The Natural Way to Decorate for the Holidays


Q: I’d like to go with a more natural holiday décor this year, but I have no idea where to start or what the best plants are to use. What do you suggest? 


A: There are quite a few trees, shrubs and flowers — ornamental and edible — that can contribute to a festive atmosphere in your home during the holiday season. Although I think you were referring to Christmas decorations in your question, you can also use nature’s bounty to decorate for Thanksgiving, so let’s start there.

For our national harvest holiday, you can build a centerpiece using pumpkins and winter squash from your garden, complemented by flower stalks from ornamental grasses and dried ears of corn from a produce market. Oversized okra pods that dried on the stalk will also add interesting texture, as do dried chile peppers, whether loose or braided together into a ristra. Scatter a few colorful leaves in hues of red and gold down the center of the table. Press them for a couple of days to make them lie flat.

If you want a bouquet for a vase, mix branches of Texas tarragon, Tagetes lucida, and pineapple sage, salvia elegans, which really does smell like pineapple when you rub or crush the leaves. Both bloom this time of year, thanks to our mild climate, and the red elongated blossoms of the sage look really nice with the sunny yellow tarragon blooms. I plant them together in my yard for the same striking combination.

For December holiday decorations, which often include candles, various kinds of holly can be arranged to showcase the leaves and berries and accentuate the candlelight. On a fireplace mantle or a side table in the living room or dining room, solid green holly or a variegated variety announces the season. There’s also a variegated saw-toothed tea olive, Osmanthus fragrans, which resembles a holly but retains the delightful fragrance that distinguishes tea olive.

Most any holly works well with leaves of the Southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. The smaller, more distinctly ribbed leaf of the loquat tree, Eriobotrya japonica, is another option. 

Both heavenly bamboo, nandina domestica, and coral ardisia, Ardisia crenata, have become pests and are classified as invasive, but if you have stubborn plants in your yard, take advantage of their distinctive foliage and bright red berries in your decorating. One of my friends swears that by cutting the branches with berries for her Christmas decorating, the birds don’t have a chance to spread them and the plants stay under control in her yard. Plus, she gets a beautiful display of green and red in vases she can place around her home.

Camellias, which grow so beautifully in our area, make beautiful cut flowers for the holiday. The stems are usually too short to display in bud vases, but they look lovely floating in a bowl of water and come in a variety of colors. The bloom season for most Camellia japonica varieties coincides with the holiday season.

Citrus, usually a winter-ripening fruit, offers both leaves and fruit for decorating. Kumquats, in particular, make great additions to mantels and wreaths because of their glossy green foliage and colorful small fruits. Persimmons, apples and pomegranates work well, too. Rosemary sprigs provide color as well as fragrance. A bowl of winter fruits makes a great centerpiece. Tuck a few sticks of cinnamon in any arrangement for a burst of Christmas smell. Pinecones of various sizes, either left in their natural state or sprayed with gold or silver paint, can accent the greenery.

If you have grapevines or Chinese wisteria, Wisteria sinensis, an invasive vine with purple flower clusters in spring that people either love or hate, you can use the stripped vines to make wreaths. Alone, the vine wreath makes a striking silhouette, or you can adorn it with ornaments, natural or not. 

You don’t have to limit yourself to what’s in your own yard. Local nurseries sell wonderfully full and fragrant evergreens that don’t survive here — firs and spruces that grow in the mountains of North Georgia and North Carolina. You can get garlands, swags and wreaths — as well as Christmas trees — and then build upon that evergreen base with what you have to create a holiday theme.


November/ December Gardening Events

Nov. 5: Noon, First Friday Brown Bag Luncheon, Jubilee Cottage
Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. Bring your lunch. (850) 877-4202

Nov. 13: 7 p.m., Tallahassee Orchid Society meeting, Jubilee Cottage
Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road.

Nov. 16: 3 p.m., Tallahassee Area Rose Society meeting, Laundry Cottage
Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. Call Mary Maud Sharpe at (850) 878-9625.

Nov. 20: 9:30 a.m., Tallahassee Garden Club Plant Exchange; 10:15, Horticulture Program; 1 p.m., Fun with Flowers.
The Garden Center, 507 N. Calhoun St. (850) 224-3371

Nov. 21–23: Habitat for Humanity’s Festival of Trees, Carriage House Conference Center
Goodwood Museum and Gardens. (850) 574-2288

Dec. 5: Noon, First Friday Brown Bag Luncheon, Jubilee Cottage
Goodwood Museum & Gardens, 1600 Miccosukee Road. Bring your lunch. (850) 877-4202

Dec. 5: 6 p.m., 26th Annual Camellia Christmas, Maclay Gardens State Park
3540 Thomasville Road, (850) 487-4556

Dec. 11: 4–7 p.m., Tallahassee Garden Club Christmas Tea, The Garden Center
507 N. Calhoun St. (850) 224-3371

© 2014 Postscript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at or visit her website at Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of Postscript Publishing.

Categories: Decorating, Homes, Ideas