You've probably heard of the "War on Christmas," but there's another type of battle brewing every holiday season that draws less attention in the press. We're talking about the struggle between those who prefer outdoor Christmas decorations comprised of greenery, pinecones, berries, etc. (such as kissing balls), on the one hand, versus those who like inflatable decorations, blow-mold figures, Christmas light displays, and other ornaments that "show up," on the other.
If you think I'm using words like "battle" and "struggle" metaphorically, you're only partially correct. Some aficionados of the more subtle decor secretly (or not so secretly, sometimes) cheer when vandals stab those "gaudy" inflatables, leaving their lifeless shells sprawled out over the ground like the Wicked Witch of the West when she melts in . Indeed, news reports of commandos carrying out raids against inflatables are common.
For the most part, though, the hostilities are restricted to a war of words, particularly online. Web forums, blog comment sections, and Facebook pages contain enough material on this topic for a book. In fact, I invite those of you who take a stand on the side of greenery-focused outdoor Christmas decorations to share this page on Facebook. After all, some battles are won at the voting booth, and a share in social media these days essentially amounts to a vote.
It must be admitted, though, that this battle has been almost entirely one-sided up to this point. I hardly ever hear the "gaudy" side defending itself. Is that because their position is indefensible? Or are they simply content to receive their validation when a child's eyes light up at the winter wonderland they've created?
But enough about the contentious aspect of the topic. This gallery of pictures is intended to inspire you if you're looking for ideas to use greenery, etc. in setting up your holiday displays.
01 of 09
Good Landscaping Can Be the Best Outdoor Christmas Decoration
In viewing the picture above, you'll see that the only Christmas decoration, properly speaking, is the wreath on the front door. Yet, for those who like to decorate using greenery, berries, and other natural materials, this may be considered quite an effective display. How did the homeowners pull it off?
The simple answer is "with good landscaping." Christmas holly is a classic in holiday displays, and these folks didn't settle for having just a few sprigs of holly in a table centerpiece. Nicely-maintained holly bushes flank the front door, creating a festive mood with their bright red berries. Nor is holly a one-hit-wonder in your landscaping, furnishing color only at Christmastime: these evergreens have nice foliage, offering visual interest all year-round.
But there's more to the landscaping in this picture than just holly. In the spirit of focusing on greenery to provide holiday cheer, let's not overlook the creeping junipers in front of the holly. Like the holly, these tidy ground covers are workhorses, looking great throughout the year. They can also be a practical choice if you're in need of soil erosion control on a hillside. The touch of gold on the left-hand side of the screen comes from a Moonshadow euonymus; it's currently not large enough to have much of an impact but will contribute more to the display in years to come.
To summarize, then, the holiday-decorating approach of the homeowners here has been to build on the good landscaping already present by injecting a Christmasy accent: the wreath. All they need to do is to take the wreath down after Christmas, and what's left still gives them a visually appealing winter landscape.
Since my first two photos have shown scenes that include wreaths, we'll take a closer look at decorating with wreaths in the next few pictures....Continue to 2 of 9 below.
02 of 09
Grapevine Wreath Decorated With Greenery, Berries
The typical Christmas wreath where I live (New England, U.S.) is composed of evergreen sprigs (the base), into which a number of other items may be inserted. But in the picture above, the homeowners have taken a different tack by using a grapevine wreath, where vines form the base.
The following ingredients are commonly added to that typical Christmas wreath (i.e., with an evergreen base) that I mentioned:
- Christmas lights
- Cinnamon sticks
- Christmas balls
Other items that are occasionally added include:
- Christmas bells
- French horns
- Artificial poinsettias
- Plastic snowflakes
- Eucalyptus sprigs
But in the case of the grapevine wreath pictured here, evergreens are inserted into the vine base as an accent. Specifically, Canadian hemlock is the greenery used. A second natural Christmasy accent is also prominent: winterberry.
Grapevine wreaths are more popular during the fall than at Christmas, because they suggest the harvest. During the autumn they vie with bittersweet vines as popular door ornaments. On Page 4 we'll look at another twist in wreath decorations....Continue to 3 of 9 below.
03 of 09
Evergreen Wreath Accented With Artificial Fruit
Like the grapevine wreath in the previous picture, the wreath in this image diverges somewhat from the typical type for Christmas. For although it does have an evergreen base (namely, Eastern white pine), it is ornamented not with natural cones and berries (which could be gathered locally) but with artificial fruit. Because it suggests a table laid out for a feast (replete with the classic bowl of fruit -- real or otherwise), fruit is an effective element in Christmas decorations, lending itself easily to a festive mood.
