Decorate your home – after pruning your backyard

Author Debra Prinzing, creator of, uses garden gleanings to decorate during the holidays.
Author Debra Prinzing, creator of, uses garden gleanings to decorate during the holidays. Mary Grace Long

Debra Prinzing likes to combine two November tasks that on the surface seem polar opposites: pruning and holiday decorating.

A leader of the “Slow Flowers” movement, she thinks of it as “garden gleaning.”

“I love the term ‘garden gleanings’ because that sounds more pleasant than ‘garden chores!’ ” said Prinzing, author and creator of “However, gleanings for decorating indoors can easily come from your fall/winter garden cleanup, such as cutting back perennials and pruning branches. These gifts from nature are ideal for filling large urns or small vases, or for making garlands, wreaths or front-door sprays.”

Just as “Slow Food” emphasizes locally grown food, the Slow Flowers concept urges people to think local farm to vase – or backyard to front-door wreath.

With the holidays upon us, bringing some of that greenery indoors helps set the mood and makes the whole house feel more festive. Start by surveying what’s available in your own landscape.

Fragrant evergreens such as redwood, cedar or juniper are naturals for holiday decorating; they smell good and last long. But don’t stop with a simple piece of pine.

Said Prinzing, “Some of my favorite ingredients are colored or peeling branches such as twig dogwood or paper bark maple; conifer boughs, especially if they have cones attached; berrylike elements like beauty berry (Callicarpa), rose hips and crabapple branches; perennial seed heads such as rudbeckia, echinacea, crocosmia or Japanese anemone; and even annual seed heads like scabiosa, sunflower or nigella.”

Prinzing likes to plan ahead for holiday decorating by drying garden gleanings that can be used during the winter months.

“Dried flowers, also known as ‘everlasting flowers,’ were big in the 1980s and they are having a renaissance with floral designers, garden decorators and crafters,” she said. “I believe it’s because people want to extend the season with local ingredients from their own backyard, but also from flower farmers who are choosing to grow plants with multiseason interest.”

Her list of favorite dried flowers goes way beyond strawflowers.

“Mophead hydrangeas, ornamental grasses, millet and broom corn, lavender, gomphrena, amaranth, lamb’s ear, echinops, eryngium and yarrow are examples of ingredients that can be dried in late summer or fall for use in decorating throughout the garden’s more dormant season,” she said.

There may still be some of those available in the garden now. To dry, cut the flowers with stem still attached. Strip off any leaves, bundle stems with rubber bands or twine and hang the flowers upside down in a well-ventilated place to dry. (Hanging upside down allows the stems to dry straight.) After two weeks, the flowers should be completely dry.

Prinzing also likes to decorate with live flowering plants such as orchids, begonias or bulbs. Their flowers and foliage may become part of bouquets, too.

“Live plants and flowers typically considered ‘house plants’ are long lasting and provide blooms at a time when the garden has less to offer,” she said. “Cut orchid branches last quite a long time in the vase, especially if you cut (while the flowers are) in bud. Paperwhites and amaryllis bulbs can be forced and displayed in the pot or as cut flowers. Rex begonia foliage is amazing as a bold leaf in a bouquet.”

And don’t forget succulents; their sculptural form and low water needs make them ideal material for bouquets, wreaths and centerpieces. They keep looking fresh long after they’re gleaned.

“Succulents that have a rosette or ‘flower’ form can be cut and wired for floral arrangements,” Prinzing said. Among her favorites: echeveria, aeonium and sempervivum.

Succulent decorations can last long after the holidays, too. If rooted in sandy potting soil, those cuttings will start growing and become a living centerpiece, good for months if not years to come.