Nothing smells as nice for the Christmas season as fresh greens inside our homes. I’m delighted to see folks coming back to more traditional Christmas decorating, but fresh greens can dry out if they are not cared for properly. Minimizing this problem is easy if you select the longest lasting greens and know how to treat them once they are brought inside.
There are all kinds of fresh greens you can enjoy indoors, but I always look for two qualities: one is how long they will stand up under dry conditions and the other is how fragrant they are. For both longevity and fragrance, it is hard to beat pine. All pine varieties have a wonderful scent, but one of the most attractive is Pinus strobus or White Pine. Its soft blue needles look so graceful, and they can be used in a variety of situations, particularly to accent fresh flowers and centerpieces.
The long-needled Pinus ponderosa is also attractive, especially when branch tips are cut and placed in a large vase. The best use of these branches, however, is for door swags. With their natural curved tips and large cones, they look perfect when combined with a big red velvet bow and a few shiny baubles and Christmas novelties. These are the best pine varieties to bring indoors, but in a pinch, the Lodgepole variety will do reasonably well.
The abies family is my second choice for indoor greens. Balsam and Grand Fir are hard to beat when it comes to retaining needles and when you brush your hand against their boughs, the fragrance puts you back in the woods. I particularly like the bluish underside of their needles. The flat nature of their branches makes these greens ideal for swags or for advent and traditional wreaths.
Spruce would be next on my list, especially the blue species. A Blue Spruce is the ultimate Christmas tree, and its branches make fine door swags as well. The needles on spruce, however, do not last as long as abies or pine, and they are sharp, making them somewhat more difficult to work with. Douglas Fir, named after Alexander Douglas, a British botanist who collected specimens of West Coast trees and took them back to Britain, is neither a spruce nor a fir, - that’s why they are classified as ‘pseudo tsuga menziesii’. They have a delightful fragrance and make beautiful looking Christmas trees, but unfortunately, their branches dry out far too quickly to make them an ideal green for indoor use. Hemlocks are much the same: lovely, but terrible for drying out and for needle drop.
Cedar is an old time favourite for many reasons, but I’m afraid it also has a short lifespan indoors. If you can keep it in a cool room or use it outside the home, its pendulous branches are useful in swags, wreaths and most importantly, in cedar ropes. Another super idea is to pull all the old dead flowers from your moss hanging basket and replace them with all kinds of cedar tips to create a wonderful Christmas basket. Ali a few frosted cones, some holly and a big red bow with long tails, and you’ve got a very attractive aliition to your outside décor.
One of the most unique and attractive ideas that I’ve seen in a long time is a traditional European greens arrangement. Using a piece of florist’s oasis in a low bowl, arrange a variety of colourful green tips from yellow, blue, gold, green and bronze foliaged trees. A twisted stem of contorted filbert, one or two tall thin candles, bits of moss and a few dried perennials can be alied for a finishing touch. It’s a great way to use greens, and it will last right through the festive season.
Now that I’ve prioritized a selection of greens, let’s look at the best way to make them last. Cut branches are no different than cut flowers. Seven to ten days is the maximum time for any greens to be indoors without being in water. Try to have an extra supply on hand so you can replenish your creations and keep them fresh looking. By cutting about one inch off the bottom of each stem and by keeping them in room temperature water, the life span of most greens can be doubled. A little bleach in the water will kill any bacteria that might block the flow of water up the stem.
Christmas greens are so nice inside our homes at this time of year. They’re inexpensive, natural and fragrant. To enjoy them longer, select the varieties that I’ve mentioned. Be sure to mist them often and to keep them in water if at all possible.