Lovers of the "natural look" in Christmas decorations (using greenery, etc.) sometimes must compromise a bit. Most real fruit would deteriorate pretty quickly if left outdoors on a Christmas wreath in the freezing temperatures of a Northern climate. Thus the use of artificial fruit.
And even at that, you have to be careful. Not all artificial fruit is equally adept as withstanding the elements. When you set out to buy some, check carefully that what you are purchasing is classified as "weather-proof" or "weather-resistant" -- in other words, something designed specifically for outdoor use. A suitable product will have a coating that is lacking on much artificial fruit that you will find, say, in florists' arrangements, which are meant for indoor use only.
Now that I've presented a couple of atypical wreaths, on Page 5 we'll look at a more typical, traditional wreath....Continue to 4 of 9 below.
04 of 09
Traditional Christmas Wreaths With Greenery as a Base
The wreath has a long history. But to appreciate that history in all its fullness, you have to expand your perspective beyond the traditional Christmas wreath that you see hung on people's front doors.
For example, the Advent wreath is displayed horizontally, not vertically as door wreaths are. As Scott Richert, About.com's Catholicism Expert, tells us, the Advent wreath is made up of four candles, rising from a base of greenery. It originated in the 16th century.
Another type of wreath boasts an even longer history. The laurel wreath or "victory laurel" was worn on the head by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The wreath was divinely inspired -- literally. None other than the god, Apollo set the fashion trend in this instance. About.com's Expert on Ancient History, N.S. Gill, relates how Apollo came to wear the victory laurel.
The plant used in those ancient wreaths is not to be confused with mountain laurel, which brings us back to our topic of Christmas decorations. Because branches of mountain laurel, a North American plant, are gathered to make a decorative product known as "laurel roping," which is used as a Christmas garland. I'll talk more about garlands later. Sprigs of this type of laurel are also occasionally inserted into Christmas wreaths to lend variety to the greenery.
The traditional Christmas wreath in the picture above relies heavily on natural materials: greenery, cones, and berries. The ribbon is the only non-natural ornamentation in it. Being white, this ribbon brightens the ensemble considerably.
You may conjure up in your mind images of mainly red ribbons when thinking of Christmas wreaths, but that's because red ribbons are used so frequently on wreaths lacking other ornamentation. A plain green wreath (that is, sans cones, berries, etc., as in my next photo) really needs a red ribbon to acquire a Christmasy look, red and green being the essential colors of the holiday. But in the image above, the wreath can get away with a white ribbon because the berries supply all the red that is needed.
While sticking with traditional Christmas wreaths, on Page 6 we'll look at an interesting twist....Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
Double Doors, Double Wreath
A wreath is typically placed in the middle of a door. But what do you do if you have double doors? Which one gets the wreath? And won't it look odd to have such a Christmas decoration on one door and not the other?
Well, the answer is obviously to hang two wreaths, one on each door. Notice that the Christmas wreaths in the example pictured here are the "plain" type I alluded to on the prior page. Thus the red ribbons are de rigueur (unless you don't mind decorating with less Christmasy colors).
Speaking of colors, the black-and-gold doors, themselves contribute mightily to the classiness of this Christmas display. They furnish the wreath with an elegant backdrop. The house is located in the historic town of Newburyport, Massachusetts, where I snapped many of the shots in this collection.
I knew that Newburyport would be an excellent source for a photo gallery focusing on outdoor Christmas decorations that use greenery and other natural materials. Why? Because Newburyport is the type of town that my wife likes to refer to as "hoity-toity." That is, it's an upscale community, a place with lots of money and impressive old homes. In a word, Newburyport has "class" written all over it.
Such communities evince a strong preference for natural decorations (or at least very tasteful decorations). Newburyport is not the kind of town to which I'd travel to photograph examples of Christmas inflatables. There are two very different mindsets when it comes to Christmas decorating -- one might even say "two Americas." One can only generalize, of course, but upper-class communities tend to decorate with greenery, berries, cones, etc. more so than do working-class communities, which gravitate more towards showier holiday decor. The irony here is that the latter sometimes costs more.
Incidentally, notice the dwarf Alberta spruces, as well, which flank this front entry.
If you like the double-wreath idea here, you'll love the triple wreath on Page 7....Continue to 6 of 9 below.
