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Jewels of the season


Are you ready to go green for Christmas? Well, OK then, red and green and even more!

Whatever your color preference, it won’t be hard to find for you fortunate Lowcountry decorators. Scarcely a yard on this island does not provide several of the essential traditional Christmas greens and some provide even the exceptional ones, those jewels of the season which are not concealed but flourish practically at eye level everywhere.

What then? Well for starters, holly, magnolia, dogwoods and pine, of which there is no shortage locally.

Clearly, the glossy deep green leaves of magnolia, some of which are softly felted with beige on the underside, form a perfect background for wreaths, swathes, mantel and door decoration and centerpiece arrangements. And magnolia cones at this holiday time of the year are extruding shiny crimson berries for your decorating pleasure, along with dogwood seeds which are emerging in small four-part red clusters to add to the mix. They are a charming and unexpected surprise gift.

Holly affords multiple varieties (none of which is the traditional English holly), but this is America after all and the local holly harvest is plentiful and luxurious. There are the heavily fruiting Burford and dwarf Burford varieties with their apex-pointed glossy green leaves, as well as the picturesque cornuta variety, which is sharply and multi-spined and therefore more difficult to work with. The tree forms of Savannah and Nellie Stevens hollies are abundantly available and foliage and berries may be harvested by judiciously pruning at this time of year.

Two other options are the native yaupon holly with many small shiny berries, and pyracantha, which is showy now. The foliage of these two is not as attractive as holly, but the fruit is plentiful.

If nontraditional colors are desired, look no further than the native beautyberry, its branches massed with purple berries of a particularly brilliant hue, or else cool down with the eye-catching white popcorn-like seed heads of the Chinese tallow tree, both widely accessible in the Lowcountry. Mix and match to your taste with fruits, nuts, cones, a bit of ribbon and an ornament or two and you have the ingredients for a stunning arrangement.

If the jewel-like berries are not enough, we are gifted with spectacular camellias that have come into bloom. Everyone is familiar with the large variety of the earlier sasanquas and the later japonicas, and both types may easily overlap, blooming at the same time in the same yard. This certainly creates an embarrassment of riches, worthy of Solomon in all his glory. And it is all free. (Well, that is, if you planted it in the first place.) One of the cheeriest of the sasanqua camellias is the selection “Yuletide,” bright and charming, which, true to its name, is blooming right on schedule. And a low silver bowl or platter with a colorful arrangement of camellias, white, red or mixed, with flanking red candles, is a very simple and traditional way to create a holiday centerpiece.

Jewels of the season are everywhere, awaiting your discovery and your pleasure.