Making an entrance

Assemble boughs and buds, pots and props, greens and glitter to decorate your front entrance.

Assemble boughs and buds, pots and props, greens and glitter to decorate your front entrance

With the approach of winter solstice, autumn is drawing to a close. No doubt you’ve been busy transplanting, tending and tidying. Perhaps you’ve tucked bulbs into every available corner of your garden. But don’t trade your secateurs for seed catalogues just yet. There’s still time for one last garden adventure. Assemble boughs and buds, pots and props, greens and glitter to decorate your front entrance.

While stalking your garden—and favourite gardening store—for festive materials, keep a mental list of plants and accessories that could provide a seasonal splash for winters to come. The eye-catching entrances shown here take traditional elements—wreaths, swags and potted greens—and give them a personal twist. Even before guests knock on the front door, they’ll have a sense of the occupant’s style, including strong hints that a garden-lover dwells within. Best of all, these ideas are easy to adapt to your own interests, style and local climate.

What kind of grand entrance do you want to make?

  •      Classical
  •      Canadiana
  •      Casual Cottage
  •      Golden Greens
  •      Retro Cheer
  • Whether your home is casual or formal, container-grown evergreen shrubs are an investment that pays dividends year-round. Used as a focal point in winter, they can retreat behind showier summer containers if desired.

    Ideally, container plants to be overwintered outdoors should be hardy to two zones below the one in which you live. This is because a container plant’s roots lack the protection of deep soil. Similarly, a larger container or one of thick material (wood, concrete or ceramic) buffers temperature swings better than a small, thin plastic pot. Mulching with a 2.5-cm (1-in.) layer of pea gravel also helps protect roots (and conserve soil moisture).

    On B.C.’s west coast, container shrubs can be hardy to zones 6 or 7 (or lower, of course), which affords a wide range of possibilities. In zone-2 regions, as GardenWise northern correspondent Barbara Rayment notes, the list is much shorter. She suggests Juniperus scopulorum and its hardier cultivars, which usually overwinter (in a big enough container) and can be decorated. “Try a dwarf pine such as Pinus sibirica, P. mugo Pumilio Group or maybe one of the dwarf forms of Scots pine (P. sylvestris),” she adds.

    Barbara, who experiments with a wide variety of plants in Prince George and recently released the second edition of her book, From the Ground Up: A Horticultural Guide for Northern Gardeners, notes that rather than overwinter many plants in containers, cold-climate gardeners can become creative with cut greens, inserting them into pots of soil or sand. “We arrange pine boughs, dogwood stems (Cornus stolonifera) and rose stems with hips on them. The wild prickly rose (Rosa acicularis) has red stems and the redleaf rose (R. glauca) is also excellent. The remnants of perennial or annual grasses can also be nice, if you like that minimalist look.” Even in areas with less severe weather, this technique is handy for jazzing up containers housing dormant perennials. Insert cut greens away from the crown of each perennial to avoid causing damage.

    Look around your garden for other plants with craft potential. The branches of grapevines can be wound into a wreath and then decorated with cones and berries. The glossy leaves of evergreen magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)—particularly cultivars with rich, brown indumentum beneath, such as ‘Little Gem’, ‘Blanchard’ (usually sold as ‘D. D. Blanchard’) and ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’—can themselves be used to form a wreath. My friend Terry Batt, who gardens in Courtenay, B.C., suggests adding dehydrated orange slices, rings of red apples and cinnamon sticks to arrangements.

    Shrubs with ornamental berries provide colour long after the last, lovely red autumn leaf has fallen, plus they provide food for wild birds. Among these shrubs are the vivid purple-fruited beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’) and red- or orange-berried pyracantha.

    Cotoneasters and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica) both hold their red gems among evergreen leaves. Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii and cultivars) is effective when planted so that the late-afternoon sun shines through its dangling, lozenge-shaped red berries.

