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A bit of earth Explore your yard, garden stores for items to put in festive porch pots

  • Published Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, at 12 a.m.

I don’t like to skip ahead of Thanksgiving to get to Christmas, but we can in good conscience start putting porch pots together now that can span winter, with additions that can reflect each of the holidays.

Evergreen boughs are or soon will be showing up at garden centers, and it’s fun to have a tromp through the elements – or an unseasonably nice day – to breathe in the fragrance of the fresh greens, finger the soft or prickly needles, start picturing how to fit the textures and colors together into a pleasing bouquet.

You can also traipse through your own yard and probably find more than you’d think at first glance. Retired extension agent Norman Warminski recommends planting some junipers just to be able to cut them for arrangements. For a winter pot on your porch, he suggested at a recent lunchtime lecture at Botanica, take half the soil out of a container that you had planted for the summer and stick juniper or redtwig dogwood branches in it.

I generally don’t like to cut things from the garden, unless they’re not visible from the street or the house and I won’t enjoy them otherwise. I think I’ll buy some redtwig dogwood stems for a chartreuse pot that held succulents I thought might stay alive in winter. It’s already been way cold enough to confirm that I was wrong about that.

At last week’s lunchtime lecture, Karen Hull of Johnson’s Garden Center brought in armloads of plant material from her country home: yew, cedar, pyracantha with orange berries, privet, bamboo, burning bush, nandina with red berries, crape myrtle, junipers with blue berries.

“It’s been an exceptional year for berries,” Hull said, noting that she’d found them on “things I haven’t seen berries on before.”

With some audience help, Hull arranged scavenged plant material along with some evergreen offerings from Johnson’s, showing how a backbone of evergreens can hold orange-berried pyracantha branches for Thanksgiving, which can then be switched out for Christmas colors, such as red-berried stems of nandina.

Hull recommends taking your children or grandchildren “exploring” in the yard or beyond for plant material. “Pack a picnic.” Make sure you have permission if you’re scavenging branches on someone else’s property, and have sharp pruners with you, along with gloves, because some of these plants, such as pyracantha, are thorny.

One of the audience members recommended spray-painting weeds to add to a holiday container. The idea seemed to receive unequivocal approval.

If you have cut branches but you’re not ready to use them, keep them in a cool place, and then make fresh cuts to the ends of the branches when you’re ready to add them to an arrangement, Hull said. Dampen the potting soil first. You can also fill a pot with sand, watering once everything is in place. If the pot does not have holes in the bottom, be sure not to overfill with water.

Make fresh cuts as you add boughs to the pot, preferably at an angle, Hull said. Put your tallest elements about two-thirds of the way back. (Spruce tops, which look like miniature Christmas trees, are good centerpiece elements.) To change the look, reverse which way the stems are facing, Hull said. Use cuttings from the lower parts of stems to add around the base.

Douglas and Fraser are very nice firs to use, Hull said. Incense cedar can be draped over the sides.

Picks of artificial berries and pinecones, along with ribbons, can also be added to sway the mood of the holiday pot, first toward Thanksgiving, then toward Christmas.

Some places have porch pots that are already put together to purchase, along with fresh wreaths and garlands. During Illuminations at Botanica, which starts Friday and runs through Dec. 31, trimmings from the gardens will be for sale in arrangements big and small.

Once Christmas is over (not before Jan. 6 in my book), you can remove the overtly yuletide elements (red berries and pinecones are fine), and enjoy the pots on the porch as long as they look good – hopefully not too long before we’re ready to fill them with living things again in spring.

Reach Annie Calovich at 316-268-6596 or acalovich@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @anniecalovich.

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