06 of 09
The Third Time's a Charm: the Triple-Wreath Look
If you wish to show off your property in its best light, quality front-door decorations and/or well-planned landscaping around the front door (an extension of which is the foundation planting) is essential. Indeed, along with mailbox plantings and driveway landscaping (particularly at the driveway entrance), this is what shows up most to passersby. These are the areas of home landscaping where you need to make an extra effort if you care about the impression you're giving to others.
In the case of the yard pictured above, not much is currently display-worthy in the foundation planting. There are small inkberry hollies (flanking the urns) furnishing a touch of living greenery, but, even at their best, these shrubs are hardly showy. The owners had to put some thought into decorating this entry for Christmas to jazz it up and make it at all festive.
Their solution was simple enough, though. If you need Christmas color and you need it fast -- while remaining tasteful -- why not use three wreaths instead of one? There's nothing special about these wreaths, but the way they are "stacked" one on top of the other is unusual enough to turn some heads.
Complementing the triple wreath are two kinds of decorations that I'll be talking about more in the following pages:
The swags in this picture are keeping the porch lights company. Meanwhile, the most work was put into the urns. In addition to natural materials, these urns (along with the wreaths) have silver Christmas balls in them.
A swag is defined as being a suspended wreath, garland, drapery, or the like, fastened up at or near each end and hanging down in the middle.Continue to 7 of 9 below.
07 of 09
Door Swag as a Christmas Decoration
Whereas the Christmas swags on the previous page were essentially porch-light decorations, the one in this picture assumes its pose in the classic position: in the middle of the door. Notice how well it stands out against the black door. House (or, in this case, door) color is a consideration when choosing exterior decorations, both in terms of:
- Providing an effective backdrop for the decorations
- Choosing decorations that will work with your home's color
This swag is decorated with silver Christmas balls for a little extra pizazz. It may interest you to know (if you're curious about the historical origins of things we see in everyday life) that these classic Christmas ornaments are of German origin.
Ribbon and pinecones also festoon the swag. Wondering how to attach cones to such a decoration without having them fall out? Then you need to learn about wiring pinecones. For a job like this I like to have on hand a wire cutter, florist's wire, and florist's plant stakes.
I'll have a few words on Page 9 about another staple of greenery-oriented outdoor Christmas decorations: the urn....Continue to 8 of 9 below.
08 of 09
Christmas Urns Decorated With Branches and Greenery
This Newburyport household decorated their doorstep with a pair of Christmas urns overflowing with greenery and branches for the holiday. Literary types associate these highly traditional containers with Keats' poem, Ode to a Grecian Urn.
They are also popular as cemetery decorations, where they often appear as draped urns, notes Kimberly Powell. About.com's Genealogy Expert explains their popularity in cemeteries by pointing out that, in ancient Greece and Rome (where cremation was, at times, more common than burial), urns were used to hold the deceased's ashes. As a testament to the deceased, funerary urns could be quite elaborate. It is in this capacity -- i.e., as works of art -- that their metamorphosis from funereal pieces to items used for decorating was to be expected.
Notice the components in the arrangements created in these Christmas urns. In addition to greenery, branches have been inserted. Those of a red color are red twig dogwood, a bush I find useful in the winter landscape. Like the related yellow twig dogwood, its display value in winter lies in the color of its bark. The red color is very much real. The same cannot be said for the color of the birch sticks: that white is painted on.
The red berries you see in the picture are winterberries. They won't hold up for long -- they deteriorate in cold temperatures -- but they last plenty long to serve as colorful elements of a Christmas arrangement, as here. The greenery in the window boxes behind the urns extends the lush feel. Window boxes give you another option for injecting Christmastime color into your front-door landscaping.Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
Natural Evergreen Garland on Fence
Natural evergreen garlands are simple decorations that are useful for spanning big lengths of space that you don't want to leave bare. Christmas garlands are also commonly hung:
- Along deck railings
- Across garden arbors
- From the tops of lamp posts (allowing them to spiral down the post)
Have you ever avoided decorating with a garland because you weren't sure how to attach it to its support? Hanging garlands isn't as confusing as you might think.
Notice that sprigs of boxwood are weaved into the garland pictured above, pine being the predominant evergreen used here. Mixing different types of natural evergreens together like this gives a Christmas garland more character. Of course, you can also go artificial (if you truly must).
Fencing adds great value to your landscaping year-round, regardless of whether you decorate it or not.