Holiday Symbols

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010 by Jenny Watts
    • Check your nursery for stocking stuffers: kids’ gloves, watering cans, bonsai figurines, seeds and bulbs.
    • Spray for peach leaf curl with copper sulfate. Peach and nectarine trees may suffer from this fungus disease without a protective spray.
    • Water living Christmas trees frequently while they are indoors, and put them outside after two weeks.
    • Wind chimes make wonderful gifts that fill the air with music whenever the wind blows.

Living Holiday Symbols

December is a very special time of year. Food and gifts, music and lights, warmth and love surround us. The clans will gather and cherished traditions will be shared.

Some of our traditions go back centuries or even millennia. Two hundred years before the birth of Christ, the Druids used mistletoe to celebrate the coming of winter. They would gather this parasitic evergreen plant and use it to decorate their homes. They believed the plant had special healing powers. Scandinavians also gathered mistletoe and thought of it as a plant of peace and harmony.

The Christmas Tree originated in Germany in the 16th century. It was common for the Germanic people to decorate fir trees, both inside and out, with roses, apples, and colored paper. It is believed that Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer, was the first to light a Christmas tree with candles.

The poinsettia is a relatively recent Christmas symbol. Mexican legend holds that these beautiful red flowers, thought to resemble the shape of the Star of Bethlehem, first grew miraculously for a poor child who wanted to bring a gift to the manger scene at the village church but did not have any money. They were introduced to the United States in the early 19th century by Joel Poinsett, the first United States ambassador to Mexico.

Representing immortality and seen as a good omen, holly was considered sacred by the ancient Romans and used as a gift during the festival of Saturnalia. Gradually, holly became a Christmas symbol as Christianity became the dominant religion. Because the holly leaf has sharp, pointed edges, it has come to represent Jesus’ crown of thorns with the red berries representing the blood He shed on the cross.

Jewish traditions give special importance to fruiting plants which gave sustenance to the people. Thus wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, pomegranates and olive trees have special significance. These are plants that come from the dry climate of the Mediterranean region.

Of course, many of the symbols that are part of our traditions at this time of year come from ancient Solstice celebrations. At the Solstice, with the days at last turning a corner towards spring, evergreen leaves long ago took on a special significance. Greenery brought indoors in the depths of winter became a symbol of continuing growth and rebirth. The Yule Log, traditionally oak, acknowledged the return of the sun, warmth and light and the long-burning log would bring good luck if lit on the first try.

This year as we gather together to celebrate the holidays and their symbols of hope and love, let us enjoy the light and warmth that we give to each other at this time and throughout the year.

It’s Time for Trees

Saturday, December 6th, 2008 by Jenny Watts
    • Choose living Christmas trees now. Most will be able to be kept in their containers and used for one or two more years as a Christmas tree.
    • Clean up rose bushes by removing spent flowers and raking up old leaves, but wait until February for heavy pruning.
    • Primroses and pansies will add color to your flower beds and containers all winter.
    • Don’t overwater your houseplants in the winter. Empty saucers after watering.
    • Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.

B&B Trees have arrived from Oregon Nurseries

When the leaves have fallen from the trees and the garden seems to be asleep for the winter, many new plants are arriving at the nurseries in a form called B&B, or “balled and burlapped.” Trees and shrubs, which are not generally grown in California, arrive at this time of year from Oregon nurseries in B&B.

These plants are grown in field rows in the rich soil of the Willamette Valley in Oregon for two or more years. Some kinds of plants develop faster when field grown and make bushier and somewhat more sturdy specimens than container grown stock of the same age.

B&B plants are dug up with soil intact, wrapped with burlap, and tied with twine. Most of these plants are large, evergreen or deciduous trees. They transplant best during late fall and early winter.
Dogwoods, Japanese maples and tulip magnolias are the most popular along with hemlocks, cedars, ginkgo trees, redbuds, beech trees and, of course, Christmas trees.

These include Colorado blue spruce, Douglas firs, Alberta spruce, Grand firs, White firs and Noble firs. There are many fine specimens available now.

