winter foliage arrangements

Members of the Garden Club of Virginia share tips for long-lasting, winter foliage arrangements.

I love Mondays. Of the 47 clubs that comprise the Garden Club of Virginia (GCV), six of them are close enough to its Richmond headquarters that they take turns decorating it with fresh arrangements for the many meetings and events that take place there. Clipping from their own gardens, or sometimes from their neighbors’, volunteers rendezvous at 9 a.m. on Mondays to plan and execute the spectacular arrangements placed throughout the Kent-Valentine House, a c. 1845 mansion, and home to its members. With dramatically tall ceilings, deep crown moldings and three gilded pier mirrors on the ground floor, the artistic displays match the grandeur of their surroundings.

There are about 3,300 members of this nearly century-old statewide organization who live in communities across Virginia. Of the ones who reside in or near Richmond, their interests and reasons for joining the GCV vary. Some are award-winning floral arrangers, mentoring fellow members, who are learning to create floral designs for the Garden Club of Virginia’s signature event, Historic Garden Week, the nation’s oldest and largest house & garden tour. Other members are honing their skills to compete in flower shows. Most just enjoy the camaraderie of working together, knowing that the tips and tricks learned along the way will help beautify their own homes.

winter foliage arrangements

A regal composition of nandina and holly foliage, holly berries, and magnolia branches graces the dining table at Richmond’s Kent-Valentine House.

winter foliage arrangements

Red flashes of mahonia and spikes of dried okra add interest to this arrangement of nandina and juniper greenery.

The arrangers’ assignment, to decorate the public rooms of the Kent-Valentine House during the peak of winter, might seem daunting. I sat down with Moonie Etherington, a knowledgeable plants woman and member of the James River Garden Club, and we talked about her club’s challenge during the bleakest month of the year. With an emphasis on texture and some unexpected materials, I learned that arranging during Mother Nature’s hiatus can be surprisingly simple and rewarding.

Tips for Winter Foliage Arrangements

  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 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 its 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 that look great in the winter and offers showy red fruit in the summer.
winter foliage arrangements

Buckets of evergreen cuttings await their transformation into winter foliage arrangements.

By Karen Cauthen Ellsworth

Karen Cauthen Ellsworth is only the fourth Director of Historic Garden Week in its 87-year history.  She is also Editor of the guidebook, a 216-page annual publication that includes descriptions of nearly 200 properties that will be open for touring throughout Virginia this April 18-25. Her office is in the historic Kent-Valentine House in Richmond, Virginia, headquarters of the Garden Club of Virginia, and is convinced that her floral arranging skills have improved by osmosis.

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