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Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

Decorating for the holidays: Evergreen arrangements

 

fresh evergreen arrangement

fresh evergreen arrangement

 

You know, so many of us have artificial Christmas trees these days. For most of us, it’s a case of saving money and having a tree that doesn’t dry out over the season. It is also a matter of convenience.  Less hassle to have an artificial tree and we don’t have to worry about straight trunks or the tree having a “bad side” to it.

But, we’ve sacrificed one of the best things about having a live tree in our homes: The rich scent of the Christmas tree, whether of pine or fir.

So, how to have our cake and eat it too??

Well, if you are like me, buying those room sprays or even candles often doesn’t duplicate the true scent of a Christmas tree adequately. Many of them are close, but not quite on the mark.

One of the best ways to add an authentic scent to the air is to add floral arrangements made of evergreen cuttings.

Now, most of us have a pine tree, spruces, cedars, junipers, or firs growing in our yards. If we don’t, we can find the greens relatively easily. Most Christmas tree farms offer either free branches cut from the bottoms of the trees for customers when they purchase their trees. That, or they will charge a nominal fee for cuttings.

Whichever way you gather these evergreen cuttings, if you prep them before using them, you can add authentic Christmas scent to your home.

Start with fresh cuttings. Be sure to use a sharp pair of pruners to cut the end pieces of the stems–be forewarned, though; the cut ends often will leak a little sticky sap. You might wish to use gloves when cutting.

Once cut, plunge the cuttings in water for several hours for them to take up water. By plunge, I mean submerge them.

In the meantime, gather the glass bowls, vases, or baskets you intend to use for your arrangements.  You can use empty small butter or sour cream containers, cut floral foam to fit tightly, and add to baskets or other non-waterproof containers. You can later on hide the foam and container with a little moss.  Remove and soak the foam until saturated, place back in the container.

Remove the cuttings and cut again: About 1/4 of an inch.

Starting at the outside with the longest branches, add branches all the way around the base of the foam. Add progressively shorter stems, working your way into the middle. You can add other decorative touches such as a flameless candle in the center, some ornaments, some cones and ribbons.

Keep the arrangement misted and do not allow the foam to dry out. If you find a few branches are brittle or browning, you can remove and replace the stems with fresh cuttings treated the same way.

These arrangements, if kept watered and misted, will last up to a month and will hold their fragrance well.

Basic Homemade Buttercream Candies

Basic Homemade Buttercream Candies


Buttercreams


You know those fancy chocolates with the flavored centers that we give and receive for the holidays? How about trying your hand at making  a few of these buttercreams this holiday season instead? They aren’t that difficult to make and you can add the flavors you like to them.

Here are two basic buttercream recipes you can try. These are the foundation for the candies. All you need to do is to vary the flavors and if you wish, you can tint some of the centers as well.

Use a good quality chocolate coating on these. If you have candy coatings available, I’ve found that mixing them with real chocolate bumps it up a notch and adds a better consistency and flavor to the chocolate flavor.

Chocolate Covered Buttercream Candy Recipe I

4 cups powdered sugar
*1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup butter, softened
3 Tablespoons heavy cream

1. Combine these four ingredients and mix well until smooth and firm. Add more sugar as necessary to make a firm mixture that will hold its shape.

2. Form into balls and place on waxed paper covered trays. Chill.

3. In the top of a double boiler, melt 2 cups of chocolate chips or pieces, 1 Tablespoon of butter, and 5 drops of vanilla. Alternatively, use a good quality candy coating in dark or milk chocolate. Add real dark or milk chocolate to it and melt for a better flavor and coating. This is what I use.

4. Dip the buttercream balls in the chocolate and place on waxed paper covered trays to set. Chill if desired to set faster.

*Note: You can add orange extract, almond, coconut, peppermint extract, maple, or any other flavor you desire. You can also tint the centers. Just decrease the vanilla or eliminate it. For example, use 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp of another extract. Or one tsp of extract of choice–for stronger flavors, add 1/2 tsp of extract at a time and taste-test first.  Keep in mind that the flavor fully  develops after a day or so.

Chocolate Covered Buttercream Candy Recipe II

1 pkg. (3 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. butter, softened
4 c. confectioners’ sugar or more to make a fairly stiff mixture
*1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Beat cream cheese and butter in bowl until smooth. Blend in sugar and vanilla. Chill 1 hour – shape into 1 inch balls and chill overnight. Coat as above.

