One of my favorite Christmas decorations is my garden tree.
Unfortunately, this starts with an artificial tree, although a real one would be more authentic. The first few Christmas seasons when my twins were small, they had horrible respiratory troubles and, finally, we connected the illness with an allergy to Christmas trees. They were fine from then on, so the "fake tree" tradition was born.
I use a slim line, pre-lighted 5-foot tree, and heap those cinnamon pine cones around the base to hide the stand and give off a Christmas scent.
The ornaments I use are a mix of manufactured and natural. As with any collection, it grows every year, and the favorites always come out. The tree topper is a furry squirrel with a bushy tail made from fuzzy prairie grasses. A silk butterfly hovers around his head.
I buy a few more butterflies every year, and they provide some good color to the tree. Wooden miniatures include seed packets and gloves. I also have found small metal garden tools including rakes, spades, hoes, watering cans and a pair of wellington boots.
They don't keep their color too many years because they spend summers in the fairy garden, but they have that authentic "used" patina, like it or not.
Wildlife includes several birds, a donkey from the teenage summer I spent at a donkey rescue facility and a rabbit. This past summer, a tiny skunk and some mice disappeared from the fairy garden.
They are probably spending the winter in a crow's nest in the neighborhood.
Last year, I spent a lot of time inserting tiny flowers into glass ball ornaments, but they are rather disappointing and do not show up very well. A few artificial wildflowers go on the tree, but only those that look natural. A few bright red leaves and some oversized acorns are attractive.
Then comes the fun part.
I go out into the garden with a basket and gather anything that looks promising. This year, I left some small sunflowers dry on their stems, and they have withered to a lovely brown shade. Rose hips in all sizes are great, and any other seed pods that survived the cleaning process in the flower beds.
Most years, I use a lot of clippings from the callicarpa (American beautybush) with the lovely lavender berries, but I moved it a year ago and the bush is still sulking. It produced only a few skimpy fruits, which the birds ate before I could rescue them.
Any other berry sprays are nice to use, but I have not found any yet this time. When I do have berries, I give them a spray with matte clear coating to prevent dropping.
Twigs of lavender, sage and anything else that has survived adds more fragrance to the tree, and then I fill any gaps with plumes from ornamental grasses pushed in between the branches.
This tree is not as showy as the big Christmas tree in the dining room and the angel tree in the living room, but everything on it means something to me, and brings back summer memories every time I look at it.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.