Home Improvement December 12, 2013

Holiday decorating with nature: arrange with berries and boughs, branches and big blooms


Natural materials like greens and branches, berries and flowers are a breath of fresh air amid all the overdecorating that goes on this time of year.

Special to The Seattle Times


INSTEAD OF glamming up with shine and sparkles for the holidays, why not look out the window for decorating inspiration?

Natural materials like greens and branches, berries and flowers are a breath of fresh air amid all the overdecorating that goes on this time of year. And they’re mostly free.

Nicole Cordier, front-desk manager at the Seattle Wholesale Growers Market in Georgetown, practices admirable restraint for a woman surrounded by temptations. I stopped into the market a few weeks ago to see what greenery and blooms might be available through the holidays to supplement what you grow yourself, or to provide new and different materials to play around with. Cordier wandered the market, pulling ‘Café au Lait’ dahlias and branches of blue-berried juniper for holiday arrangements.

What will be available at the market in late November through December? “We’ll have snowberry and holly, dried hydrangeas, rose hips, bare branches, wreaths and lots of holiday greenery like pine, spruce and hemlock,” says Cordier.

In late autumn, the market’s bins and baskets are filled with gourds and squashes in a mind-bending array of shapes, colors and degrees of wartyness. Jello Mold Farm in the Skagit Valley offers fragrant winter stock in shades of white, cream and salmon, and Oregon growers supply greenhouse roses and lilies year-round. Tangles of bare branches never looked so atmospheric as they do in this old, cement-floored brick building. (The public can shop the wholesale growers market on Fridays; see seattlewholesalegrowersmarket.com.)

Cordier pulls a bulbous ‘Pink Cinderella’ pumpkin from one of the bins, hollowing it out as if she’s carving a Jack-O-Lantern. She sticks a water-filled vase inside to create the perfect container for a Thanksgiving harvest arrangement. But there’s nothing typical about Cordier’s color sense. The big, creamy dahlias tinged in lavender and peach reflect the color of the pumpkin’s skin, their silky petals contrasting with the crispness of sky-blue hydrangeas. Bristly juniper branches, with their blue berries and fresh, resinous scent, ground the arrangement in near-winter. A scatter of fuzzy-grass blooms lighten up the bunch. Then the addition of palest lavender roses, and Cordier steps back to take a look at her work. “It’s soothing to me,” she says. If any arrangement stuffed into a pumpkin shell could elevate a Thanksgiving table to a work of art, it would be this one with its sophisticated tones and textures.

Cordier steps up the textural contrasts in her second bouquet. She starts with a glossy vase from West Elm in palest blue. Tall, stiff, brightly berried Viburnum ‘Cardinal Candy’ branches serve as a scaffold to hold the rest of the materials. Cordier echoes the vase color with the ghostly pale little berries on the dried bayberry and in sprays of silvery Dusty Miller. The felted texture and spreading shape of this common bouquet filler looks fresh here, a visceral contrast to the upright berry branches. White, white snowberries are plump reminders that it’s winter as they drip off lax, curving branches.

When I think Cordier is through and the bouquet is perfect, she surprises me by tucking in a few ‘Red France’ roses. It’s that unexpected refinement amid the garden-esque berries and branches that makes the arrangement uniquely beautiful. “You could use deeper, darker red roses like ‘Bordeaux’ or ‘Prestige,’ she adds. “But I don’t like to overdo it.”

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com. Ellen M. Banner is a Seattle Times staff photographer.