Dogwood trees have either white, pink or red flowers and some varieties have variegated leaves as well. They grow to about 20 feet tall with spreading branches that cover themselves with flowers in the spring.

Tulip magnolias range from the smaller star magnolias, with their many-petaled white flowers, to the larger multi-trunked trees with pink or purple flowers that look like giant tulips on bare branches.

Japanese maples have been developed over the centuries until today there are over 250 cultivars grown. During the B&B season, a number of varieties are available, ranging from lace-leafed dwarfs to tall, graceful trees.

Specialty trees include Gingko “Saratoga”, with its beautiful, apple-green fan-shaped leaves that drop in the fall in a blanket of gold; Tricolor beech trees, which have an attractive layered look to their branches and striking leaves of green, white and pink; and Japanese snowbell with its delicate pink bell flowers that hang down from the branches in clusters in June.

When selecting a B&B plant, be sure the rootball is sound and hasn’t been broken. Avoid plants that feel loose in the rootball, as it may indicate that some of the small roots are damaged. Always pick the plant up by the rootball, not by the trunk or stem.

To plant, dig a hole only as deep as the rootball so that it will be sitting on firm soil. Leave the burlap on the rootball as it is placed in the hole. Fill the hole up half way with native soil, then cut the strings and lay the burlap down into the hole. Fill up the hole and water the tree.

Don’t miss out on the fine selection of beautiful specimen trees and shrubs now on display at local nurseries.

Holiday Traditions

Monday, December 10th, 2007 by Jenny Watts
    • Stop peach leaf curl by spraying now with copper sulfate to help prevent this disfiguring disease from attacking your trees next spring.
    • Plant Paperwhite narcissus in pots this weekend for holiday gifts.
    • Evergreen hollies are handsome shrubs year-round. Their red berries are colorful in winter and provide decorative sprays for the indoors.
    • Feed the birds this winter and enjoy the pleasure of their company. Bird feeders come in many styles and make wonderful gifts.

Living Christmas Memories

Living Christmas trees are becoming more popular each year because of their many advantages over other types of Christmas trees, and the special tradition they bring about.

Some of the biggest advantages of using living Christmas trees are the lessening of fire hazard, their future use in the landscape and the fact that they may often be used for more than one year as a living Christmas tree in the home.

These trees offer year-round beauty when planted in the landscape and can be decorated outdoors for many years to come. They also become a yearly source for cut greens to make wreaths and other decorations for the holiday season.

Colorado Blue Spruce are the most popular living Christmas tree. It has very stiff, horizontal branches which easily hold up the ornaments. Foliage varies in seedling trees from dark green through all shades of blue green to steel blue. It makes a fine landscape tree in our area, with branches that grow all the way to the ground.

True fir trees also are beautiful, perfectly shaped trees. The Nordmann fir has lustrous dark green needles borne on symmetrically arranged branches. It grows in a perfectly pyramidal shape and is a fast-growing and adaptable tree from Asia Minor.

Noble firs are one of the most popular cut trees, but they are also available as living trees. This symmetrical, pyramidal tree has the darkest green foliage, bluish-gray on the tips and silvery-green underneath. It makes one of the finest living trees for use during the holiday season.

Douglas fir trees are well known, especially for their fragrant foliage. They are native to this region and are quite fast-growing, so they can only stay in the container for a year or two. Other trees that can be used as Christmas trees include pines, Deodar cedars, Coast redwoods and giant sequoias.

When you bring a living tree into the house, leave it there for no more than two weeks. Place it well away from heater vents, wood stoves, and fireplaces. Water it slowly and thoroughly by dumping two trays of ice cubes onto its soil surface every day.

Decorate your tree with small, cool bulbs — flashing bulbs are best of all. Don’t use tinsel as it’s too hard to get off. You can use strings of popcorn or madrone berries which the birds will enjoy when you move the tree back outdoors.

With care and planning, your Christmas tree will serve as a living memory for many years.