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Gardening

Festive Greenery—Bringing the Outside In

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As the winter creeps up and frost is evident in the world around us, many of us consider ways to stay connected with and enjoy the beauty of nature indoors. We often think of bringing the outside in at different times of the year, from spring bulb forcing to cut flowers in summer, but we sometimes forget about the evergreens and bare branches that can be cut and brought indoors to cheer us up in the winter.

‘Zebrina’ western red cedar (Thuja plicata ‘Zebrina’). Photo: Michelle Gervais

Look to evergreen Northwest native trees and shrubs to harvest branches for the indoors

The Pacific Northwest is home to many native evergreens that can be used as decorative indoor greenery. You may already grow these, or they may have established naturally in your garden. Our region also provides access to many greens that are harvested from wastelands and public forests for the florist trade. Native trees such as Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii and cvs., Zones 5–8), western red cedar (Thuja plicata and cvs., Zones 5–8), and western white pine (Pinus monticola and cvs., Zones 3–8) offer excellent evergreen conifer foliage for indoor arrangements. Broadleaf evergreen shrubs like salal (Gaultheria shallon and cvs., Zones 5–9) and Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa, Zones 6–9) are also excellent for harvesting for indoor arrangements and wreath making. These plants can sometimes be found down the road on vacant land or on neighboring properties where we can take a bit (with permission) for inside use. However, they are great natives to include in your own garden plantings to give you more to cut as well as a well-rounded selection to choose from.

Winter Red winterberry
‘Winter Red’ winterberry (Ilex verticillata ‘Winter Red’). Photo: Jennifer Benner

Don’t forget to include branches with berries too

Hollies (Ilex spp. and cvs., Zones 4–11) can be easily grown as useful and ornamental screening or background plants and then harvested with no ill effects. Tea Ilex genus also has a lot to offer when it comes to enlivening the winter season. Winterberries (Ilex verticillata and cvs., Zones 4–9) produce bright berries of white, red, or orange on full bare stems. They’re often grown in the Midwest in wet locations but can easily adapt to our area with good sun and wet or moist soil.

On the other hand, pink Nootka (Rosa nutkana, Zones 5–8), along with other roses, is native to our region and can be found growing in hedges and ditches. It produces wonderful red hips that can also be enjoyed in indoor arrangements. Living in moist soil on the edges of wetlands, this rose’s hips also feed birds in the winter. Minor civic pruning does little to affect the food supply, and the rejuvenation from cutting down the long canes will produce more canes the next year. Planting shrub roses like rugosa rose (Rosa rugosa* and cvs., Zones 2–8) in the garden also provides a good long-lasting supply of hips that can be brought into the house. Leaves often need to be stripped and thorns avoided, but it’s very much worth the effort.

winter floral arrangement as table centerpiece
Colorful woody stems work well in arrangements too. Photo: Susan Calhoun

It’s great fun to play with greenery and berries in festive indoor arrangements. Using a base of evergreen prunings from the garden and adding in the bits of red or white is how to get started. Collected pine or fir cones, which are all different in size and shape, add interest. A low vase containing water will hold flowering branches of shrubs like evergreen camellias (Camellia sasanqua and cvs., Zones 6–10) and winter hazels (corylopsis spp. and cvs., Zones 6–8) for well over a week.

Check out this quick list of great plants to use for indoor winter arrangements

Here is a short list of other great plants to use for indoor winter arrangements. After displaying these, I add them to the compost bin to ensure the berries are available to birds, and the foliage goes back to feed the garden.

  1. paper birch (Betula papyrifera and cvs., Zones 2–7)
  2. redtwig dogwood (cornus alba and cvs., Zones 2–8)
  3. witch hazel (Witch Hazel spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9)
  4. japanese holly (Ilex crenata* and cvs., Zones 5–9)
  5. southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora and cvs., Zones 6–9)
  6. heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica* and cvs., Zones 6–9)
  7. sweet osmanthus (Osmanthus fragrans and cvs., Zones 8–11)
  8. Lily-of-the-valley bush (Pieris japonica and cvs., Zones 4–8)
  9. Fragrant sweet box (Sarcococca ruscifolia and cvs., Zones 7–9)

—Susan Calhoun is the owner of Plantswoman Design in Bainbridge Island, Washington.

*Considered invasive in some areas of the country. For more information, please visit invasiveplantatlas.org.

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