Swags are evergreen branches tied together for hanging. It is best to use a variety of greens with different textures. Variegated boxwood, eucalyptus, magnolia leaves, variegated holly, berried holly, berried juniper, incense cedar, white pine and Frazier fir all make good selections.
Swags can be tied together at their ends with floral wire and then decorated with a large bow. Simply take several long branches of evergreens, bunch them together and tie them at the base by wrapping a sturdy florist wire around the stems several times until secure. Wrap a bow around the end to cover your work.
Ornamental seed heads, pine cones and ribbons can be tied to the swag to give it a festive look. Pine cones, nuts and seed heads can be placed along the evergreen stems by wrapping them together with floral wire. Floral tape is often used to soften the look of unsightly ends of cones or seed heads.
Evergreens will dry out more slowly if sprayed with an anti-desiccant such as Wilt Proof™, which can be purchased at your local garden center. Alternatively, spraying the arrangement with water will help extend the longevity of the evergreens and keep them looking fresh.
Collect pine cones as soon as they fall from the trees (but don’t collect in botanical gardens or parks because it is illegal). Allow the cones to open up in a warm area so that any seeds left in the cone can fall out. If desired, wash the cones in water using a stiff wire brush to remove soil.
To remove the pitch from fresh cones, bake the cones on a cookie sheet at 200 degrees F. until the pitch melts (approximately 30 minutes). Do not over-bake cones or they will turn dark. Buy an inexpensive baking pan for the purpose; do not use a cookie sheet that you use for baking. This baking process leaves an unpleasant odor, so make sure you do it on a day when you can open the kitchen windows. Baking the cones also kills any bugs that might be hiding in them.
Pine cones can be preserved by spraying them with clear lacquer. If this process seems too labor intensive, decorative cones can be purchased at craft stores.
Wiring pine cones: fold a piece of floral wire in half and slip the loop end down around the lower end of the cone, between the scales. Twist the wire a few times to tighten it. The wire can be wrapped onto branches for swags. If the wire is exposed in the arrangement, floral tape can be used to conceal it.
For centerpiece arrangements, craft stores sell wire attached to small stakes that can be easily inserted into centerpieces (floral picks with wire). Simply wrap the wire around the bottom of the cone, sliding it between the scales to make the construction disappear.
Cranberries can be used creatively during the holiday season, not just as a relish or jelly. Fill a clear vase with cranberries instead of pebbles or marbles. It will hold flowers in place and looks wonderful with floral arrangements that include holiday greens. Use hard cranberries and wash them well before placing in the vase. The cranberry "floral frog" should last for a week. Cranberries can also be strung together with a needle and thread to make a holiday garland.
Pomanders are aromatic spheres that are prepared by studding citrus fruit with cloves. Take an orange or lemon and poke holes with a knitting needle or nail. Space the holes evenly and closely together and then fill holes with cloves. Interesting designs can be made, and a ribbon can be wrapped around the fruit and tied in a loop at one end for hanging.
For added fragrance, here is a popular recipe: insert cloves into citrus fruit and leave fruit to dry. When the fruit is completely dried out, prepare a mixture of one part orris root (found in drugstores) and one part mixed spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and mace). Coat the fruit in the mixture and leave it to dry for two weeks. After two weeks, shake off excess mixture and tie with ribbons for hanging.
It is easy to create a beautiful evergreen centerpiece for your holiday table. Select a bowl that can accommodate a large piece of florist’s foam (brand name Oasis®) in the bottom. Before you place the foam in the bowl you need to pre-soak it. Simply let the foam float on top of the water and leave until it is completely hydrated.
Cut your evergreens with pruners—they always need to be freshly cut to last—and stick the greens into the foam. Water daily and spray the greens with water to keep them looking fresh. If you are collecting greens from your own backyard, remember to wash them and shake them well to get rid of any insects that may be hiding in the needles.
Suitable material includes colored dogwood stems, magnolia, holly, boxwood, berried juniper, incense cedar, Frazier fir and white pine. Add flowers (roses, carnations, etc.), pine cones, fruit, cinnamon sticks or large nuts to the arrangement.
Words of caution: Never use florist’s foam twice; it will not re-hydrate properly. If you have soaked too much, store the remaining pieces in a plastic baggie in the refrigerator for several days. When soaking florist foam, let in hydrate naturally; if you press it down into the bowl of water to accelerate the process you will form air bubbles in the interior and it will not fully or evenly hydrate.
Pick up a metal wreath frame at a craft store. Take medium-gauge wire and wrap it several times around one point on the frame. Place a small cluster of greens (4 to 6 inches in length) on the wire and secure by wrapping the wire several times around the ends of the green and the frame. Do not cut the wire.
Take another cluster of greens and place it 2 to 3 inches down the frame having it overlap the first cluster. Wrap this with wire as above. Repeat this process until you have finished the frame.
With the last cluster, lift the first cluster of greens and wire it underneath, then cut the wire. An alternative approach is to complete half the frame with the greens facing one direction and the other half with the greens in the opposite direction. You can then wire pine cones and bows to the arrangement.
All of these items can be found at craft stores, hardware stores, and garden centers.
To remove pine sap use WD-40® on your tools, anything with vegetable oil in it on your hands and rubbing alcohol or witch hazel on your hands and clothing. Tecnu® also works on your hands.
The New York City floral district is located on 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues. Although a number of the stores are wholesale only, many sell retail as well. You can also find many of these items at your local florist or a craft store.