A well-done entry instantly sets the tone for any party or event. Last weekend, I decorated our stone arch in summer greens & flowers for my Dad’s birthday party. I thought it was festive and cheery, very summery~
For Christmas, I dress the same arch with remnant pieces of cedar garland and free cuttings gathered when I get the Christmas tree. Tip: take as many free tree cuttings as you can; you will use them. Greens from the garden like California Pepper, Toyon and pine fill out the arch, giving it a slightly shaggy look I love; it’s not meant to be perfectly composed, I like a natural look~
Sometimes I use a burlap or tartan bow; for the Romantic Homes shoot, the Phoenix palms offered the perfect alternative to a bow; a large cluster of dates~
I add in Christmas lights for the short days; nothing puts guests in the holiday spirit like walking through an arch like this on a cool winter evening… as well as fresh apples & citrus from the farmers market, cinnamon sticks tied together and Toyon berries (no wonder the shrub is commonly known as California Holly!). This will last for the season in cool weather, even in Southern California~
I have since cut back to the ground this bougainvilla that used to grow over the arch; too messy; but it was pretty at the time against the immature dates. This was really a gift from my garden just for the magazine shoot; last year the date clusters came a month after Christmas~
You can get a similar effect for any archway, railing, arbor, gate, pillar, or other fixed object in your entry or your home. Let me show you how I do this and you can adapt it for your house or maybe a friend’s house…..
Create a structure to hold greens in place using any sticks, branches or boughs; pliant boughs such as Eucalyptus work very well. See what you can find in your garden to use; the more branches the better as it will give you a fuller shape. I use two bunches of curly willow, which cost me $16 at a local florist; this is usually my only expense when making the arch. This willow is fresh as it is still green; it will brown up when it dries, but it is less pliant then. Tie the willow to the arch or other structure using florist wire (wire, not tape); I start the strand on the white gate hinge, but you can start anywhere, secure at the bottom of your structure and just wind around enough times to secure the willow; for this arch there are 6 or 7 turns around the arch. You can see here that some of the willow is clustered at the bottom of the arch, but some of it gets lashed to the arch closer to the top, so that some of the willow crosses at the top. I had my Denver-based nieces Katie and Julia help me make the arch for Grampy’s party~
Generally when I scout for greens to use, I look for what needs a haircut in the garden and what is seasonal. Definitely pine, cedar, eucalyptus and juniper for Christmas. This time I decided to use a very old rosemary bush that was recently cleared of overrunning geranium. I cut a lot off but it basically still looks like this~
We gathered the rosemary in two large baskets, and wove it into the arch with a few sprigs of myrtle left over from the house flowers. Both were very fragrant as you passed under, the desired effect. You can see now that the curly willow is hardly visible. But the willow has given structure to the greens layered on top~
The greens need to be placed in one direction; either facing down, like a moustache, or up, like a laurel wreath. For this arch, the top half faced down and the bottom half faced up. Best to decide how you want it to look before you start tucking in the greens so it looks somewhat uniform. Try to use several kinds of greens and aim for variety, texture, fragrance or volume with each green used. On top of the rosemary we layered Pittosporum, which is a nice green shrub or tree; this is it with the green seed pods; it gave volume and filled out the arch well~
Instead of a bow, we used fresh sunflowers, tucked into the top of the arch without water. They lasted until the party ended.
They were like a little smile at the gate to welcome guests~
But I decided they weren’t enough, so I added fresh lavender on both sides; the combination rosemary, lavender, pittosporum fragrance in the hot sun was heavenly…maybe I could have added a bow, but I thought this was enough~
To disguise the bottom of the curly willow, I used antique French grain buckets filled with more cut Pittosporum at the back and all sunflowers in the front of the buckets. You can see the florist wire crossing the bottom of the curly willow here at left. The flowers were yet more cheer for the entry~
I usually do all of this by myself, but if you have someone to help you, this whole setup will take you about half an hour for a small project like this. And if you have a garden or friends with gardens, it can be free!! The arch is still up now, one week after the party, and the greens have just now started to brown a little due to the heat. My nephew will come this week to take the willow because he thinks “it’s cool” and he will put them in the corner of his room, my gift as a treat for helping me lash the willow to the arch.
I hope you will consider these techniques and whatever your garden offers you for creating a lovely feature for your next party or perhaps for Christmas 2011…there are so many possibilities…lights, ribbons, bows, flowers, fruits etc….email me or comment if you need any other information or assistance….