Category Archives: Christmas tradtitions

Holiday Wreaths, Traditions & Lore

It happened again last week– the annual gathering of wreath makers at Barb Kelley’s house in south Felton. The day was crisp and clear and with ginger bread and Prosecco in hand, a dozen or us shared techniques and ideas for this year’s wreaths. 14 wreaths were made on the day I was there but Barb told me the total last year was 44 for the week-long event. Creating a wreath or swag for the holidays from foliage cut from your own garden is a good way to make a little light pruning around the yard fun. Here are some tips.

Hydrangea-holly-juniper-pepper berry wreath

Every year the foliage and flowers provided by Barb and her husband, Reg varies. Some greenery like the Hollywood juniper comes from a neighbor who waits until December and then allows the Kelley’s to prune to their heart’s content. The gardener at the bank near Safeway allowed the magnolia tree to be pruned along with some of their impressive pink seed pods. The hot pink Chinese pistache berries come from a secret source in Scotts Valley. Variegated holly is harvested from another garden as are the Ruby Glow tea tree branches.

Huge piles of douglas fir boughs, cypress branches, oleander and eucalyptus flowers, purple Japanese privet berry clusters and feathery Japanese black pine boughs were also available for the making of our wreaths. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Barb decided to rejuvenate her hydrangea shrub collection and there were boxes of blue and rich pink flower clusters, too.

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreen shrubs and conifers but don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately. To reveal the plant’s natural form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or back to the trunk. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach inside the plant.

The author making first of three wreaths

Winter solstice is December 21st. Solstice literally mean “Sun stands still” and for a few days around this time of year the sun does appear to stand still in the sky. Nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration. These celebrations date back thousands of years starting at the beginning of agriculture among people who depended on return of the sun. We have incorporated many of the same plants into our holiday traditions like holly, ivy, evergreens, rosemary and mistletoe.

Holly remains green throughout the year. Decorating with it has long been believed to bring protection and good luck. Placing a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland. Norseman and Celts use to plant a holly tree near their homes to ward off lightning strikes. The crooked lines of the holly leaf gave rise to its association with lighting and in fact holly does conduct lightning into the ground better than most trees.

Evergreen trees also play a role in solstice celebrations. Early Romans and Christians considered the evergreen a symbol of the continuity of life. Fir, cedar and pine bough wreaths were used to decorate homes. Small gifts were hung from evergreen tree branches which may have been where the Christian tradition of decorating an evergreen tree in December originated.

Take a few minutes to create your a wreath for your door or tabletop or to give away to friends and neighbors. It’s a fun way to celebrate the holidays and trust me, you can’t make a bad wreath. They all turn out beautiful.

Christmas Lore from The Mountain Gardener

 

Sherman and Christmas tree
Sherman and Christmas tree

We all celebrate the holidays in a different way. Each family has their own traditions and memories from years gone by. Some of us celebrate Christmas, some Hanukkah, some Kwanzaa. Many of our traditional Christmas customs originate from Winter Solstice celebrations. The plants associated with each are an important part of tradition and symbolism.

Winter solstice is the 21st of December. Solstice literally means “Sun Stands Still’ and for a few days around this time of year the sun appears to stand still in the sky. Nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration. These celebration date back thousands of years starting at the beginning of agriculture among people who depended on the return of the sun. We have incorporated many of the plants from traditional winter solstice celebrations into our own- holly, ivy, evergreens, rosemary, mistletoe and poinsettia. How did this come about?

Holly remains green throughout the year when deciduous trees like the oak shed their leaves. Decorating with it throughout the home has long been believed to bring protection and good luck. Placing a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland since holly was one of the main plants that was green and beautiful with red berries at this time of year. Norseman and Celts use to plant a holly tree near their homes to ward off lightning strikes. The crooked lines of holly leaves gave rise to its association with lightning and in fact holly does conduct lighting into the ground better than most trees.

hummingbird ornament
Hummingbird ornament on Noble fir Christmas tree

Like other evergreens, ivy symbolizes immortality and eternal life. In England it is traditionally used in kissing balls with holly and mistletoe. It has also stood for fidelity, healing and marriage. Ancient Romans thought it brought good luck and joy. It was worn as a crown or fashioned into a wreath or garland.

Evergreen trees also play a role in solstice celebrations. Early Romans and Christians considered the evergreen a symbol of the continuity of life. Fir, cedar, pine boughs wreaths were used to decorate homes. Small gifts were hung from the branches in groves. This may have been where the Christian tradition of decorating an evergreen tree or Yule tree in December originated. Other sacred trees of the solstice are yew, birch, arborvitae and ash.

We often see rosemary plants trained into a Christmas tree shape. Rosemary is evergreen in the winter and blooms at the same time making it the perfect plant for the holidays. Traditionally rosemary was spread on floors at Christmas time. People walking over the herb released the fragrant scent and filled the home with blessings and protection.

