Bring nature’s wonders indoors

Several natural elements like winterberry and holly can be used to create indoor floral and plant arrangements to last through the holiday season. Pictured with the arrangement is John McCaffrey, owner of BitterSweet Floral and Design, 1407 Mass.

Buying a Christmas tree

Did you know during the Teddy Roosevelt years in the White House, there were no Christmas trees for environmental reasons? Well, ponder this:

An artificial tree usually has a life span of around six years before they are highly flammable. Once that tree is discarded, it remains in a landfill indefinitely.

Real trees bring cleansing air into the home, and 59 percent of used real trees are recycled. And with every acre of Christmas trees planted each year to replenish for those that were cut, that acre replenishes the daily oxygen requirements for 18 people.

With a society obsessed in trimming the house from the eaves to the floorboards with good tidings, it’s easy to let our enthusiasm for the holidays make us overzealous in purchasing every little plastic, inflatable or glittery item. Pull in the reins, back away from the artificial, and embrace the natural beauty that Mother Nature has so aptly provided. It is right there, often outside your door and free for the taking, plus native gardening is on the upswing.

So, let’s examine what is growing in the garden to use indoors or whatever real flora can brighten your holiday decor.

Rummage in the garden

John McCaffrey, owner of Bittersweet Garden & Floral, combines two tasks at once when he begins decorating for the holidays.

“I like to use crabapple branches, which in turn makes me prune the tree at the proper time,” he says. “Winterberry is nice, which is a deciduous holly. I like to use juniper and pine, privet berries, viburnum berries, rose hip, magnolia branches, aronia berries and incense cedar.

“I enjoy using things found in nature for their color and aromas,” he adds. “I think the allure is not letting go of summer and fall when it starts to get cold.”


¢ Have you tried decorating with some bittersweet, acorns, pine cones, rose hips, holly berries, apples, cranberries, seed pods of okra and lotus blooms, sweet gums, milkweeds, wisteria, sumac and magnolia cones, or dried hydrangeas and cockscomb?

“Use what you have around the house, inside and out. Be creative and try something new,” says Lyn Walther, owner of Strawberry Hill Christmas Tree Farm.

“Buckbrush branches or other dried twigs can be incorporated into some arrangements,” Walther says. “If painted white, they work nicely to lighten up an arrangement of greens, helping to give an outdoors, winter and woodsy effect.”

¢ Purchase a bag of lemons, limes and oranges to display in a big bowl for a huge impact of color, or place them along a table runner. You could even scatter the brightly colored fruits with more traditional greens on the mantle.

¢ How about those herbs growing all summer and fall? They can make the sweetest-smelling wreath to hang from the door to greet all those holiday guests.


Many people want a bit more color through the use of flowering plants this time of year. There are a few flora that go with the holidays like salt goes with pepper. Here are some of the more traditional offerings:


A common superstition surrounding holly and its fusion into the Christmas holiday was that the holly tree grew in the footsteps of where Jesus walked. Its white flowers represent Jesus’ purity and birth, while the red berries signify Christ’s blood, and the sharp leaves denote the crown of thorns placed upon Jesus’ head. Some writers have even gone on to say that the holly was actually the plant plaited to form the crown of thorns and the berries were originally white before they were stained with the blood of Christ to the red color they are today.

For the Romans, holly trees were sacred to Saturn and holly wreaths were given as gifts during the holiday, the Saturnalia, upon which the Christmas holiday of modern day was directly patterned after. Romans decked their homes with holly in hopes of avoiding persecution. Holly represents immortality and is seen as a good omen.


The poinsettia is the most popular holiday plant. It now grows in abundance throughout the United States even though at one time it was not considered a hardy plant and would only thrive in California and southern states. The poinsettia is native to Mexico and was cultivated by the Aztec Indians. It was originally transported to the United States by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico. He brought the plant to his homeland in 1828 and is the namesake of the fashionable holiday decoration. The poinsettia found a place in Christmas rituals after the Spanish conquest and the introduction of Christianity. The poinsettia’s roots in the Christian holiday are fairly recent compared to other holiday flora.

The legend of the poinsettia tells of a poor village boy in Mexico who wanted to give the Holy Child a gift, but he had no money. In desperation, he picked some weeds on his way to the church to leave as his offering to the infant. He prayed to God to help him show his love, and God answered by turning the weeds into beautiful star-shaped flowers with stunning red leaves. The plant became a Christmas symbol signifying how Jesus meets the needs of his believers.


The romantic notions of kissing under the mistletoe are a little misleading because the mistletoe is in fact a parasitic plant that often chokes and kills the host plant it inhabits. It is cultivated by the regurgitation of birds from tree to tree, plus it is tremendously poisonous. Its parasitic nature and the fact that it appears to be alive while its host tree appears dead led some pagans to believe that mistletoe held the life of the host tree during the winter. Druids were of the opinion that mistletoe represented the spirit because it grew in the air on the sacred oak.

The best-known legend of the mistletoe is from Norse mythology, where it was said that a poisonous mistletoe arrow was used to kill Baldur, who was otherwise invulnerable to harm. He was protected because his mother, the Scandinavian goddess Frigga, had obtained promises from all other plants and animals not to harm her son, but she overlooked the lowly mistletoe. Legend explains that the tears of Frigga and all other gods and the weeping of all living things restored Baldur to life. Frigga then had the promise of the mistletoe never to harm again, and in her gratitude she bestows a kiss on anyone who walks under the mistletoe. That is how the association with fertility and kissing came to be.


Associated with Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, ivy was thought to bring good luck, fun and ecstatic happiness. By growing ivy on the sides of walls, it was alleged to be a form of prevention against misfortunes. However, if the ivy were to die, it was thought that financial trouble would be approaching the home’s inhabitants. Ivy, like the evergreens, also is seen as a symbol of eternal life. Because ivy indicates prosperity and charity, it became associated with Christmas, which is a time meant to celebrate the rich rewards of life and yet reflect on those less fortunate. Christian symbolists also consider the ivy’s need to cling to a support emblematic of man’s need for divine support.

Christmas Rose

The Christmas Rose gets its name for quite an obvious reason, in that it blooms in late December. This particular timing for its display of color has spurred various legends. According to one legend, a young shepherdess wanted to bestow a gift upon the Christ child. Saddened because she had no gift for the deity, she returned to her flocks. There the angel Gabriel appeared and magically caused the fields to bloom with Christmas Roses, which she then took as her token to the Christ child.

Another legend surrounding the Christmas Rose is set in a Scandinavian forest. There a group of poor peasants had ventured far into the woods on Christmas Eve. They were distressed by their poverty and inability to provide their children with any gifts. Then a miracle occurred: The forest was suddenly bathed in a white light and the ground was covered with Christmas Roses to bring cheer to the peasant children and the true meaning of the season.

So, come on : shake off all that artificial rubbish and wrap your home in the delights that only the Earth can provide.