Arranging with Winter Foliage

Karen Cauthen Ellsworth and members of the Garden Club of Virginia share tips for long-lasting seasonal arrangements using winter foliage, berries, and seed pods
winter foliage arrangements
Nandina foliage, which turns bronze or red with a hard frost, and deep purple skip laurel berries add seasonal color, while variegated hypericum and Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) round out a design by Karen Cauthen Ellsworth. Find six tips for arranging with winter foliage at the end of this post.

With an emphasis on texture and some unexpected materials, floral arranging during Mother Nature’s hiatus can be surprisingly simple and rewarding. The winter arrangements that grace the interiors of the Kent-Valentine House, a circa-1845 mansion that serves as the Garden Club of Virginia’s headquarters in Richmond, illustrate the point perfectly.

Throughout the year, members who live nearby take turns decorating the house with seasonal arrangements, clipping from their own gardens or sometimes from their neighbors’. Some are award-winning floral designers, mentoring fellow members who are learning to create arrangements for the club’s signature event, Historic Garden Week, the nation’s oldest and largest house and garden tour. Others are honing their skills to compete in flower shows. Most just enjoy the camaraderie, knowing that what they learn along the way will help beautify their own homes.

winter foliage arrangement with red berries
A regal composition of nandina and holly foliage, holly berries, and magnolia branches graces the dining table at the Kent-Valentine House. 

I sat down with Moonie Etherington, a knowledgeable plantswoman and member of the James River Garden Club (one of the Garden Club of Virginia’s 48 clubs), to learn the best tips and tricks for brightening interiors with fresh arrangements during the peak of winter.

6 Tips for Arranging with Winter Foliage

1 | Do double duty.

Trim evergreens in your garden to tidy shrubs and bring them inside to make arrangements. They will last a lot longer than an arrangement that is mainly flowers—up to two weeks or even longer.

2 | We love ‘Little Gem’ magnolia.

The leaves are much smaller than a traditional magnolia, making it easier to work with in an average-sized container.

3 | Avoid using nandina berries inside.

The foliage is dependable, but the berries drop and can be a real mess. Instead, opt for winterberry for color, or stems from red and yellow twigged dogwood.

4 | Herbs aren’t just for cooking.

Depending on where you live, many herbs over-winter beautifully and can add an unexpected element to indoor arrangements. Variegated hypericum (St. John’s Wort) is a favorite. Try sprigs of rosemary or flat-leaf parsley for smaller designs.

5 | Be creative.

You might not have flowers blooming, but rose hips, dried okra pods, branches of arborvitae with their tiny pinecones attached, and other unusual ornamentals add visual interest and variety.

6 | Simple is sophisticated.

Try a cluster of cut foliage of the same variety in a special container.  Let the variegated leaves or unusual texture of your choice create instant impact. Arum Italicum is a three-season winner with arrow-shaped leaves.

With soaring ceilings, deep crown moldings, and three gilded pier mirrors on the ground floor, the house inspires artistic displays to match its grandeur. Here, red flashes of mahonia and spikes of dried okra add interest to a vase of nandina and juniper greenery.

By Karen Cauthen Ellsworth, Director of Historic Garden Week in Virginia | Photography courtesy of the Garden Club of Virginia