How did our enduring fascination with mistletoe get started? From earliest times it has been one of the most magical, mysterious and sacred plants in Greeks, Celts, Scandinavia, England and European folklore.The Druids believed the mistletoe’s magical powers extended beyond fertility. It was believed to cure almost any disease and was know as the “all healer”. Sprigs fixed above doorways of homes were said to keep away lightning and other types of evil. Because the plant has no roots it was believed that it grew from heaven.

Kissing under the mistletoe probably came from the Greek-Roman belief that it bestowed fertility and had life-giving power. In Scandinavia it was considered a plant of peace under which enemies could declare a truce or fighting spouses could kiss and make up. However this tradition originated it’s a good one.

The Yule log dates back to the Saxons and Celtics. Oak trees represented strength, endurance, protection and good luck. It was the most sacred tree of Europe. On the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, people would keep a huge oak log burning for 12 hours. They would toss oak twigs and acorns into the fire, shout out their hopes and resolutions for the coming New Year and sing Yuletide carols. A piece of the Yule log was saved to start the fire the following year.

It’s traditional for us to have some poinsettias in the house for the holidays but they don’t have a very long history of European tradition like other plants because poinsettia is a native of Mexico. In the 1820’s President Andrew Jackson appointed Joel Roberts Poinsett as the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red “flowers” growing next to a road. He took cuttings and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Because the leaves or bracts turn bright red around Christmas time they have been used as decorations for the holidays ever since.

Traditional plants symbolic of Hanukkah are the citron, myrtle twigs, willow twigs and palm fronds. The Four Species are waved together along with special blessings as part of the synagogue service or at home.

Kwanzaa, another celebration of light, features the harvest foods of Africa: ears of corn, fruit and nuts. It is a secular celebration observed during the last week of December to celebrate the “fruit” or accomplishments coming out of the year of labor.

Around the world, holiday celebrations have their own special meaning. With friends and family, embrace your traditions and have a wondrous holiday.

Holiday Wreaths Done Right

 

pittosporum tobira
Christmas wreath made with Chinese pistache berries, dried hydrangea blooms, Variegated pittosporum tobira, holly, eucalyptus and cedar cuttings

The holiday season just wouldn’t be complete without a day spent with the Felton Christmas Wreath Makers at their annual get together at Barb’s house. Many of us are regulars were anxious to get started and arrived mid morning eager to dig into the various piles of wreath making greens graciously supplied by Barb and her husband, Reggie. We all shared stories and some laughs over glasses of sparkling cider or champagne and french pastries.

This year Barb and Reg collected a slightly different mix of material than in previous years. “It’s different every year”,  she said.  “The drought has helped some plants set more berries. And while greens from our favorite gathering places looked much better than last year others looked terrible. You just never know.”

I arrived at Barb’s beautiful garden entering through a wrought iron gate. I had forgotten her plump chickens that she keeps for their eggs and thought she had added some new garden art. Once they started pecking around for insects it all came back to me. They entertained us all day taking dust baths underneath the camellias.

Barbs_ rooster
Barb’s rooster

Barb has a great eye for combining plants, garden art and hardscaping in her landscape. The curving brick path leads to the raised deck where she hosts the wreath making party. She has a chiminea fireplace in case the day turns chilly but the sun was shining on this morning after a storm went through the day before. This woman has good luck in the weather department.

Everyone makes a slightly different style wreath choosing greens, berries, seeds pods and hydrangea blooms or flower clusters of eucalyptus, acacia, pittosporum and Ruby Glow tea tree. Hollywood juniper, deodar cedar, red cedar, black pine, boxwood, camellia, oleander with long, slender seed pods and red flower buds, California bay, privet with berries and bottlebrush are just some of the plant material that we used this year.

We wreath makers come in all sizes and ages. I took time out to watch Barb help her grand daughter Sawyer attach dried hydrangea blossoms to her own little wreath. They were pretty engrossed in their project and I had to laugh when Sawyer decided hers had just the right amount of decorations on it.

One creative wreath maker this year made a horse head from a candy cane shaped wire frame she bought online. Using just two types of greens, Hollywood juniper for the horse’s coat and feathery Black pine boughs for the mane, a pine cone for the eye and some red ribbon for the bridle her creation is sure to be a hit with her niece, a horse lover.

If you’re thinking of getting together with your neighbors to make wreaths or swags, start by having each bring a couple grocery bags of greens to share with other wreath makers. It helps if you can borrow a couple tables and have a few extra clippers on hand in case someone forgets theirs like I did. Each person brings their own wreath frames of wire or grape vine and some thin gauge wire on a paddle to attach the bundles to the frame. Wire coat hangers work just fine, too.

