Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: A nature-made Noel

November/December 2019 California Bountiful magazine

Trim the tree and deck the halls with a helping hand from garden and farm


 More online: Gardening to-do listGardening Q&A and Pat's Garden Travels

Nature's trimmings: 1. Dried oakleaf hydrangea flower; 2. Holly berries and foliage; 3. Southern magnolia seedpod; 4. Dried agapanthus flowers; 5. Pine cones; 6. Lichen; 7. Chestnut; 8. Pyracantha berries; 9. Beautyberry; 10. Mandarins; 11. Lemons; 12. Nandina berries. Photos: © 2019 Matt Salvo

This year not a single jolly Santa, nary a glass bauble, no fake icicles or artificially dyed garlands will hang from my Christmas tree.

Instead, the boughs of the freshly cut pine are loaded with Meyer lemons and locally grown mandarins. Thin, curling wisteria stems weave in and out. Spiny chestnut husks, split open to reveal dark brown nuts inside, rest on the limbs. Tiny pine cones from majestic Ponderosa pines and prickly sycamore balls dangle from branches. Papery mimosa seedpods and clusters of silvery money plant seedpods give the tree a shimmering, ephemeral appearance. Stems of red toyon berries and green agapanthus flower heads, sans petals, add a pop of color. Look closely, and you'll see the tree is a cornucopia of garden gleanings from the yard. The only nod to modern civilization is a strand of colored lights.

I've always made wreaths out of the grapevines in the yard and decorated them with tiny red pomegranates, bay leaves or whatever strikes my fancy, so it only seemed natural to take the next step and use the garden as inspiration for the tree. My only requirement: The material must come from the yard. Luckily, over the years I've included plants with colorful bark, interesting dried flowers, huge leaves and curious-looking seedpods in my landscape.

Guests are intrigued by the plant material. All too often in modern life, we've grown out of touch with the natural world and are unfamiliar with its forms and textures. It pleases me to be able to reintroduce the wonders of Mother Nature into my friends' lives and gardens. Most people go home with a cutting, an interesting seedpod, even a plant.

I believe there's a wealth of Christmas tree decorating material, wreath fixings and table decorations in everyone's yard, neighborhood—or the local farmers market—if you just take a look.

Use what you have: grapevines or other vine stems for swags, dried black-eyed Susan flowers, magnolia seedpods, miniature pomegranates, dried persimmons, oranges, nuts. Use your imagination. As long as it comes from the garden, it's bound to be beautiful—and make a lasting impression on holiday guests.

Pat Rubin

Follow us on: Facebook Twitter YouTube Pinterest Pinterest