- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Several Novembers ago, before her brief incarceration, Martha Stewart demonstrated on her television show how to make holiday decorations.

She took what looked like thousands of fresh cranberries and stuck one end of a toothpick in each one. Then she stuck the other end of each toothpick into a large styrofoam cone, forming a circle around the base of the cone. Circle after circle followed from hours of work by an off-camera crew until a finished cranberry Christmas tree emerged.

I like Martha Stewart, and I like creating natural decorations, but I lack the patience for painstaking projects such as that cranberry tree.

Besides, why should I buy cranberries and toothpicks and that styrofoam cone when I can have free decorations from the holly and other plants in my own yard? Craft stores are lots of fun, and you can buy grapevine wreaths to decorate, but why drive there if you have boxes of Christmas fixings from years past?

I’m open to new ideas, but so far this year, I seem to be limited to my own property lines, where I leave the pruning until this time of year just for this purpose.

In the spring I planted three new Sarcococca confusa shrubs that have grown nicely and have dark blue evergreen foliage. In the spring a year ago, I planted four new osmanthus shrubs that have light green variegated foliage. So my palette of evergreen plants is expanding.

If you don’t have sarcococca or osmanthus, consider adding them to your garden. They’re hardy and deer-resistant. The sarcococca tolerates a good deal of shade. The osmanthus likes more sun. They are both relatively drought-tolerant after regular watering the first year.

If you don’t have either of those plants, lots of other wonderful plants can contribute to your holiday decorations.

A simple centerpiece of holly with red berries is traditional. If your holly lacks berries, a nandina sprouts great bunches of them.

Pine boughs can be tied into a great bunch with velvet ribbon and hung at the door or made into swags. (You might have to drive to that craft store, after all, for some florist wire, new ribbon or artificial berries if the birds have eaten all the real ones.) The great shiny leaves of southern magnolia make a nice contrast to the conifers. Andromeda and boxwood give you a choice of different textures.

If you would like to make your own fresh decorations but find your yard is lacking, Brookside Gardens in Wheaton offers a series of workshops. For a fee, it will supply the plants and other materials plus instructions to make some wonderful things.

• Dec. 3, 10 a.m. to noon, make a classic Christmas wreath of freshly cut greens such as variegated boxwood, holly, chamaecyparis, umbrella pine and spruce. Add berries, nuts, pods or cones. Fee: $40.

• Dec. 9 or 10, 10 a.m. to noon, make a twinkling boxwood wreath from fresh boxwood with a string of battery-operated miniature lights. Add ornaments and a bow. Fee: $36.

• Dec. 13 or 14, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., make holiday centerpieces from fresh greens and candle forms. Add seasonal decorations. Fee: $32 for two.

Registration is required for the workshops. Call 301/962-1477.

• • •

The holiday exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden conservatory will open on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 24, an run through Jan. 8. It will feature a miniature replica of the Mall, with model trains chugging past models of the monuments and other buildings. The buildings will be made from natural plant materials, including bark, cones and seed pods. The conservatory, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, is at the intersection of Maryland Avenue and First Street SW, adjacent to the U.S. Capitol grounds. For information, call 202/225-8333.

• • •

The National Chrysanthemum Society’s autumn display continues through Nov. 27 in the conservatory at Brookside Gardens. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call 301/962-1400.

Upcoming “woods walks” at the Washington National Cathedral’s Olmsted Woods are:

• A moonlight tour at 7 p.m. Nov. 17 with lanterns lighting the way for a walk to see the ongoing restoration, including the revitalization of the amphitheater.

• A bird walk at 9 a.m. Dec. 8.

• A winter tour at 10 a.m. Dec. 8 to see the beauty of winter buds and silhouettes and to learn to identify the trees.

The tours start at the George Washington statue on Pilgrim Road. For information, call 202/537-2319.

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