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Grow Festive

Grow Festive
December 2019

Plant a winter window box you can deck for the holidays

EarthArt Fine Gardening owner Kimberly Crane (right) and staffer Gina Hull spruce up this downtown home with lemon cypress trees, white annuals, and wire vine. Then they stuff in cut greens and berries for the month of December.

For a city that celebrates window boxes, “not many people dress them for the holidays,” observes Kimberly Crane, owner of EarthArt Fine Gardening. “But it’s such an easy way to decorate outdoors!” Crane and her employee, Gina Hull, design and tend containers for homeowners downtown and on Kiawah Island, but their most merry client is undeniably Melinda Van Dyck, whose South of Broad display always includes beautifully adorned planters.

Year-round, miniature lemon cypress trees anchor her window boxes and front-gate basket. EarthArt complements the evergreens each season with a mix of white annuals. The crisp palette shows up well at night and “makes it really easy to add on anything festive,” says Crane.

She and Hull arrive around the first of December ready to deck the halls with cut greens and berry branches. “If you water your planter every other day and temps stay below 70 or so, that moisture should keep these accents looking fresh for about a month,” Crane advises.

Order the goods from a local florist, shop Charleston Horticultural Society’s annual sale, or just forage outdoors. Crane recommends scouting friends’ yards for juniper, with its delicate blue berries, and cryptomeria, ornamented with tiny pine cones. Cut the boughs to size and weave them among your plantings, allowing the greenery to cascade from the container. Magnolia branches add the perfect vertical element but will keep less than a week, “so I always say, ‘Save them for the day of your cocktail party,’” notes Crane.

After stuffing the box with the greenery, she adds red winter berries—at least six to nine stems, so they’ll snag notice from the street. Rather stick with shades of white? Source branches of Chinese tallow, or “popcorn tree,” berries from sweetgrass basket sewers, who have long used them to make holiday wreaths.

Tips For a Winter Container:

Start with a “foundation” plant that stays year-round. Mini lemon cypress trees have a lovely scent, keep their shape nicely, and won’t need bigger digs for a couple years. “Do make sure they get good airflow in the summer,” says Crane.

Add white annuals. Petunias, million bells, alyssum, and bacopa do well in Charleston’s tepid December temps, but you can also use more traditional cool-weather options like pansies and snapdragons.

Make Merry. Weave in cut greens such as juniper, cryptomeria, and magnolia, plus red winter berries or white Chinese tallow berries. “You can also add pinecone or crepe myrtle seeds spray-painted gold or silver,” Crane says.

Refresh for the New Year. If you used warmer-season annuals, swap in cool-weather blooms when you remove the holiday decor; they should last through March.