It has been a sunny day but considerably colder than it has been. I assume that means the cold front is moving in and temperatures will be more what we normally expect in December.
It has also clouded up and that may mean we are going to receive a bit of snow that the weather forecasters have been promising.
I have been busy trying to do a bit of Christmas decorating. Although I have some decorations that I drag out every year for sentimental reasons, I also like to have a few fresh greens in the house. These usually are centerpieces with candles for the dining table, coffee table and just about any flat surfaces I can find.
I have ponderosa pine, blue spruce, juniper and Douglas fir in my own yard, and I can always prune a few of these branches for decorating, but ponderosa pine is too coarse for small places and spruce and common juniper too prickly for anything other than touches of color and texture. However, anything you can find may add to the beauty of a decoration.
One thing I like to add to any greens I use are mahonia leaves. I have both the native, Mahonia repens, and the garden variety mahonia, which can be one of several horticultural species.
Mahonia leaves look just like holly leaves in shape and deep green color, but they are not as glossy, and if exposed to the sun, they sunburn and turn a lovely deep mahogany red. Mine are lovely this year, perhaps because I pruned them severely last year, which made them bushier. At any rate, they are a beautiful deep red color, and I am delighted to use some in my centerpiece.
I learned about another native plant I can add to the evergreens. When I went to see Louise Mounsey, I discovered her daughter Diane had used the fresh green basilar foliage of the pasture or fringed sage in decorating her house. It seemed to be holding up well and added a light, refreshing color to the decorations.
Mahonia is also known by the common names of holly grape and Oregon grape. The first because of the holly-shaped leaves and the second because most of the species sold in nurseries are some variant of the species that is native to Oregon.
Our mahonia may look like holly leaves, but hollies have red berries, and the mahonias have blue berries, born in clusters like a miniature bunch of grapes. I have eaten mahonia jelly, and it is very good, but I have never made any. For one reason, rattlesnakes seem to hide beneath mahonia shrubs at lower elevations, and that puts me off from picking the berries, and the second is that so many birds and small mammals eat the berries, I feel that I should leave them for these creatures.
Another shrub I have in my yard is a red leaf Japanese barberry. We have no local native barberry here. I bought this one at a nursery years ago. It has red berries and is very thorny. We had a hedge of it at the farm when I was a child. In looking it up today, I discovered that the true barberries are carriers of the black stem rust that attacks wheat and should never be planted where wheat is grown. I did not know this, and I doubt that there are any wheat fields nearby, but I wouldn’t plant it again.
Mahonia is a very pretty shrub and does well on hot dry banks. If you need more red in your decorations, you might try cutting rosehips. These seed capsules are bright red and dry well. You may have to gather several stalks to have a splash of red, but they can be wired together.
Have fun making your decorations and enjoy being out collecting things. This is one of the great pleasures of living in the country.