Last Sunday I snuck into the back of André’s Christmas decorating workshop under the pretense of taking pictures but I mostly just wanted to learn some of the wonderful Christmas decorating techniques that he was teaching that day.
André is amazing (and quick) at making all kinds of festive decorations for the holiday season. In his workshop, André taught all about using different types of greens, both needled and broadleaf, to create beautiful outdoor displays, as well as centerpieces, wreaths, kissing balls, and roping. He made it look so easy and really it is if you know some of the tricks of the trade.
He started out describing the greens he had laid out in front of him – greens that he “harvested” from some of the many different species of evergreens growing around the nursery; firs, spruce, pine, cypress, juniper, boxwood, holly …
All the boughs were fresh cut for use in the various arrangements he would create for the holidays, while at the same time benefiting the trees and shrubs through some thinning (never taking more than 10% when cutting for greens). After they were cut, all the greens were sprayed with Bonide Wilt Stop to help keep them fresher and reduce needle drop even when they are kept indoors. He sprays his Christmas trees with Wilt Stop before he brings them inside, too. The “snow tree” is also sprayed before it is flocked.
There were so many different colors and textures – the word “greens” is really misleading! Beautiful blues, silvery blues, and golds joined the greens in André’s stock pile of plant material all waiting to be turned into beautiful holiday arrangements.
“Plan NOW to add a few of these beautiful evergreens to your landscape,” he suggested. “By the time spring rolls around, you will have forgotten all about the holidays and needing greens for decorating!” In some areas, it’s not too late to plant even now. “If you plant a new evergreen each year, in a few years, you will have all the fresh greens you need.” Some of André’s favorites for decorating are Concolor Fir, Nordmann Fir, George Peabody Arborvitae, Gold Mop Cypress, Scotch Pine, juniper, holly, and boxwood. For bright accents in his arrangements, he likes nothing better than the berry laden branches of Ilex ‘Sparkleberry’, a cultivar of the deciduous holly, Ilex verticillata. Another good variety according to André is Ilex ‘Maryland Beauty’. To me, these ‘Sparkleberry’ branches really make the display!
Before he began his demonstration, André gave us another tip; “I don’t wear gloves when I do my arrangements, so before I start, I always apply a good layer of hand lotion to my hands. This keeps the pitch from sticking to them. Everything washes right off!” Great advice!
André first showed us how to create a beautiful centerpiece for a table. He warned us not to make it too large – “Always start out making it smaller than you want because in the end, it will invariably turn out much larger than you thought it would!” He began with a water-saturated block of oasis cut to fit into his container, then he snipped short pieces from his stock pile of cut boughs and set them aside. When he had a nice variety of greens ready, he began to create his arrangement. The lower needles were stripped off the branches and then poked into the oasis. He poked and turned, poked and turned, and before long he had a lovely centerpiece full of colorful greens and many different textures.
For a finishing touch, he added some peony and Siberian iris seed pods, some dried Achillea flowers, a few pine cones, a red candle in the center, and just like that he was finished. The whole thing took him about 10 minutes even with explaining the process to us. Of course he’s been doing this for many years! This arrangement could even be flocked with snow after it is finished.
He went on to show us how to make wreaths and roping by taking handfuls of mixed greens and wiring them in overlapping layers onto either a wire ring (for a wreath) or some heavy twine (for roping).
Each successive layer was laid down so that it overlapped and covered the cut ends of the previous layer. Florist wire from a spool was wrapped tightly around the ends and the wire ring securing it all together. The cut ends of the final layer were tucked under the first layer and carefully wired to the ring so no wire showed. I always wondered how that was done!
The pièce de résistance was when André demonstrated how to flock an evergreen bough. Every year André creates a beautiful “snow” tree for his home and every year when people see it they ask us how to do it. This year for the first time, he decided to add this demonstration to the decorating workshops. The hardest part is finding the flocking material, a mixture of cellulose fibers, mica (for sparkle), and glue.
Flocking should NEVER be done inside the house. Always wear a good quality dust mask while you work. Be sure to carefully cover the surface you are working on with newspaper to protect it – this flock will stick to anything!
Here are some photos showing the process:
It doesn’t seem too hard – at least André makes it look easy. I’ve never tried it but I’m sure with practice …
Until next time – Happy Gardening!