Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Christmas Traditions - Why Do We Do That?

Christmas - Making Traditions and Memories

Families have traditions that they facilitate on occasions throughout the year-- fireworks on the 4th of July, cake on your birthday.  Christmas traditions are accepted and followed, but I was curious to know where these annual behaviors originated.

Mistletoe and Holly 

Mistletoe - Phoradendren flavescens

American Holly- Ilex opaca

Mistletoe is a hemi-parasitic plant that grows on host plants, usually trees.  The roots attach to tree tops where , thanks to bird dropping, they germinate and grow. Mistletoe draws nutrients from such trees as oak, apple, ash, hawthorn, pear, or sycamore.

The Druids 200 years before the birth of Christ, held the mistletoe in high regard.  Since it had no roots the Druids marveled that this plant would stay green when the mighty oak had turned brown.  Celtic groups believed the mistletoe to have magical healing components and used it as an antidote for poisons, and treatment for infertility.

In English speaking countries this tradition has spread, but this custom is little known in other parts of the world.  The gathering of the mistletoe has a customs of its own - in that the plant must not touch the ground from the harvesting until it is removed from the home.  The mistletoe is the last decoration to be removed from the home and it offers to save the house from fire and lightening. 

The Kissing Ball is another hanging arrangement of various herbs - sage, rosemary, anise and others - with the mistletoe.  Its purpose - kissing - is obvious.  The gentleman picks off a berry with each kiss, and when the berries are gone, so it the enchantment of love and fertility.

Holly as a Christmas Tradition has it's own story.

The Druids, again, believed the holly being evergreen, keeps the world beautiful. And they would wear a sprig of holly to watch the priests cut down the mistletoe which was sacred. 

Holly was the sacred plant of Saturn and during the Roman Saturnalia Festival, Romans gave each other holly wreaths and used the wreaths to decorate images of Saturn.  Since this Saturn festival was in December, Christians soon started using holly when they celebrated Christ's birth.  They used the holly to avoid persecution since the authoities would overlook this display.  This pagan meaning of holly has faded, and is now a symbol of Christmas.

 Christmas comes in the dark winter months in the Northern Hemisphere.   Europeans believed that ghosts and demons were howling in the winter winds.  Holly, with all of its magical powers, was hung over doors and windows to keep the evil ones away.  The fresh greens also freshened the air of a closed up home, and the bright green leaves help lighten the mood. 

The prickly leaves and red berries have come to stand for peace and joy.

Christians have expanded the symbolism of holly to respresent the crown of thorns that Christ wore due to its prickly leaves. The red berries symbolize the shedding of blood.

Holly can be found in all 50 states of the U.S.  It likes acid soil and is either male or female.  This dioecious plant needs both male and female varieties to cross-pollinate.  Only the female plant produces berries.

Enjoy your Christmas Traditions too.  Does your family do something special each year?  Let us hear your story. 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Holiday Season - Ready, Set, Go!

Garden Center kicks off Holiday

The Christmas holiday was not even in my sights until  today.  Knollwood Garden Center near my home kicked off the holiday season with an Open House today and tomorrow, November 12 and 13.

The natural tree decoration are quite unique.  I'm talking original, folks!  Quite nice.

All of the natural elements sent my creative juices into overdrive.  Several of the mixed green containers had both branches, and plants that don't mind the colder temperatures.

Magnolia Leaves can make any arrangement or wreath elegant.

Pine boughs can be used for centerpieces or outdoor containers too.

If all of the decorations didn't get your juices flowing, Green County Garden Club sponsored a flower show.  Entries were judged and will be one display through tomorrow.  Here are some extraordinary designs in the artistic category.

Thanks to Knollwood Garden Center for this Holiday Season kick-off.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Fall Cleanup

Lawn and Garden Preparations for Winter

Fall cleanup for me is directly connected to the weather.  So taking advantage of the sixty degree days has left me with no excuses.  So yesterday, I started the lawn cleanup.

The Little Leaf Linden still has tons of leaves to drop, but the Sycamore, American Planetree  in the back has very large, heavy leaves.  I raked all the perennial beds, pulling the leaves into the grass. I pay particular attention to the Hosta beds because overwintering slugs will lay eggs at or near the crown of each plant.  I have had damage from slugs as early as April when I neglected this part of the cleanup.

The mower mulched the dry leaves well, leaving only ground up organic matter to give the soil a long lasting source of nutrition.
 I last fertilized the lawn in October with a liquid organic spray.  With that feeding and now the mulched leaves, the grass will survive the stress of winter, and grow thick and lush in the spring.

If your grass is still growing, continue to mow.  The over winter length should be about an inch shorter than you mowed in the summer, or approximately 2".

As the rest of the trees drop their 'gift', I will again use the mower to aid in the cleanup.  However, I will use the bag attachment to gather the mulched leaves and grass clipping.  These I will sprinkle over the perennial beds.  This organic material will decompose (nearly) by spring, and will enhance the soils microorganisms and create loose soil that is alive and well. 

This next part of my fall cleanup may sound like I'm a lazy gardener. (Isn't that an oxymoron?)  When in fact I justify leaving the garden pretty much intact as 'that's the way Mother Nature gardens!'  The winter interest
is marvelous and extends the garden another season.

The final fall cleanup chore that is literally calling me out today, is removing the plant stems and food debris from the vegetable garden.  This will go into the compost pile.  Leaving tomatoes or other foods on the ground over winter will encourage diseases and draw animals.  With the vegetable garden cleared, I will have another spot to spread the bagged mulched leaves. 

So, fall cleanup for me is almost complete.  The lawn is fed, the hosta garden is clear, and the coneflowers, globe thistle, and black-eye susans will greet me throughout the dreary days to come, and I will smile.