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Seek help in the landscape for your flower arrangements

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q: Can you suggest something such as a small shrub to put in a pot outdoors for the winter?

    A: The most popular choice for this purpose is the dwarf Alberta spruce, which is usually offered for sale shaped as a pyramid 2 to 3 feet tall. This plant looks lovely in a large pot by the front steps. It can even be decorated with tiny electric lights.

This is the time of year to make your landscape work for you indoors. It isn’t difficult and can turn the simplest arrangement for mantel or tabletop into something personal and special.

That is because cuttings of evergreens and even bare twigs in interesting shapes add beauty and interest to vases or bowls of flowers from the grocery store or flower shop. The flowers are certainly out there in seasonal red, but don’t fear to choose white, purple or even pink colors if that suits your home décor or is the preference of the lucky recipient.

Looking around your landscape today, you may be surprised how wide your choices are for this purpose. Many broad-leaf evergreens such as English laurel, camellias, Chinese or Nellie Stevens hollies and tea olive all have leaves suited for medium to large arrangements. For small vases, look at Japanese or Yaupon hollies bearing smaller leaves that won’t dwarf the flowers.

Green and white foliage looks good in arrangements as well. The variegated Chinese privet, widely planted to make large screens, can be cut as long stems to create an airy effect and lighten up the look created by the dark green evergreens. Nandina leaves look very good in flower arrangements, and these vigorous shrubs can be cut well back in December.

Conifers, the needle-leaf evergreens, also play a role in this small drama. Sometimes people use cuttings of Fraser fir, white pine or Leyland cypress removed from the bottom of their Christmas tree. That works well in bigger vases. Smaller conifers such as various junipers or cypress may be just the thing once you cast an eye in their direction for this purpose.

And don’t forget the herbs. Rosemary may grow slowly, but it does look good in the winter and goes well in vases, with the bonus of wonderful scent. Also hanging around the landscape may be English ivy that looks good and only needs a good wash in the sink to get it ready. It won’t stand up like the evergreens with stiff stems, but will trail nicely over the edge of your vase or bowl.

The last thing to seek is a collection of good twigs and branches. Look for interesting swirls and possibly nice color. Some twigs have hints of red, others gray or brown, but any will add to the texture and interest that can turn a collection of bought cut flowers into something special.

As you gather leaves, herbs and stems, look for those in the best possible condition. Look for the shiniest and freshest. If a single leaf on a nice stem of laurel or privet, for example, appears damaged, just pick it off. Cut the stems longer than you expect to need and take them to a sink to wash the leaves, top and bottom. Keep the stems in a bucket of lukewarm water until you are ready to arrange them for your festivities.

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