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GROWING EVERGREENS FOR THE HOLIDAYS

Anne K Moore
Photographs Anne K Moore

Gigi Huckabee and her husband Eddy bought their historic house thirty years ago and moved it to its present location in Lexington, South Carolina. They have lovingly restored the circa 1800-1810 interior and furnished it with period antiques and handcrafted furniture which Eddy constructs. Gigi loves to decorate her house for the holidays in the historic Colonial Williamsburg style, using what she finds in her garden and along the roadside.

Over the years, Gigi has added evergreen shrubs to her yard that are best for clipping and using in her welcoming outdoor Christmas decorations and her beautiful indoor displays.

GIGI’S FAVORITE EVERGREENS FOR DECORATIONS
Color Guard Yucca (Yucca filamentosa ‘Color Guard’, USDA zones 5-10)
Florida Anise (illicium floridanum, USDA Zones 8-10)
Sprawling Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata', USDA Zones 6-9)
Upright Japanese plum yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Fastigiata', USDA Zones 6-9)
Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica, USDA Zones 4-7)
Variegated Bush Ivy (x Fatshedera lizei 'Mediopicta', USDA Zones 8-10)
American Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens, USDA Zones 5-9)
Variegated Pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira ‘Variegata', USDA Zones 8-11)
Arborvitae (Thuja, USDA Zones 3-7)
Cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica ‘Elegans Nana’, USDA Zones 5-9)
Carissa holly (Ilex cornuta 'Carissa', USDA Zones 6-9)

Gigi likes to create a fan effect with leaves of the Color Guard yucca. In this arrangement in the antique white porcelain deer vase, Gigi alternates the Color Guard yucca with Florida anise as a backdrop, then fills in with sprawling yew and graceful Japanese andromeda, finishing with one little variegated bush ivy leaf up front.

To construct the candle stand arrangement, Gigi uses a special Oasis holder that sets inside a candle stand, which she purchased from a florist supplier. She wraps the variegated bush ivy leaves on the outside of the holder to hide it and then builds her arrangement. “I started with a layer of boxwood, and then came in with upright yew, then variegated pittosporum, then some arborvitae, and then the sprigs of Cryptomeria.” She ended with some holly leaves and red berries for color. A red candle tops it all.

All the evergreen materials will last longer if you condition them before arranging. They should lie in a tub of tepid water and soak overnight. “The killer of fresh greenery is the heat in the house,” Gigi says, so keep them watered, misted, and away from heat vents. Your arrangements should last 2-3 weeks indoors, with the exception of Florida anise, “It smells good and it holds up well in water for weeks,” Gigi explains.

HOW TO TAKE TRIMMINGS WITHOUT RUINING SHRUB FORMS
“Each plant has a different perspective or a different form that you need to respect,” Gigi says. “Boxwood needs air,” Gigi says, “so you can go down into the plant and take your cuttings. This will improve air circulation and make the boxwood shrub fuller. When I’m doing something like Florida anise, I will look for a branch that has strayed or gotten larger than the rest and so I will cut that particular piece off. With Leyland cypress, I just go around the tree and cut sporadically but not all in one spot, a snip here a snip there.” With variegated pittosporum, Gigi looks for suckers at the base or tall shoots that ruin the form of the shrub. “Another plant I use a lot is yew, so I deliberately let it grow taller than I want it to be, then shear it off at Christmas.”

When you are cutting your plant material for decorating or the vase, you don’t want to cut new growth. Gigi advises, “Try, in selecting your plant material, your green material, to go for the old growth material because that new little stem with light green material isn’t going to hold up.”

Gigi Huckabee is a Master Gardener and a freelance magazine writer. She recommends Christmas Decorations from Williamsburg by Susan Hight Rountree, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Also, check out the article on Sweet Gum Trees by Sharon Thompson for a photo of Gigi’s dried sweet gum, nut, and pinecone tree.

Posted November 21, 2012.

 

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