He started with a block of oasis, deftly inserting sprigs of ivy and white pine. He added white snapdragons, wax flowers, alstroemeria, fuji mums, clusters of canella berries and tiny white pumpkins. Tall dried stalks of millet - a type of cereal grass - cattails, frothy ribbon grass and a couple of pheasant feathers made up the vertical lines of the natural arrangement. Dusty miller and fresh bayberry added gray tones to the white on white, brown on brown, earth colors on earth colors.
Warrenfeltz designed a centerpiece for the Women's Club dining room table.
"It's a dickens of a thing to come up with a good idea for a 'Dickens Christmas,' " he joked.
He called his creation a fairly elementary centerpiece, "cheating" a little bit by using the oasis to anchor the greens and keep them moist.
Florists of Dickens' times would not have had such a modern convenience. Warrenfeltz, a member and past president of both Washington County and Boonsboro historical societies, used ivy, fresh winterberry, rose hips and ribbon to highlight the arrangement.
It was crowned with a "plum pudding" he designed in a bundt pan. He glued cinnamon to the faux cake and added flourishes of holly berries on top. Dried plums were fastened with bamboo skewers.
"I always like to do something a little whimsical," Warrenfeltz said has he worked on a wire wreath frame. He used clusters of boxwood and seeded eucalyptus - something he likes to use even though it doesn't grow in the area.
Following the contour of the wreath, Warrenfeltz affixed dried blossoms of hydrangea, German statice, brick red nandina berries, yellow yarrow, reddish coxcomb and deep red commercially dried roses. Fresh roses also can be used - some will fall apart, but some will dry nicely in place, Warrenfeltz said. It's fine for the decorations to be random, as long as the forms and colors are balanced, he added.
There are two things that seem unavoidable to Warrenfeltz this year: The millennium and snowmen. He chose a country-style version of the latter for a birch twig wreath. To give the wreath a holiday glow, he sprayed it with glue and sprinkled it with "diamond dust'' or glitter. He decorated it with freshly cut mountain pine, winterberry, holly, a few rose hips - pretty, but nasty to work with - white roses, dusty miller, wild sumac, ivory-colored tallow berries and milkweed pods.
"You can get an amazing amount of stuff on one of these little holders," Warrenfeltz said. In less than 30 seconds, he fashioned a loopy bow of white velvet ribbon.
Last week's program marked the beginning of Warrenfeltz's sabbatical from doing demonstrations until 2001. He's been at it since he was a junior in high school, and although he'll still teach at Hagerstown Community College and do open-hearth cooking at Bowman House in Boonsboro, he will devote the next year to his gardens and business and spend a little more time with his wife, Shawen Warrenfeltz.
Although his formal horticultural training started in 1971 at Washington County Career Studies Center, Warrenfeltz grew up in a family of gardeners. Over his workbench is a photo of him in his grandmother's garden. He was 1 1/2 years old.
"I didn't have a fighting chance," he said.
Because he believes that the true meaning of Christmas often is forgotten, Warrenfeltz created a "gardener's crche." It was a fitting finale to the annual holiday season kickoff.
-- Decorating Tips