Posts tagged Christmas

Mistletoe mythology

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

 

I’m sitting here gazing out the window again.  It’s cold.  It’s dreary.  The big round hay bales are adorned in caps of frozen snow.  The cardinal in my Lilac Bush must have flown the coop for better living conditions. Now and then an occasional squirrel scurries across the yard searching for buried treasures.  Flocks of wild turkeys dotted the hillside along East Post Road and Hwy 100 yesterday.  We followed three young deer trotting down the middle of our road acting as if the right of way was theirs.  I suppose it was easier than struggling in the deep snow.  They stopped in a neighbor’s drive and glared as if we were imposing on their life style.  We wondered how many critters are wintering in homes along our road abandoned due to the flood.

            Relatives from Texas are in Iowa for the Holidays. We’ll enjoy a dinner with them and the weather will undoubtedly be a topic of conversation. My brother stopped yesterday with holiday cheer.  We travel to rural Bertram for another meal with fine food, fun gifts, and mega-jocularity.  97 year old Great Grandma will join us for a brunch.  Grandson Charlie got a reply, postmarked from the North Pole (!) from his letter to Santa.  Granddaughter Catie is convinced she has been a model child all year, but is waffling a bit on the Santa Claus thing.

 ‘Tis the Holiday Season. Hopefully everyone can find something, albeit small, to be thankful for.

 Many of us continue to be abundantly blessed.  Others are not so lucky. My Holiday wish to you is that you enjoy this Season for whatever reason you choose, but please, please make a note to yourself, that like wildlife that strives to survive this frigid weather, many many friends, acquaintances and folks you’ve never met will need your help going forward as they struggle to regain a balance in their lives.  Remember them as we embark on another New Year.

            On a lighter note:  any idea why we call Nature “Mother” and Winter “Old Man”?  Did you know Mistletoe isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?  Its berries are poisonous; it has no roots so leaches from the tree to which it’s attached and in mythology was said to be a sign of submission when sighted during times of war!

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Frightful weather?

The following is from Linn County Master Gardener, Claire Smith:

           

It’s a debatable issue:  is the weather outside really frightful today?  Or, is it all in your perspective?  I was out and about this morning but arrived home in time to sit here at my computer plunking away for this week’s blog and watch the beautiful huge flakes of snow wafting to the ground. There’s just something mesmerizing about an Iowa snowfall.   Right now, right outside a kitchen window, a Cardinal is perched in a lilac bush sheltered in a blanket of white. What a sight!

            Speaking of birds, what will you do with your live tree after the Holidays?   How about, after removing the ornaments (especially the tinsel) propping the tree in your perennial garden?  It will add winter interest as well as shelter for birds that enjoy feeding on the seeds of coneflower, rudbeckia and liatris.  Or use it as mulch by pruning the branches and covering perennial and bulb gardens.  I’ll bet your neighbors would volunteer to let you take their trees, too. 

            Have you observed what wildlife visits your garden?  Their antics can be quite entertaining.  Note which plants helped bring them into the landscape. 

            Brush snow off shrubs and evergreens as the heavy wet stuff will cause breakage and damage. Prune only broken/damaged branches now.  

            Most importantly, investigate environmentally friendly methods of removing snow and ice from sidewalks and driveways.  Calcium Chloride is more expensive, but it is easier on your plants. Watch for new plant-friendly products entering the market. 

            And, if you haven’t found the perfect gift for a gardener friend, think about a journal, plant labels, hand pruners, flower scissors, a harvest basket (my second favorite choice), a gift certificate to a favorite garden center, or (my first choice!), a load of well seasoned manure, delivered. Yes! You read correctly!  It will be an inexpensive gift and certain to bring smiles to everyone’s faces. 

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Ghost of Christmas Past

Deb Engmark, head gardener at the historic Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids, wrote the following about decorations of Christmases past:

 

The Christmas tree, the holly wreath, the sprig of mistletoe, and the Christmas bells were the four most “distinctive Christmas decorations” noted in a December 1907 issue of The Garden Magazine.  Stumbling upon this publication the day after the staff and volunteers completed holiday decorating at Brucemore allowed for some interesting comparisons between the times.

Balsam was recommended as the best variety of tree when decorating for Christmas and the best way to adorn it was not to overload it.  Pyramidal trees with short lustrous green needles striped with silver underneath were also popular in 1907 because they “give the impression of a recent light frost.” The month-long holiday season at Brucemore makes these natural, heavy-shedding, historic trees impractical for the mansion, and the temptation to over-adorn is irresistible in such a grand home.  I am not sure any of the staff has the ability to practice the “less is more theory” during the holiday season.

Holly was referred to as the most important decorative Christmas material, the most desirable was English holly with as many berries as possible. The most distinctive way of using holly was in the form of wreaths; the best wreaths were those faced with berries on both sides, “so that when they were hung in the window they would give pleasure to those passing by as well as the family indoors.”

As for the beloved holiday mistletoe tradition, in 1907 it was thought that “because it is not pretty in itself, one sprig of mistletoe is enough for most people.” This is a statement as true today as it was over 100 years ago.

