Gardening for Health

Time to Bring in the Greens

By Maria Price

As the calendar turns toward the winter solstice and all the leaves fall to the earth, the chill in the air sets the stage for the evergreens to shine. Nothing brings the holiday season more alive to me than the scent and symbolism of evergreens. The ancients considered evergreens magical in that they stayed green when everything else seemed to die. They were a symbol of eternal life.

The shortest day of the year (usually around Dec. 20 or 21) signaled the beginning of the most difficult time for agricultural societies. Yet ancient people from Ireland to the breadth of the Mediterranean observed the solstice with merrymaking and indulgence. On that day the waning sun signifies the summer light slowly but surely returning, so solstice festivals expressed people’s joy in the new light born during the darkest night, as well as their hope for survival through winters hardship, which the evergreens signified.

To me, the scent of evergreens throughout the house evokes these past times. Making wreaths and garlands will surely scent your home even if you just put some branches in a vase of water.

One of my favorite evergreens with steadfast needle retention that does not crumble onto the floor are firs. Balsam fir, Fraser fir, noble fir and grand fir grow slowly and are extremely aromatic. Legend says the fir tree was chosen to represent Christmas when Christianity was first taught to the Vikings. Faith, hope and charity were sent as messengers to seek out and light the first Christmas tree. They sought a tree as high as “hope”, as wide as love and with the sign of the cross on every bough. If you examine the ends of the branches on a fir tree, you will see the symbol of the cross.

Making a wreath is fun. All you need is a backing, which can be a metal ring, grapevine ring or straw backing. I like to use an easy clamp metal ring from Kelco Company in Maine. Cut your bunches of greens about 10- to 12-inches long for a 10-inch backing. Layer a cluster of greens into the clamp then just bend the wires down to hold the greens in place. If you don’t have a clamp, use florist wire attached to the wreath’s backing and then add your cluster of greens and wrap the wire tightly around the bottom end of the cluster. Add your next cluster overlapping slightly over the first cluster. Continue going in the same direction until the backing is covered. As you get to your last cluster, slip the stems underneath the first cluster and secure the wire with a couple of knots.

Decorate with ribbon, pinecones, berries or little glass balls. Other conifers to use are eastern red cedar, common wild juniper, scrub pine, Virginia pine, white pine, spruce, Canadian hemlock and arborvitae. If you don’t have evergreens, ask a neighbor if they would like some careful pruning.