*Note: You can add orange extract, almond, peppermint extract, maple, or any other flavor you desire. You can also tint the centers. Just decrease the vanilla or eliminate it. For example, use 1/2 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp of another extract. Or one tsp of extract of choice–for stronger flavors, add 1/2 tsp of extract at a time and taste-test first.  Keep in mind that the flavor fully  develops after a day or so.  You can also flavor with 1/2 vanilla, 1/2 coconut and add finely shredded coconut to the mixture before dipping the centers.

Talking The Talk

One day I was idly surfing the net when I came across a German gardening site. Now, I will usually click on foreign sites since they often offer English language versions of their information. This one did not. But, instead of clicking off the site right away, I lingered for a bit because something struck me about the plants named: While I could not understand a lick of German, I could understand the names listed with the plant photographs! It occurred to me that this is the reason why I needed to write this article.

The scientific names that are assigned to plants are not there to impress anybody, or to confuse the average gardener. These names are to help provide a standardized nomenclature, or naming, of the vast array of plants that we encounter in our gardening efforts. It pays to understand a few things about this naming system, more properly known as binomial nomenclature, in order to communicate on the same level with other persons who have an interest in plants.

Why else should the Average Joe/Josephine gardener bother learning the scientific names of the plants that he or she grows?

There are two good reasons why we need to understand the proper names of plants. One is to be on the same wavelength with other plantsmen and gardeners and to avoid confusion. For example, Impatiens is known as Patience Plant, Balsam, Busy Lizzies, Sultanas, and, of course Impatiens. There are other instances where plants can be called the same exact name, but be entirely different plants: Balsam can be two different annuals or a type of tree. Also, regional differences can occur when describing a plant. By learning scientific nomenclature, we can all understand each other and what we are describing immediately. If we need to go to a plant expert for help and information, by knowing the proper name for a plant, we can get the help we need and cut down on some of the confusion.

The second reason to understand the scientific name of a given plant is to decipher or glean a bit more information about the plant itself. Not only does the individual learn what genus a plant belongs to according to its classification, other information such as color, origins, and other characteristics can be gleaned.

Here is a brief list of some of those prefixes and suffixes we see attached to many of the descriptive names of plants:

Color

Alba, Albo = White
Aurea, Aureus = Yellow-Green or Yellow
Caerulea = Blue
Chrysantha = Yellow
Glaucus = Slivery-Blue
Lutea = Dark or Deep Yellow
Nigra = Dark, often nearly black
Purpurea = Purple
Roseum = Pink
Rubra = Red
Sanguinea = Dark Red
Virdis, Vireus = Green

Origins

Alpinus = From Alpine regions; from the Alps
Canadensis = From Canada, or from the northern US, generally east of the Mississippi
Campestris = From fields or meadows
Chinensis = From China
Helvetica = From Sweden
Hibernicus = From Ireland
Japonica = From Japan
Koreanus = From Korea
Maritimus = From regions near the seas or oceans
Montana = From the mountains
Occidentalis = From the New World
Orientalis = From the orient or eastern Asia
Planus = From the plains
Sylvestris = From the forests or woods

Other Descriptives, Including Growth Habits

Aborescens = Like a tree
Angustifolia = Having narrow leaves
Contorta = Being contorted or twisted
Decidua, = Deciduous, or drops leaves in the fall
Edulis = Something that is edible
Fruticosus= Something that is shrubby
Glossis = Being tongue-like
Grandiflora = Having large flowers
Grandifola = Having large leaves
Macrophylla = Having big leaves
Maculata = Being spotted, usually leaves
Nana = Being dwarf
Odorata = Having scented flowers
Officinalis = Being an herb
Paniculata = Flowers having panicles
Pendula = Hanging or drooping
Procumbens = Spreading or prostrate
Pubescens = Having hairlike covering, such as on leaves
Racemosa = Flowers having racemes
Repens = On the ground, creeping
Reptans = On the ground, creeping or hugging the ground
Rugosa = Having wrinkled-appearing leaves
Scandens = A climber, climbing
Sempervirens = Being evergreen
Tomentosa = Having a down-like covering, such as on leaves
Variegata = Having variegated leaves, or leaves with more than one color

This is just a sampler of some of the more common descriptives. You can see that by picking apart the names of many plants, you can obtain much information.

Once you start to use the “official jargon”, you will begin to understand what a plant is all about! It’s not at all hard once you get the hang of it, and by using the proper names of plants, you will become a much more informed person. Besides, you will be able to understand what those high-falutin’ gardening show hosts are talking about! So, be in the know and start “talking the talk”!