Still fresh after all these years

Garden club members work their magic, transforming greens into beautiful wreaths, garlands, swags and tabletop arrangements. Photo by Sylvie Rowand.

All-natural. Fresh. Lush. Lovely. Local. That’s what the Rappahannock County Garden Club offers for its annual holiday decorations — and has for decades.

The garden club makes swags, garlands, wreaths and tabletop arrangements (some of the ladies have indeed made decorations for decades) that are made-to-order.

The tradition started decades ago when the club began offering fresh holiday decorations when none were available locally. Club members also wanted to raise funds for their good work — and so the “Greens Workshops” were started.

Proceeds from the club’s only fundraiser are used to send several Rappahannock children to nature camps. One camp is an academically challenging two-week residential camp run by the Garden Club of Virginia in Vesuvius (applications are being taken right now). The other is a week-long day camp in Rappahannock County. Proceeds also go to scholarships for county high school students, and fund other garden club projects such as the flowerbox plantings around the county courthouse in the spring. Funds also support the Farm to Table program.

The effort starts in the summer when garden club members collect and dry interesting seed heads, from delicate baby’s breath to architectural magnolia, spiky gumballs, vibrant cockscomb and many, many pine cones. In mid-November, the rush starts. All able garden club members fan out through the countryside to cut greens — from members’ gardens or the hedges and shrubs of others who generously give their permission.

The club gets a fresh, healthy supply of greens (boxwood, fir, spruce, magnolia leaves, arbor vitae, pine, cedar and other greens) and the owners’ evergreens benefit from careful pruning that lets the sun in for better growth the following spring. Also collected are nandina berries, staghorn sumac, magnolia seed pods and cedar berries.

The all-natural wreaths that are created can be thrown on a compost heap or a burn pile when no longer needed. Just take out the bow.

Greens and accents collected by club members add a festive air to this tabletop arrangement. Photo by Sylvie Rowand.

The cut greens need to be properly conditioned to ensure that the arrangements remain fresh for as long as possible. The work entails storing the bags in a cool shady place, watering every day and turning the bags every day. That’s a lot of bags — so members share the responsibility for conditioning.

All arrangements are made to order and Nov. 21 is this year’s deadline to order. Your selection will be handmade the week following Thanksgiving, when all garden club members gather at the Washington fire hall to transform it into “greens-making central,” complete with wreath-making machines, tally sheets, a quality-control manager and lots of coffee. For three days, they’ll be busy lugging bags of greens in and out, trimming, pinching, bundling, tying, gluing, sticking, spraying, making bows, decorating and getting their hands really dirty. It will take several days for all the sap to wash off.

This year, decorations will be ready prior to Washington’s Christmas parade, when you can pick up your order at the Washington fire hall on Thursday, Dec. 2 after 3 p.m. (the Club will work with you if you can’t pick up on that date).

What’s available this year? Two kinds of undecorated wreaths (one boxwood, one mixed greens), two gorgeously decorated wreaths, fresh garlands by the foot, a door swag and centerpiece/tabletop arrangement with two candles. Prices start at $25; to see photos, visit laughingduckgardens.com/index_files/Greens2010.htm and click on the wreath photo on the right. For more information, contact Susan Hornbostel at 540-987-9620 or e-mail bsmah@stoneledge.net.

So keep it fresh, keep it local — and remember that the garden club’s holiday greens also make great hostess gifts.