It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like . . .

The holiday decorations are going up around Northfield. Today, I watched (from the cozy confines of the Bittersweet Cafe) as a crew from the Archer House hung a swag of greenery and decorated the window boxes along the railing with greenery, red twig dogwood, dried flowers and bows. Elsewhere, the local beautification crew has filled the planters on Bridge Square with greenery and seasonal decorations as well as the big planter near the Northfield Public Library.

I haven’t put my holiday containers together, yet, but I expect to do it next week, and have already gathered some birch logs and other materials to give it a different look. This birch log snowman is part of the holiday decorations at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.

What will your holiday containers look like this year?



This Christmas Tree is for the Birds

This weekend, I finished up the last of my outdoor holiday decorating with a Christmas tree for the birds. I’d seen suggestions for these on a few birding and gardening web sites and thought it would make winter more exciting if we had some birds to watch outside of the front window.  After reading several articles on how to make a tree for the birds, I consulted with my friend, Penny, and the fellow she refers to as “the resident bird expert.”  Lucky I did, because the resident bird expert warned me off all suggestions of stringing cranberries and other fruit for birds. The birds that like fruit are long gone from here, he said, leaving only true northerners behind — birds who like fat, protein and carbs.

You can create all sorts of decorations for your tree, including the standard pine cone with peanut butter and seeds and balls of suet and seeds. The suggestion that caught my imagination, however, was one to use stale cake donuts as carriers of fat and protein for the birds. The instructions called for melting a cake of suet, then dipping the stale donuts in the suet and rolling it in seeds. I had already prepared a pot for the tree and planned to use the tree I’d bought earlier for other holiday decorations. I started work on the ornaments Sunday afternoon, melting my suet, rolling the donuts, and watching the seeds fall right off. (This just goes to show, never trust anything you read on the internet!) Frustrated at how this was going, I took a break with a cup of coffee and a stale donut.

It seemed the seeds needed more traction, so I added peanut butter to the melted suet. That didn’t work either, so I just gave up and spread peanut butter on the donuts and dipped them in seeds. Voila! I used the melted suet/peanut butter mixture as glue in a few pine cones, which I filled with seed, and when the mixture was cool, rolled what was left into little balls.

The donut thief

The bird expert says it may take two weeks or so for the birds to find my tree and start frequenting it. Fortunately, we live in a neighborhood with very few squirrels — an oddity relating to the newness of the area and the location of three ponds. Unfortunately, our dog, Lily, found the tree right away, and already snarfed one of the donuts. She’ll be on leash from now on, and we can hope the birds will get at least a few of the treats on the tree.

For more ideas on holiday decorating, check out the November/December issue of Northern Gardener. Julie Scouten has a great article on how to make decorations using garden supplies and greenery.

Holiday Containers on the Cheap, Part 2

Holiday containers are all about texture.

With the weather about to cool way down, I didn’t want to wait to put together a mixed holiday container. It’s easy to spend a lot on items like packaged spruce tips, curly willow sticks, red twig dogwood and even faux berries and poinsettias, but you can also do a mixed container for very little money. For this mixed container, I started by using a collage technique to decorate the plastic pot with holiday paper.

Ready to start

This takes a day or more to do, so over the weekend, I also gathered the fixings for my pot. I bought a small Fraser fir Christmas tree for $15 (this will be used in another project as well) and cut the bottom 1/3rd of the branches off for the main greenery in my pot. The Fraser fir has kind of two-toned needles, which adds a nice texture to the pot. I also walked around our yard, cutting stray branches from a swamp white oak and a mugo pine. I like the wispy look of red cedar in holiday containers, but don’t have any in our yard. We do, however, have a very mature creeping juniper, so I snipped some wisps from that to use. I had some left over grasses that I had used in a Halloween display as well. The grasses had a large reddish seedhead, so I thought they would add something to the pot, too.

This morning, assembly began. First, I filled the pot with leftover potting soil from this summer and began building the greenery around the pot. I started with the Fraser fir, then added in the white pine, the mugo, and the juniper for accents. It looked pretty good, fluffy and green, with a fair amount of texture. Then, I added in the red-headed grass (if anyone knows what this is called, please let me know through the comments) and some Joe Pye weed from the garden.  I tried several ways of placing it, but no matter what I did, the grass looked, as my husband said as he left for work, “dead and sad.” That’s not what we want this time of year!

The finished product.