    During the decade that I worked at VanDusen Botanical Garden, I admired the thickets of winterberry (Ilex verticillata). While berried twigs sold for a steep price, plants were not available. Luckily, that’s changed, for I’ve seen companion cultivars ‘Afterglow’ (female) and pollenizer ‘Jim Dandy’ (male) in several garden centres.

    If your climate is too cold or your garden too small for these berried treasures, consider buying pre-cut twigs with berries. One you’re likely to see is the South American pepper tree (Schinus molle), which produces hundreds of decorative fruits. (While these are often sold as “pink peppercorns” in peppercorn mixes, the berries can be poisonous to livestock and young children.)

    Indeed, purchased evergreens make sense when you consider the practicality of growing conifers, many of which get too huge for the home garden. Dwarf conifers, such as dwarf Alberta spruce and dwarf Norway spruce, are outstanding container plants, but their tight growth and symmetrical habits would

    be spoiled by cutting quantities for wreaths and swags. Spreaders, such as common juniper (Juniperus communis) can be trimmed without spoiling the plant’s overall shape, and northern gardeners are talking about a new, blue-leaved cultivar called ‘Blueberry Delight’. Common juniper also develops waxy blue berries that are decorative (and used to flavour gin!). So grow some conifers in your garden, but count on purchasing greens to supplement. (Note that hemlock branches drop all their needles immediately after being cut.)

    On the coast, winter brings a few flowers to our gardens. Arched against a trellis on my balcony is winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), which produces small yellow tubular flowers on bare (but bright-green) branches in January. Bringing branches indoors for a few days in December hurries it along, so I often have blooms to add to a festive arrangement.

    Throughout the year, keep an eye out for plants with winter interest that will cheer you during the darkest months and carry you along toward another growing season. And no matter where you live, let your love of gardening shine through your festive holiday decorations.

    Glossy black and white, this crested portico welcomes visitors up grand steps of brown slate. Three-tiered dwarf Alberta spruces in shiny black pots flank the door. Slow-growing, they’ll play the part of proper doormen for years to come. At their feet is a pair of well-behaved Ohlendorf spruces. Sparkling gazing balls appear as if pulled from a summer garden party—traditional but with an element of surprise. Each silvery orb is set off by a halo of warm, brown pine cones, soft pine needles, blue spruce boughs, bright-red pepper tree berries, curly willow and incense cedar.
    Source: GardenWorkscolor=”gray”>

    Put on your warm holiday scarf and snowshoes, and let’s head for the woods! At this Whistler home, upright junipers (Juniperus virginiana ‘Blue Arrow’) pair up at the door and a dwarf white cypress and two ‘Rubinetta’ skimmias perch in front. Potted are sprigs of budded eucalyptus and red huckleberry twigs that brighten a blue cypress. On the door, red pepper tree berries add zest in the wreath and snowshoe swag. After a day in the mountains, this entrance beckons us back for hot cocoa and cinnamon toast by the fire.
    Sources: Art Knapp Urban Garden and GardenWorks.color=”gray”>

    Casual Cottage
    Taking cues from the clean lines of Japanese architecture, this crisp entrance promises relaxation through simplicity. Bright-red pots hold a decorated dwarf Alberta spruce and a miniature hedge of ‘Sky Pencil’ Japanese hollies. In the custom-built boxes, red-berried wintergreens nestle by a blue dwarf Hinoki cypress and golden thread-leaf cypress. The swags include blue juniper berries, sprigs of noble fir and incense cedar, accented with cones of kauri and pine. In the garden at the edge of the porch, outstanding winter-interest plants include (left) sweet box and (right) David’s viburnum, seen through the cheerful shoots of red-twig dogwood. In colder regions a narrow screen can be created with tall stems of red-twig or red osier dogwood inserted into a pot; rather than the cypresses, place bog rosemary between the wintergreens.

