A nearly natural Christmas

A nearly natural Christmas

A nearly natural Christmas

It was about 20 years ago when I had the epiphany.

Holiday decorations have always been my job at my house. I’d put away the gourds and decorative corn, and then haul out three coffin-sized boxes filled with the Christmas decorations.

There, neatly put away, as if awaiting their return to Nordstrom’s window, were sparkly stars, snowflakes, Santas, reindeer, angels, etc.

And then I heard a voice.

“Do you really like all this junk?”

Faster than you could say “Kris Kringle,” I had it all in the car and was headed to Goodwill. I kept the lights and heirloom ornaments for the Christmas tree and the best of the balls; the big, handblown ones from Mexico.

Since then, I’ve gone all natural (well, 95 percent) for Christmas, and I love it.

The first year, I used mostly evergreens pruned from my garden, but my palette quickly expanded to include cones, all kinds of fruits and nuts, fresh flowers, bare branches and lots and lots of candles. Suddenly, the house was looking more like a throwback to Dickensian England and less made in China. Plus, it was all more fun and creative.

Conifers and broad-leafed evergreens cover a wide assortment of foliage colors.

In the column photo, you see blue chamaecyparis, dark-green yew, golden cedar and yellow cryptomeria accented with the wide glossy leaves of Magnolia grandiflora, complete with a seed pod. Bare branches of red and yellow twig dogwood accent the

greenery and make it pop.

It’s all simple, festive and wonderfully fragrant. The truck load of white pine cones is accented with artificial crabapple fruits. It makes for a sweetly sentimental way to display my first toy from my first Christmas (1946).

In arrangements like these, you may want to use a few glass balls or a rope of tinsel beads.

Less is more.

Pull out the now-tarnished silver serving dishes you got as wedding gifts. Shine them up and fill them with combinations of fruit and greens. Red delicious apples coupled with vividly yellow lemons, sprigs of holly or boxwood, and a few small silver glass balls sprinkled through makes for a sparkling table topper. Artichokes with Satsuma oranges, with a string of red tinsel beads winding through has similar impact. It’s all enough to make Luca della Robbia reach for his chisel.

A few years back my daughter-in-law, Kimberly, called me in a panic on Christmas Day.

“Dad! I don’t have a centerpiece. Help!” Like a cardinal on his way to a conclave, I shot off to Safeway at 23rd and Madison. Within an hour, apples, pears, bananas, oranges and grapes were piled (artfully, I modestly confess) smack dab in the middle of her dining room table. When dinner was cleared, we placed small boards with assorted cheeses on them, with small knives and nutcrackers. Guests sat at the table munching and chatting for hours, picking the centerpiece apart.

December is a perfect time to prune conifers. Just tidying up an evergreen will result in a surprising amount of usable material.

Bags of assorted cones are for sale in most garden and craft stores (to me that’s like paying for a bag of sand when you live on a beach). Neighbors with coniferous trees will usually be happy to have excess cones collected. Taking cones from a public park is verboten, but you can get a permit from the Forest Service to gather cones and cut greens for personal use. Contact the information office at the forest you want to visit for the latest regulations and permit procedures. It makes for a joyful, seasonal family outing.

The Washington Park Arboretum will present its annual Greens Galore event from 10 a.m to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, at the Graham Visitors Center. In addition to fresh-cut loose greenery, wreaths, swags and the like will be for sale. This is a great way to get quality decorations, save time and support the Arboretum Foundation, so mark your calendar.

When the poinsettias arrive, pull off the foil wrap, slip the plastic pot into a clay pot, water them well and group them in clusters of three in a cool spot in the room. What are the holidays without poinsettias? Cyclamen, amaryllis and cut flowers also are all available at this time of year. Take advantage of the horticultural largess.

Hopefully now you are ready. However, if in need of a fix of gaudy, holiday glitz, load up the family, go downtown and tour the department stores and hotel lobbies. It’s all there and worth seeing. As for your home, toss the seasonal gewgaws and gimcracks.

Go natural.