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreens for use in wreaths and swags. Cuttings from fir, redwoods, pine, holly, mahonia, strawberry tree, toyon and cotoneaster parneyi make fine additions to your wreath or swag. But don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately. To reveal the plant’s naturally handsome form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or to the trunk. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach into the plant.

Trust me, you can’t make an bad wreath. They all turn out beautiful.

Holiday Wreaths from the Garden

holiday wreath.2048After a hiatus last year I again had the pleasure to join my neighbors at their annual wreath making party. This is the 11th year this group has gotten together “rain or shine” according to hosts Barb Kelly and Martha Radcliffe.

The wreath making extravaganza lasts for over a week and friends and relatives come from far and wide to create the most amazing wreaths. But it’s the work of Barb, her husband Reggie and neighbor Martha who make it all possible. This year pouring rain didn’t stop them from seeking out their favorite plants to snip. For a week or so they cut and prune and piled everything up for those of us who drop by to use freely as we create our wreaths.

One of my fellow wreathers this year came all the way from Roseville as they wreath display.1920always do. Her sister and niece Jaelyn had a wonderful time making their wreaths but hers was well over 2 feet across and weighed about 30 pounds. “I like everything big”, she said with a laugh, “including big wreaths and big hair.” You hear the description “this one’s a Kardashian” in the group. These amazing creations are created from so many bundles of greenery, flowers and berries that they end up weighing more than you’d think.

Barbs_wreath2Barb, who’s house and garden we invade, creates lots of wreaths, the bigger the better. She holds the record for making the biggest wreath while Martha holds the record for the most wreaths. Both use them in their own homes and to give away as gifts to friends and neighbors. Used to be Barb would give one to her secret pal in her bunco group but they all come now and make their own wreaths these days.

Barb says this year she thinks the one she made for her front door is one of her best. It’s not the biggest but features dark pink camellia buds and tiny red roses in addition to the deep red flowers of New Zealand tea tree. She added an ivory bow to complement her door.

Little Amanda was there with her Mom and one her friends Anastasia. I met Amanda a couple of years ago when she posed with her own creation for me. The kids will be making their own wreaths later in the week. One of these small fry is only 4 yrs but all are going to make wreaths too with a little help.

One gentleman made several square wreaths which were unique. Each wreath maker creates a different kind of look when choosing the plant material for their bundles. Some are meticulous in combining the exact same mix as they go around the wire frame. Others gather with abandon from conifers, variegated shrubs and other favorite plants that are piled high along the edges of Barb’s deck.

You can make a stunning wreath yourself from most anything you find around your garden. Barb, Reggie and Martha have favorite places they have scoped out to collect greenery including neighbor’s yards. They get permission from the homeowner first but have several people who look forward to the free pruning of their shrubs each year.

Some of the plant material that they harvest include conifers like cypress, deodar cedar, redwood, arborvitae and fir. Broadleaf evergreens such as camellia, bottlebrush, variegated pittosporum, variegated holly, green holly, silver dollar eucalyptus, boxwood, oleander, acacia. melaleuca and abelia are also good. For color, try snippets of leptospermum Ruby Glow, leucodendron ‘Safari Sunset’, camellia and rose buds and dry hydrangea flowers. Favorite berries are myrtus communis, texas privet, pepper berries, holly berries and nandina.

Take a few minutes to create a wreath or swag for your own home or to give away to friend and neighbors. It’s a fun way to celebrate the holidays.

Twas the Night before Christmas, a poem for gardeners

santa_ornament

Twas the Night Before Christmas
A poem for Gardeners
by Jan Nelson “The Mountain Gardener”

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the garden,
All the creatures were stirring,  the deer got a pardon.
The hummingbird feeders were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that the Anna’s soon would be there.

The flowering cherries were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of spring glory danced in their heads.
The summer vegetables were harvested and beds put to nap,
The compost’s a brewing so next year’s a snap.

 
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I ran into the garden to see what was the matter.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a big flock of chickadees and eight black-tailed deer.

They spoke not a word, but went straight to their work,
The chickadees devouring aphids with amazing teamwork.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the deck,
Prancing and pawing, the deer making a wreck.

A hydrangea here, an abutilon there, this garden’s a feast,
Fruit, vegetables and color:  it must belong to an artiste.
We love this garden, they whispered to themselves,
With any luck,  they’ll think we’re the elves !

Beautiful flowers and nectar and fragrance abounds,
We’ll include this forever on one of our rounds.
The birds can sing and fly in the skies
But we have the charm with huge brown doe-eyes.

We get a bad rap, it’s not all our fault,
Most of our feeding grounds are covered with asphalt.
Just give us a sleigh and we’ll make you proud,
We’re good for more than just eating roses they vowed.