The final “distinctive Christmas decoration” of 1907, the Christmas bells, are absent from the décor of 2008.  The traditional sleigh bells that we appreciate for their own magical sound were not the bells that the magazine referenced. In 1907, “Those big red bells of tissue paper that fold up like a stocking have now become almost a national institution.”  Who knew?

            Families in 1907 were concerned with their holiday budgets much like families in 2008.  According to the article, “The cheapest way to decorate is to collect native material, especially branches of evergreens.”  However, they urge the reader, “not to take any evergreens that do not belong to you without the owner’s approval. It is a gross violation of the Christmas spirit to cut down cultivated conifers on other people’s grounds.” 

            I encourage you to look to nature when decorating this holiday season.  Go forth and use your imagination and homegrown ornaments.  If you are questioned about your holiday aesthetic, cite deep American cultural traditions.  This method allows for creativity until the seed and plant catalogs start to arrive.  I too urge you to remember the Christmas spirit when collecting your greenery.

From the Big house at Brucemore may all comfort and cheer be yours this holiday season! 

 

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Perfect Poinsettias

The following is by Linn County Master Gardener Claire Smith:

 

My friend Ken used to say the only good poinsettia is a red poinsettia.    Did you know that:

o   Almost 75% of Americans still prefer red poinsettias over other colors.

o   Poinsettias were introduced into the U.S by Joel Poinsett, our first ambassador to Mexico, in 1825.

o   December 12th is National Poinsettia Day.

o   Ninety percent of all poinsettias are exported from the United States.

o   More than 60 million poinsettias, worth more than $200 million, are sold each holiday season.

o   Poinsettias are the most popular flowering potted plant, even though most are sold in a six-week period before Christmas.

o   The showy colored parts of the poinsettia are called bracts and are technically leaves.

o   Poinsettias are not poisonous.

How do you pick the perfect poinsettia? 

o   Healthy plants have a full complement of dark green leaves that are free of brown edges.

o   The bracts should be fully colored and not damaged. 

o   Check the true flowers in the center of the bracts.  They should be greenish-yellow and sometimes have pollen.

o   Wrap the plant carefully to carry it home to prevent injury from cold temperatures outdoors.

o   Place the plant in a bright, well-lit location, away from drafts.  Ideal temperatures are 60-70F daytime, 55-60F at night.  

o   Water thoroughly when the surface soil dries out, but pour excess water out of the saucer.  

o   Wait to fertilize until early spring.

So, enjoy the poinsettias in your favorite holiday color scheme as they are now also available in pink, white, peach, plum, yellow, cranberry, marbled, spotted and can even be dyed blue!

 

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Fresh trees

The following is by Claire Smith, Linn County Master Gardener:

 

Years ago when pizza delivery was first invented, we invited another family for pizza.   We ate, and then we adults moved to the living room.  At that time, the kitchen heat source in this old house was a Ben Franklin stove.  The kids decided that they would clean up for us (a pleasant surprise!)  Several minutes later, we sensed a smell only describable as HOT.  Running into the kitchen, we discovered the kids had shoved the empty pizza boxes into the stove.  The grease had heated the chimney to a vivid red.  Yes, Virginia, vivid red!  Needless to say we were extremely lucky to have a house left to celebrate the upcoming Holidays! 

It’s getting that time of year for kids to nestle in their beds and think of Sugar Plums and numerous other Holiday pleasures.  It’s also time for families to remember one of the most important items about the holidays that we seldom consider.   Safety!  

Use “live” greenery wisely.  Be certain the garland draped on the mantle is secured adequately.  Evergreens burn like tinder.  Flames flare out of control sending sparks flying into the room and igniting creosote deposits in the chimney. 

The same holds true for those beautiful candles that you place so strategically in the evergreen centerpiece.  Do not leave lit candles unattended. 

Create a family tradition and cut down a live tree at a tree farm.  Fresh trees stay greener longer.  Fresh needles will stay on branches longer and don’t break when bent.   Trim away low branches that will impede the tree from being secured in a sturdy, water-holding stand. Keep water in the stand while the tree is indoors.  Place the tree away from any heat source:  think fire as well as drying out the tree.  If you do purchase a tree from a store or organization, cut an additional two inches off the trunk to expose fresh wood to provide better water absorption. 

For those of you using artificial trees, look for a statement stating the tree is fire resistant prior to purchasing it.  And never, never use electric lights on metallic trees.

Pet and kid proof your trees.  Thin guy-wires can secure trees to walls or ceilings and prevent curious little hands and paws from pulling or knocking   trees around.  Avoid use of extension cords.  A child or pet tangled in an extension cord could cause utter disaster in your home.

Christmas Cactus, Poinsettias, Mistletoe, Holly Berries or any other Christmas plant may cause illness in kids and pets if ingested. 

My husband used to say, “Slow down.  You move too fast.”  I’ve learned.  I took my lesson from the Christmas morning when I thought I could dry one more load of clothes before the extended family arrived and started a mischievous kitten on the ride of his life in the dryer.  Fortunately, I knew the thumping wasn’t normal and immediately rescued a very dizzy, but otherwise o.k. feline.  Common sense is the best plan.  Use it!

 

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