Hartley Magazine

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Conservatory cheer for November doldrums

holiday cheer 2 novIf you’re lucky enough to have a big conservatory—and it isn’t too crowded with plants—you have a lovely setting for a holiday party. If it’s warm enough to overwinter houseplants, the glasshouse will be comfortable for people. And wouldn’t it be lovely for your guests to watch snowflakes fall from inside the glass?

You’re probably halfway there with your party decorations too. Why not use the houseplants that are already overwintering in the conservatory as a basis for your holiday décor?

Take a tour of the November garden and gather dried flower heads of sedum and hydrangea, bare branches with handsome sculptural shapes, and other dried plant materials. If you find pine or spruce cones, hot-glue them to bamboo barbecue skewers. Add some seasonal glamour by spray-painting the dried plants and cones in silver or gold, and insert the stems or skewers into the soil of the houseplants. Dried grasses also are an interesting addition, although I wouldn’t paint those.

Got ugly plastic pots? To conceal them for the party, try burlap, available at craft and fabric stores and some garden centers. Cut out a big burlap circle, place the pot in the middle, and gather the burlap around the sides. Tie it all up sparkly ribbon for a clever contrast of rusticity and glitz.

You won’t want to leave the burlap on all winter; it will eventually get wet and funky as you water the plants. But save the fabric and use it to line hanging baskets in spring.

I wouldn’t stick evergreen branches in a pot with a houseplant, because they might crowd or shade out the living plants. To make an arrangement of evergreens, use a vase and secure the branches in florist foam. The evergreens will last longer if you soak the foam thoroughly in water, use freshly cut greens and make a new cut at the base of each branch before you stick it in the moist foam, just as you would cut flowers.

If you had containers of annuals in the garden this summer, you can repurpose the pots for winter arrangements. Leave the potting mix in the container to stabilize the stems of the plants. (Make sure you create your masterpiece before the soil freezes solid.) Use evergreens, branches with crabapples or winterberry berries, and more of your gold- or silver-painted gleanings. For the party, place the container where it can be seen from inside the conservatory.

One final note: If you have especially precious plants, it’s a good idea to move them safely out of the conservatory during your party. Your guests may not understand their value and treat them with the requisite care, and you wouldn’t want your prize orchids or your African violet collection to come to grief and make you a grinch.