Each year, members of the Garden Club of Irvington hold a workshop where we make “Holly Days” arrangements and decorations, which are auctioned at a fund-raising event, raising thousands of dollars to support conservation and beautification organizations and projects in the Hudson Valley.
These popular arrangements range in size from under a foot high to masterpieces that can make big statements on mantelpieces and dining tables. Our workshop co-chair graciously agreed to share instructions and tips so you can make your own. “The results are impressive and dramatic,” she says, “and it’s really easy to do.”
• An assortment of fresh greens. Good choices are fresh evergreen boughs (long-needle pine, cedar, boxwood) and decorative branches of holly, eucalyptus or magnolia. These are widely available at supermarkets, florists, and maybe even your front or back yard.
• A container. It could be anything from an elegant silver urn or porcelain cachepot to a weathered cement trough, a pottery vessel, a mossy terra-cotta pot, or a basket of any shape and size (baskets need to be lined with plastic).
• Decorations and/or flowers of your choice. These could include pine cones, clusters of berries (real or fake); flowers like paperwhites, amaryllis, orchids and roses (fresh, dried or silk); and whimsical elements like holiday ornaments or miniature birds.
• A cutting tool for the greens, like a Felco hand pruner; floral foam (which is available at craft stores); and a serrated kitchen knife for cutting the foam.
Then, just follow these easy steps:
1. Soak the floral foam in a sink or bucket for an hour to drink up as much water as possible. Add some floral preservative — the little envelope of granules you get with cut flowers — to the water. You can make your own by mixing l/4 tsp. liquid bleach, 1/4 tsp. sugar, and a crushed aspirin tablet into each quart of water. This solution should keep the greens fresh for weeks.
2. Cut your foam with a sharp kitchen knife and fit it snugly inside your container. The foam should be at least 2″ taller than the rim of the container.
3. Start putting in the greens. Give them a fresh cut — it helps them take in water — and insert the branches or stems firmly into the foam. Start with the tallest stem; establish the height of the arrangement by putting it right into the middle of the top.
4. Establish the width of the arrangement but putting in four horizontal branches at the four sides of the foam at the container rim.
5. Keep filling in from there. The general rule is that the arrangement should be 2 l/2 times as high as your container… but do whatever you feel looks right.
6. Once you’re pleased with the shape of your greens, Cover any foam that’s showing at the bottom with moss (available in packages at craft stores) or small cuts of evergreen. Then add whatever decorations you like that will make it special. Red or white flowers or berries are always a nice contrast to the greens. Dried hydrangea flowers look great tucked in. So do clusters of artificial fruit.
These arrangements will look wonderful on your table or mantle (just add water every few days to keep the greens fresh).
And they make very special gifts.