Call us Dasher and Dancer and Comet and Vixen,
Or Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen,
Maybe you’ll forgive us for our past mistakes,
We can’t help we eat plants, we don’t eat steaks.

If you’ve been good this year, go ahead and make a wish,
And when you see us, welcome us , don’t banish.
All of us creatures will give you our best shot,
To feed and nourish your garden with nary a thought.

So everybody listen carefully on Christmas Eve,
And maybe you’ll hear us and then you’ll believe.
You may even hear us exclaim as we prance out of sight,
” Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night ! ”

My thanks to Clement Clark Moore who wrote this poem in 1822 in New York.  I’d like to believe that he would enjoy my version for gardeners everywhere.

Winter Solstice Christmas Traditions

We all celebrate the holidays in different ways. Each family has their own traditions and warm memories from years gone by. Some of us celebrate Christmas, some Hanukkah, some Kwanzaa. Many of our traditional Christmas customs originate from Winter Solstice celebrations. The plants associated with each are an important part of their tradition and symbolism.

Winter solstice is the 21st of December. Solstice literally means "Sun Stands Still' and for a few days around this time of year the sun appears to stand still in the sky. Nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration. They have been with us for thousands of years starting at the beginning of agriculture among people who depended on the return of the sun. We have incorporated many of the plants from traditional winter solstice celebrations into our own- holly, ivy, evergreens, rosemary, mistletoe and poinsettia. How did this come about?

Holly remains green throughout the year when deciduous trees like the oak shed their leaves. Decorating with it throughout the home has long been believed to bring protection and good luck. Placing a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland since holly was one of the main plants that was green and beautiful with its red berries at this time of year. Norseman and Celts use to plant a holly tree near their homes to ward off lightning strikes. The crooked lines of holly leaves gave rise to its association with lightning and in fact holly does conduct lighting into the ground better than most trees.

Like other evergreens, ivy symbolizes immortality and eternal life. In England it is traditionally used in kissing balls with holly and mistletoe. It has also stood for fidelity, healing and marriage. Ancient Romans thought it brought good luck and joy. It was worn as a crown or fashioned into wreaths or garland.

Evergreen trees play a role in solstice celebrations. Early Romans and Christians considered the evergreen a symbol of the continuity of life. Fir, cedar, pine boughs and wreaths were used to decorate homes. Small gifts were hung from the branches in groves. This may have been where the Christian tradition of decorating an evergreen tree  or Yule tree, in December originated. Other sacred trees of the solstice are yew, birch, arborvitae and ash.

We often see rosemary plants trained into a Christmas tree shape. Rosemary is evergreen in the winter and blooms at the same time making it the perfect plant for the holidays. Traditionally rosemary was spread on floors at Christmas as people walked over the herb releasing the fragrant scent and filling the home with blessings and protection.

How did our enduring fascination with mistletoe get started? From earliest times it has been one of the most magical, mysterious and sacred plants of Greeks, Celts, Scandinavia, England and European folklore in general.The Druids believed the mistletoe's magical powers extended beyond fertility. It was believed to cure almost any disease and was know as the "all healer". Sprigs fixed above doorways of homes were said to keep away lightning and other types of evil. Because the plant has no roots it was believed that it grew from heaven.

Kissing under the mistletoe probably came from the Greek/Roman belief that it bestowed fertility and had life-giving power. In Scandinavia it was considered a plant of peace under which enemies could declare a truce or fighting spouses could kiss and make up. However this tradition originated it's a good one.

The Yule log dates back to the Saxons and Celtics. Oak trees represented strength, endurance, protection and good luck. It was the most sacred tree of Europe. On the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year, people would keep a huge oak log burning for 12 hours. They would toss oak twigs and acorns into the fire, shout out their hopes and resolutions for the coming New Year and sing Yuletide carols. A piece of the Yule log was saved to start the fire the following year.

It's traditional for us to have some poinsettias in the house for the holidays but they don't have a very long history of European tradition like other plants because pointsettia is a native of Mexico. In the 1820's President Andrew Jackson appointed Joel Roberts Poinsett as the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. In 1828 he found a beautiful shrub with large red "flowers" growing next to a road. He took cuttings and brought them back to his greenhouse in South Carolina. Because the leaves turn bright red around Christmas time they have been used as decorations for the holidays ever since.
 
Traditional plants symbolic of Hanukkah are the citron, myrtle twigs, willow twigs and palm fronds. The Four Species are weaved together along with special blessings as part of the synagogue service or at home.
Kwanzaa, another celebration of light, features the harvest foods of Africa: ears of corn, fruit and nuts. It is a secular celebration observed during the last week of December to celebrate the "fruit" or accomplishments coming out of the year of labor.

Around the world, holiday celebrations have their own special meaning. With friends and family, embrace your traditions and have a wondrous holiday.