When winter robs me of the simple joy of cutting flowers from my garden, collecting greenery for decorating the house is one of my favorite things to do this time of year. Chances are, you can find everything you need for your holiday decorations in your own backyard—or your neighbors’ yards, if they’re kind enough to share.
Arm yourself with sturdy clippers and a bucket, and look for evergreens with woody stems. Although my own backyard isn’t much larger than some people’s garages, I have plenty of options—holly, red-tip photinia, English ivy, boxwood and camellia, to name a few. With nandina, magnolia, pyracantha and aucuba also common in Virginia, there is no need to limit yourself to pine or fir boughs.
Most evergreens will look fresh for about a week without water, depending on the level of humidity in your home. To create lasting, grand displays for mantels, the pros use blocks of floral foam soaked in low trays of water, which are held together with floral tape. I find that arranging a few small branches around items on my mantels and tables instantly makes everything look more festive—and requires much less work.
Dried crepe myrtle seedpods, pinecones and artful branches can be added to the mix in their natural state, or spray-painted to add color and sparkle. The thick, broad leaves of magnolia trees are stunning when coated with silver or gold. Ribbon, beads, Christmas balls, brightly wrapped candy and colorful fruit are all longer-lasting alternatives to flowers. Just remember to be careful with candles around your custom creations—open flames and drying greenery could make your home a bit warmer than you intended.