    Source: GardenWorks.color=”gray”>

    Golden Greens
    The neutrality of this stone-and-wood entrance allows for an eclectic approach—Mediterranean artichokes and sweet bay, southern U.S. evergreen magnolia leaves, Japanese garden juniper (Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’) in pots reminiscent of cauldrons in the Forbidden City. The glitzy mesh, balls and metallic wands would be right at home in a Chinese palace as well, with a suggestion of prosperity in the New Year to come. In colder areas, the hardier Juniperus communis ‘Blueberry Delight’ could be substituted.
    Sources: gold mesh and metallic wands from GardenWorks, everything else from Art Knapp Urban Garden.color=”gray”>

    Retro Cheer
    Primary colours—blue house, red door, yellow foliage—combine with country-style accessories to create a sense of playfulness. A lacy curtain and miniature sleigh bells of red, white and green add to the whimsy, but a dash of sharpness is added by the crisp white door trim and glossy black fixtures and pot rims. The plant elements in this setting are appropriately simple. The lowest pots contain ‘Blue Star’ junipers and above them sit four containers with wintergreen. Beside the door are dwarf Alberta spruces and a ‘Gold Cone’ juniper. In the lettered box are cut holly, spruce and cedar. A similar look could be achieved if ‘Blueberry Delight’ common junipers were used instead of the ‘Blue Star’ junipers.
    Source: GardenWorks. color=”gray”>

    The following plants are hardy to the zone number indicated:
    Abies procera (noble fir) – zone 5 • Agathis australis (kauri) – zone 10 (buy at florist shop) • Andromeda polifolia (bog rosemary) – zone 1b • Berberis thunbergii and cultivars (Japanese barberry) – zone 5 • Callicarpa bodinieri ‘Profusion’ (beautyberry) – zone 6 • Calocedrus decurrens (incense cedar) – zone 5 • Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Lycopodioides’ (blue dwarf Hinoki cypress) – zone 4 • Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Aurea Nana’ (golden thread-leaf false cypress) – zone 5 • Chamaecyparis thyoides ‘Ericoides’ (dwarf white cypress) – zone 4 • Cornus stolonifera (red osier dogwood) – zone 2 • Cotoneaster – zone 4 to 7, depending on species • Cynara scolymus (globe artichoke) – zone 8 • Eucalyptus species – zones 8 to 10, depending on species • Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) – zone 2 • Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’ (upright Japanese holly) – zone 7 • Ilex verticillata ‘Afterglow’ and ‘Jim Dandy’ (winterberry) – zone 4 • Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine) – zone 6 • Juniperus communis ‘Gold Cone’ and ‘Blueberry Delight’ (common juniper) – zone 2 • Juniperus procumbens ‘Nana’ (Japanese garden juniper) – zone 5 • Juniperus scopulorum – zone 4 • Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star’ – zone 5 • Juniperus virginiana ‘Blue Arrow’ – zone 4 • Laurus nobilis (sweet bay) – zone 8 • Magnolia grandiflora ‘Blanchard’, ‘Bracken’s Brown Beauty’, ‘Little Gem’ (evergreen magnolia) – zone 7 • Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo) – zone 6 • Picea abies ‘Ohlendorffii’ (dwarf Norway or Ohlendorf spruce) – zone 2 or 3 • Picea glauca var. albertiana ‘Conica’ (dwarf Alberta spruce)– zone 3 • Picea pungens (blue spruce) – zone 3 • Pinus sibirica (Siberian pine) – zone 1 • Pinus mugo Pumilio Group – zone 3 • Pinus sylvestris (Scots pine) – zone 3 • Pyracantha – zone 6 or 7, depending on cultivar • Rosa acicularis (prickly rose) – zone 2 • Rosa glauca (redleaf rose) – zone 2 • Salix matsudana ‘Tortuosa’ (curly willow) – zone 5 • Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) – zone 6 • Schinus molle (pepper tree) – zone 10 (buy at florist shop) • Skimmia japonica ‘Rubinetta’ (female red-flowered skimmia) – zone 7 • Vaccinium parvifolium (red huckleberry) – zone 5 • Viburnum davidii (David’s viburnum) – zone 7 • Vitis vinifera (grape) – zone 6