Christmas greens, fresh vs. fake: Tips to successfully layer the two

Christmas greens, fresh vs. fake: Tips to successfully layer the two

December 7th, 2013 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Natural chandeliers are popular decorations for outdoor living/entertainment spaces. Sue Chamberlain, stylist at The Barn Nursery, created this birch log by running a solid birch limb through the inside of a hollow birch log for support. She wound the real log with lighted birch twigs from the permanent collection, along with white pine and fir, then finished with burlap-wrapped balls and aged jingle bells for a rustic touch. The lanterns are suspended on each end of the interior limb, lit with battery-operated candles.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Real cyclamen and ferns planted in the pot are combined with stems of amaryllis from The Barn's permanent collection of plants. Remove the artificial amaryllis after the holidays from the centerpiece for year-round use of the dish garden.

Real cyclamen and ferns planted in the pot...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

The perfect accent for the woodland/lodge/natural greens look is burlap. Sue Chamberlain used a 3-foot by 9-foot burlap table runner to create a chair cover with double-loop back. She tied fresh greens, berries and pods into the back bow for decoration.

The perfect accent for the woodland/lodge/natural greens look...

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Safety for children and pets

Some popular plants in holiday decorations present poisoning hazards for small children and pets.

Poisonous berries are found on holly plants, yews, mistletoe, ivy plants, Jerusalem cherry, bittersweet ad crown of thorns. The white berries of mistletoe are particularly toxic. Keep these plants out of reach of children and pets.

Source: Clemson Cooperative Extension

The convenience of prelit artificial trees can't be denied, but one aspect these faux firs haven't been able to replicate is the crisp scent of spruce, pine or cedar.

Southerners have been decorating with fresh greenery since colonial days - just visit Williamsburg. Fresh greenery is a very organic look that reflects this region's winter greens and, right now, is the perfect complement to the woodland/lodge look that is the trendsetter in decorating this season.

As artificial trees have become more realistic-looking, their ease of use has caused a decline of fresh among homeowners. Sue Chamberlain, stylist for The Barn Nursery, suggests combining the best of both styles: Layer fresh greens with faux, or "permanent," as artificial is frequently called.

"More people are decorating earlier and earlier in November. You can go ahead and decorate with permanent greenery, then add fresh a couple of weeks before Christmas or right before you entertain. Layer the two. Don't take out your permanent look but add to it with layers of nandina berries, magnolia leaves, cut greenery. It will last up to a week without Oasis [floral foam]," Chamberlain says.

Hamilton County Master Gardener Sue Henley has mixed nature's ornaments with her artificial tree for several years.

"I add bird nests that I collect and save when we find them after we prune our shrubs and bushes," she says. "I also use sweet gum balls by stringing them together and hanging them around the tree or small pine cones tied with simple green ribbons."

Outside, she makes wreaths of fresh greenery, mixing several varieties together. Added perks of making her own natural decorations is that she knows the greens are fresh, not to mention there is no expense with cuttings from the yard.

"Last year, I just cut some evergreen limbs about 30 to 35 inches long, added some nandina berries and a pretty bow and hung them out along with my wreath. I made a wreath out of rosemary and added holly leaves and berries, small pine cones and a bow for inside my home. I love the fragrance of fresh rosemary," she says of her natural decorations.

Do-it-yourselfers should remember that when you cut live greens from your shrubs, you are, in essence, pruning the plants. Southern Living gardening editors say to consider carefully which branches you'll cut, and distribute cuts evenly around the plant to preserve its natural form.

"Everybody's busy, everybody's looking for unique ideas this time of year," says Chamberlain. "Many times we use our outdoor patios for holiday gatherings, so you might want to create a 'chandelier' with greens and natural materials that can be 'lit' by battery-operated luminaria or some of the new mini branch lights. [These] come on permanent willow or birch branches, but their electrical cord remains hidden."

Here are five of the stylist's tips:

• Surprise your guests with unusual chair covers embellished with greenery, photos, ornaments or favorite sayings.

• Create a chandelier of natural materials for your outdoor room.

• Look outside your windows for inspiration; bring the South's woodlands into your decorations. It will also relax you as you connect with nature collecting the greens.

• Enhance your decorating style by grouping ornaments together. Decorate in groups of three, five or seven, and ground a centerpiece design by putting it on a mirror or decorative plate.

• When layering garland and evergreens, strive for three-dimensional looks. They are more interesting, have depth and provide movement in design.

Contact Susan Pierce at or 423-757-6284.