Decorations from Christmas past

December 11, 2005|By TAMELA BAKER


Tired of decking your halls with plastic holly? Want a little more "tradition" in your traditional Christmas decor?

Two words: Go natural.

It's easy and doesn't really take much time, said master gardener Nancy Alfriend of Charles Town, W.Va.

And there's the residual benefit that decorations using real fruit and greens tend to be a bit more fragrant than silk or vinyl.

With some magnolia leaves, a little English boxwood and a lot of apples, Alfriend demonstrated, on behalf of the Berkeley-Jefferson Master Gardeners Association, how to make a Williamsburg-style fruit cone tree on Saturday at the West Virginia University Experimental Farm near Kearneysville.


"The first thing we have to do is polish," Alfriend said as she whipped out a dish towel and began shining up an apple.

Polishing the apples - 20 to 22 are required for the tree, Alfriend said - turned out to be the most time-consuming part. Once the apples were polished and the other materials were collected, assembling the tree took only minutes.

Snipping the stems off enough magnolia leaves to cover a round cardboard base, Alfriend arranged them in a circle pointing outward until the base was covered. No glue, no tape, no staples.

The nail-studded wooden cone on which the tree would be assembled would hold the leaves in place, she said.

Placing the cone in the center, Alfriend began attaching apples to the nails in the cone, bottom row first.

"Get them as close as possible," Alfriend said. "It will take eight or nine apples on the bottom. Don't worry about spaces (between them). You'll fill in with boxwood."

"By the way, you know that you will not be eating these apples ..." she added.

With three rows of apples impaled on the cone, Alfriend started garnishing with boxwood.

The branches should be broken into pieces about 4 inches long, Alfriend said.

"You can put as many in there as you want," she said, poking the boxwood stems between the apples. "When you place your boxwood, make sure you point it out, not up."

No glue, no tape, no staples.

"The apples hold it," Alfriend said.

Once all of the spaces were filled, Alfriend topped the cone with a pineapple.

"A pineapple, to me, is a symbol of hospitality," she said.

But there can be plenty of variations on the theme - lemons, oranges or a mix of fruits could be used rather than apples, Alfriend said.

"You don't always have to use boxwood," she added. "You can use holly or white pine or any sort of evergreen ... Holly would've been very pretty with this."

And there's no need to top the cone with a pineapple. Other fruits - or even pheasant feathers - could be used, Alfriend said.

"If you wanted to do that, it would really make a statement," she said.

To keep the greenery fresh longer, infuse it with water before making the arrangement, Alfriend said.

"I soaked the boxwood for three days in water to condition it," she said. "It'll hold up longer."

Creating these reminders of Christmas past is second nature to Alfriend, who grew up gardening in Yorktown, Va.

"Growing up, we didn't have plastic" decorations, she said. "We used natural things."

For the designer-challenged among us, Alfriend offered hope.

"There's nothing that you can do wrong with these that is not pretty," she said. "It goes together quickly, and each one is individual."

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