Bringing in the Greens

Fresh cut greens brought in the home this time of year is a tradition dating back hundreds of years. It identifies with our need to bring the garden indoors when we are spending less time outside.  Traditional winter festivals included “hanging of the greens” or “bringing in the greens” when fresh-cut greenery and branches were brought in to celebrate the harvest and the winter solstice.  Not only for decoration, the plants were also used extensively for their heady, healing aromas. The heavy resinous oils in the needles and branches would freshen and purify enclosed living spaces. In ancient Egypt, aromatic spices and plant resins were items of great value for indoor fragrance and the extensive use of scent by Cleopatra is legendary. Ancient Romans made perfuming a ritual for everything from clothing to the sails of their ships,  leaving much legend and lore through history,  as to their uses.

Create your own seasonal traditions by bringing the bounty of evergreens and other natural materials inside. Take a walk through the winter garden and look for interesting seed heads, foliage and branches jeweled with berries. Search for materials with unblemished leaves, sturdy stems and heads that do not shatter when harvested.  Move beyond the traditional greenery of indoor decor and look for materials that incorporate a whole range of natural textures. This different way of looking through the garden can inspire and capture fragrance and colors for wreaths, garlands and arrangements, perfect for adorning the entry hall, fireplace mantles and the dining room. Enhance garden crafting with out of the garden details such as dried fruits, fragrant cinnamon sticks, pinecones and spices.  Follow these tips and ideas to bring it all together.

  • Take a bucket with clean water to immediately place, fresh cuttings in

    salal, pieris, variegated holly, hop vine, douglas fir
  • Use sharp,  clean pruners or scissors to take clippings
  • Remove the lower leaves off stems, so they do not sit underwater
  • Woody stems should be crushed on the ends, so they can take up water easier.
  • Place buckets of greenery in a cool place such as the garage and allow them to sit overnight to absorb the maximum amount of water.
  • When arranging  fresh stems and branches in a vase, re-cut the end of the stem to allow better water uptake. Flowers and greens that can absorb water and stay plumped up will have a longer vase life. Replace water every few day for cleanliness and keep water at the level it needs to be and top off as necessary.
  • Most woody, evergreen branches like cedar and salal will last through a holiday season without water.

Pruning Tips

Don’t cut shrubs or trees in a way that may alter their natural growing habit. For example,  avoid short cuts at the top of woody ornamental plants.  Find selective long branches that allow cuts closer to the base or around the outer edges of the plants. Look for branches that need to be pruned off.  Learn what plants bloom on new growth (like Beautyberry); they can usually be cut heavier. As a rule of thumb, never cut more than one-third of leafy evergreen plants. Conifers and needled branches are cut very selectively.  Avoid cutting where it will permanently re-shape the tree or shrub (unless you are making a topiary!).  Look for undamaged branches that have fallen in the wind or cut small branches where you will naturally want to thin or limb up.

fresh, hand-wrapped salal wreath

 Plants for winter cutting

 For a golden touch:

 Aucuba “Mr. Goldstrike”, Euonymus ‘Silver Queen’, variegated holly, Elaeagnus


Daphne, Viburnum x bodnantense, rosemary

Colorful stems:

Red and yellow twig dogwood, Coral Bark Maple


Camellia, Douglas fir, cedar, evergreen huckleberry, ferns, Pieris, rosemary, salal, Mahonia, boxwood


Barberry, beautyberry, holly, rose hips, snowberry, cranberry Viburnum, Skimmia

Interesting architectural branches:

Witch hazel, contorted filbert, curly willow

Seed and dried floral heads:

Alliums, ornamental grasses like Miscanthus, millet and pennisetum, Echinacea, Rudbeckia

Decorating Thoughts:

Dried Hydrangea, fresh-cut rosemary, salal, cedar,

Think lush and full, don’t skimp. Look for textures that contrast and set off each other. If you don’t make your own, use pre-made wreath bases and garland to add fresh berry branches and interesting stems. Alternate color and texture to complete the look.


Use caution on wood or fabric surfaces. Fresh branches, berries and moisture can stain. Make fresh decor for parties and special events. For arrangements used for longer periods of time, keep greenery fresh by avoiding drying heat sources. Remove fading materials and replace as needed to avoid shedding and fire hazard.


Decorate outdoor window boxes and containers, no need for them to remain bare over the winter. Begin by planting spring-flowering bulbs deep in containers. Top the container as if arranging a vase of cut flowers. Arrange fresh-cut holly branches, contorted filbert stems and fir branches in the top-level of soil of the container. Add weatherproof glass bulbs and pine cones for a decorative touch. As the soil warms in the spring, remove the branches as the bulbs emerge for fresh pops of spring.

2 thoughts on “Bringing in the Greens”

  1. I loved reading your ideas about briinging the outdoors in, Sue. It gives me ideas beyond the traditional evergreens. It’s quite a magical time of year, and I’ve decided I like the dark mornings. I turn on the tree lights, light candles, sip my coffee and consider the bounty of life.

    Happy holidays!
    Judi Cleghorn

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