December 08: Your Garden

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December 08: Your Garden

Deck the halls

This time of year, nothing marries indoors with outdoors more than the particularly human practice of bringing greenery in to spruce up the house. It reminds us that not everything is dead just because the trees are bare. The Yuletide tree has center stage, of course, but wreaths, garlands, swags and kissing balls are fun, too, and put the final touch on holiday decorating.

Contrasts are important: Needles add texture and woodsy fragrance to stolid broad leafed evergreens. White pine in the landscape forms a backbone of mixed windbreaks and screens. Wired together twig by twig, pine forms the most graceful and odorous of

garlands to drape from banisters or frame doorways. Virginia pine is darker green with curly stubby needles, good contrast in a mixed wreath, a bowl of greens or simply laid on mantel or tablecloth.

Red cedar often grows alongside it in hedgerows, the females pungent with dusty blue berries smelling faintly of gin. Blue tones soothe, and for many the iconic whiff of winter is the sharp scent of cedar. Berries are a traditional flavoring for braised deer flesh.

Broadleaves add class to any venue, catching candle light on their polished surfaces. Thankfully, the generous fall season of rain will sustain them during frozen windy days to come. Camellia, gardenia, boxwood, holly, inkberry and magnolia—especially if they’re planted on exposed sites—suffer badly if they go dry into winter.

Boxwoods like to be “plucked,” or thinned, this time of year to let in light and air, and just happen also to be the basic building block of the classic Williamsburg wreath and the indispensable kissing ball, so it’s a win-win. To create the latter, cover a Styrofoam ball by poking in sharply cut boxwood twigs, add a sprig of mistletoe (plastic works fine if you don’t have a friend who can shoot it out of a big oak) and ribbon, hang from a strategic doorway and hope things don’t get too far out of hand.

Hollies’ prickly leaves and bright berries can be difficult to work with because they tend to

It eats bugs, fascinates people, and is native
to the not-so-exotic Carolinas.

dry out in heated rooms. I like to use them in a simple swag, a few longish branches of pine and/or holly tied together at the top and hung outside by the door or lamp post.

Even deadly English ivy, mortal enemy of anything in its path, has something to offer with graceful tendrils and deep green color. A clever gardener on a corner of High Street clips hers year round into a row of living wreaths punctuating a retaining wall. She decorates them with red bows during the holidays.

Faithful readers will remember my deer fence dilemma from last month: how to cage out the creatures from edibles without distracting from the view of the garden beyond. Instead of more affordable but flimsy-looking plastic netting, which can also catch birds, butterflies and unwary snakes, I’ve settled on sturdy wire fencing attached to 10′ posts set in concrete.

I’m counting on sound construction, quality materials and a gate at the far end to match the existing entry gate to tie it all together. I’ll have to go out through the second gate to view the beech and lilacs unobstructed, but I hope munching on homegrown greens and berries along the way will compensate. Anyway, the whole idea of good design is to lead you through the garden.

Check out Remarkable Trees of Virginia, just published by Albemarle Books in Earlysville. Nancy Ross Hugo, Jeff Kirwan and photographer Robert Llewellyn have rendered the oldest, largest, most legendary and beloved trees in the Commonwealth in all their glory.—Cathy Clary

Snip snap

Sure, you’ve seen the flicks featuring Venus fly traps as leafy man-eaters, but here’s the scoop: Far from little horrors, these toothy carnivores are relatively low-maintenance in the right conditions, and probably the most fun you could have with a handful of flies.

Though native to the Carolina bogs, fly traps thrive just as well in terrariums with moist, acidic soil. Sit your traps in full sunlight, keep that terrarium closed, and mist as necessary, and you’ll have yourself a perennial exterminator that can snap shut in about 1/30 of a second, though colder conditions will slow it down. After four flies, an individual trap dies—just pinch off dead traps and emerging stems to promote new growth and further quick-snapping action.—Lucy Zhou

December in the garden

—Decorate with evergreens.

—Pluck the boxwoods.

—Install posts and wire for deer fence.