First published on Charleston Gazette-Mail.
For me, holiday decorating starts with the outside. I get excited about scavenging in the garden and woods for what I can use to fill window boxes, planters, vases and bowls.
It doesn’t get much easier than pinecones. I have baskets and baskets of pinecones scattered around the house.
I mix them with bows and shiny ornaments. I’ve even used them as tree decorations.
Most were collected from a friend’s farm in Gilmer County, and I use them year after year.
A childhood neighbor also brought me larger ones from her new home in North Carolina. I never fail to think of her when I use them.
As I start to collect materials, I trim branches from my boxwoods, juniper shrubs (making sure to get branches with berries) and magnolia leaves. Dried hydrangea blooms also work well for indoor arrangements.
I’m lucky to have a holly tree in the back, so of course I include a few branches loaded with berries in my outside arrangements.
I don’t bring the holly inside, as the berries are messy, I don’t want to tempt my pup with the potentially toxic berries and the leaves are sharp — really sharp — on bare feet.
Next comes the tree. For the past several years I have purchased a fresh tree from the vendors at Capitol Market. I’m partial to Fraser fir, as the branches are soft, they smell like Christmas and they retain their needles throughout the season.
The tree is always given a fresh cut before being tied to my car. I make sure to gather the trimmed lower branches, as they will come in handy for projects at home.
This is also the time to get the extras I couldn’t find in my garden. This year, I came home with eucalyptus, bundles of red dogwood sticks, a variety of different pines and beautiful ribbon bows.
First things first: I get the tree in the stand with plenty of fresh water, then I head outside to begin my window boxes and outdoor trim. Now is time to have some fun and get creative.
I like my boxes full and lush. I begin by placing the Christmas tree branches. I almost plant them in the box soil to keep them secure from wind and rain.
Next, I layer in all the assorted greens. When the greenery is billowing up and over the containers, I add in a few shiny, shatterproof ornaments, making sure they are tied to a stem, (garbage ties work if you’re in a pinch, just make sure you tuck them under the leaves).
The last step is adding a big bow.
My wreath is plain, but I add pinecones and a few sprigs of juniper. I really love mixing fruit into my wreath, but I use imitation fruit. With my luck, the deer would come on the front porch and eat the apples and pears hanging on my door.
I’ll leave the wreath and the pinecones out through most of the winter. Same with the window boxes.
After the holidays, I will pull the bows and ornaments, but leave the greenery until late February/early March.
I have many friends who use fresh cyprus evergreen roping to trim doors, stairways and mantles. It’s beautiful.
I sometimes use fresh and sometimes artificial. Fresh is a bit heavier, and for me, a bit harder to hang, but it sure is pretty.
Don’t forget about rosemary. The herb is often potted and trimmed to resemble small trees and makes a great hostess gift for your foodie friends.
I enjoy putting my decorations up early, but I also like to take the tree down very soon after Christmas.
As with most things, I have a hard time letting go of the tree. So, I clip branches and place them in a big bowl to ease the separation and extend my tree a few weeks longer.
With the window boxes done, the lights hung and the tree decorated, it’s time for hot chocolate.
This time of the year I have a hot chocolate station ready to go. I have the usual marshmallows, cinnamon and whipped cream, but I also like to have dried mint on hand to add a fun twist.
There’s nothing like a mug of hot cocoa to sip while surveying your finished projects and basking in the glow of holiday lights.