With the grass out, I needed something else to brighten the pot. This is the first year I’ve had hydrangeas and I’ve been looking forward to seeing the snow on their broad flowerheads, but it seemed a good idea to sacrifice some of them to the pot. The tannish brown color contrasted nicely with the greenery and the flowers added another texture. The pot still needed some brightening. The pot has a natural look to it, so ornaments and ribbon seemed out of place. Instead, I put skewers into a couple of apples and stuck them in the front of the pot, and cut several branches of berries from a high bush cranberry bush.

The finished product contrasts nicely with the tall red-twig dogwood display and gives a cheery look to our front porch.

Holiday Pots on the Cheap, part 1

It’s easy to spend a lot of money on holiday decorations for inside and outside of your home — but it can also be done on the cheap, and my goal this holiday season is to come up with a few nice decorations that don’t cost much money.

Here’s the ultimate cheap holiday pot: It cost nothing. A couple of weeks ago, I trimmed back some decidedly overgrown red-twig dogwood bushes. While many of the branches went to the county brush pile, I picked some of the longest, straightest, and brightest for use in outdoor holiday decorations. For this simple pot, I took a good-sized bunch of branches and set them in a strawberry pot that otherwise would spend the winter in the garage. Ta-da! A decorative holiday pot.

More Fun with Greenery

Maybe a little wild looking, but not bad for a first try.

Making your own holiday wreath is easier than it looks. I followed (more or less) the instructions offered by Susan of The Shambles under Highland Butte, a fellow blogger from Oregon, to make two wreaths for our front and back entries.  I used a red-twig dogwood branch for the form and leftovers from my holiday pots for the greenery for the first wreath. This wreath is made entirely with natural ingredients (except for the ribbon holding it up) and looks festive hanging off of our back deck.

Front-door wreath
Front-door wreath

For the second wreath, I used a heavy-duty wire hangar that I bent into a circle for the form and a combination of real and artificial ingredients.  It seemed a bit more formal to me — though that was not the intention — so I hung it on our front door. One tip: If you plan to make a wreath, be sure to use the 24 gauge wire Susan recommends. I started my first wreath with some picture wire we had around the house and it was much more difficult to work with. I found the 24 gauge wire at a local beading shop.

This is a fun project that an older child could handle with some assistance. Thanks for the instructions and encouragement, Susan!

The Pots of Northfield


This is my riff on the famous “Doors of….” poster series. It features the holiday container plantings I’ve seen around my hometown, Northfield, recently. This weekend promises to a busy one here, with Winter Walk scheduled for Thursday evening and the St. Olaf Christmas Festival on tap Thursday through Sunday so many of the businesses have “spruced up” for holiday visitors. The photos are (clockwise from upper left) a detail from one of the pots at Buntrock Commons, First National Bank display, Ole Store, Present Perfect, Buntrock Commons again, and Tiny’s Hot Dogs.

Holiday Containers by the Numbers, Part 2

img_4383With the basics of container design in mind (see previous post), I set up shop in the mudroom and gathered the equipment and materials for making a holiday container. These included: the pot filled to within 2 inches of the top with compost, four kinds of greens, three decorative things that are pretty and not green (in my case, red-twig dogwood branches, fake poinsettia flowers, and fake red berries), and a by-pass pruner for cutting branches. I donned my garden gloves and went to work.

Spruce tips give a basic structure.
Cedar and pine add texture.

For complete instructions on how to make a holiday container, see the post I did last year after observing Kathy Oss of Squire House Gardens design a wonderful container. Basically, you start with the greens, cutting each branch at an angle before shoving it in the dirt. Since I had a pack of spruce tips, I started with those and created a full base.  Then, I added in the other greens: cedar and two kinds of pine. The different greens give the pot texture and color contrast.

img_4400Once the pot looks full enough with greens, it’s time to add the other elements. Since my container has a definite front side, I put most of the red-twig dogwoods in the middle back to give it some height, then I added in the red flowers and berries. At left is my finished product, which didn’t look quite right to me, so I took a break.

It's all about the texture.

When the 16-year-old got home from choir practice, she took one look at the pot, and sighed, “Mom, you need a focal point.” Ah-ha! So, we did a little re-arranging of the flowers and added a few more of the berries, and things started to come together. One thing I like about my pot is the texture of the cedar, the spruce, the pine, and the berries.

The finished product.
The finished product.

I set the pot out on the front porch and watered it well. The water froze last night (temperatures were in the teens here), so the design is frozen in place for now. Since I’ve been thinking about holiday containers recently, I’ve noticed some attractive designs in downtown Northfield. I’m hoping to post some photos of those in advance of Winter Walk, which is Thursday night.