaller leaves that works well as a cut green with shiny green tops and copper undersides. Poet’s laurel (Danae racemosa) is a favorite shrub of floral designers. The glossy evergreen foliage and soft, malleable stems are versatile in cut arrangements. In the winter they also produce red berries.
The long, soft needles of pines are great for holiday garlands and swags. Beyond the simple green needles, try pines with interesting variegation such as variegated Himalayan pine (Pinus wallichiana ‘Zebrina’), which has yellow and green striped needles and long green cones. Also, it is fun to weave in different colored conifers. Blue star juniper (Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’) has silvery-blue foliage, and Japanese false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Golden Mop’) is a yellow-foliaged conifer.
Add some structure
Sometimes bare branches can also be an interesting addition to holiday arrangements. An old fashioned favorite is Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’). This plant’s branches twist and turn in interesting directions, providing interest and architecture to a cut arrangement.
A group of cut-back shrubs that seem tailor-made for winter arrangements are the red-and yellow-twig dogwoods (Cornus sericea). The new growth exhibits brilliant colors — this is a shrub that wants to be cut often to maintain the bright stems.