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Back to News Updates – November 17, 2020


Deck the Halls with a Natural Holiday Arrangement

With the holiday season just a few weeks away, “decking the halls” is right around the corner. Need inspiration on where to start this year? In an upcoming class, Donna Wiley, our formal gardens horticulturist, demonstrates how to make a long-lasting festive holiday arrangement. Let us do the work in collecting the fragrant evergreens, pinecones, berries and other natural delights while you learn about design principles and how to put it all together from your home. This beautiful container arrangement will be the perfect addition to your other holiday decorations.

This class will be presented online as a follow-along demonstration. All flowers and materials (with the exception of hand pruners) will be supplied and available for pick up at Mt. Cuba Center prior to the class. Below, learn all about instructor Donna Wiley and her tips for arranging a tried and true holiday arrangement. Then join us on Friday, December 18 at 1 pm for this online class.

Natural-Holiday Centerpiece

Mt. Cuba Center:  Tell us about your role at Mt. Cuba Center and how you got involved with flower arranging?

Donna Wiley: I am the Horticulturist in the Formal Gardens at Mt. Cuba Center and my specialties include container culture and flower arranging. My formal training in floral design started when I took an elective course on the subject at the University of Delaware. During my career I have also taken many flower arranging classes at Longwood Gardens. For 16 years I worked in the greenhouses at Mt. Cuba and had the opportunity to make flower arrangements for Mrs. Copeland. Flowers were grown in the greenhouse and in a large cutting garden for use in her house, so I was lucky to work with an abundance of seasonal flowers which helped to build my skills.

When Mt. Cuba became a public garden, my flower arranging was limited to special events, however, and I missed the charm that flowers can add to a space. I began to create arrangements with native flowers and foliage I cut from the property to display on the front desk in the Main House. They were so well received that I got the idea of to start a program to produce arrangements on a regular basis.

In 2017, the Native Plant Arranging program became a reality, giving guests an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of native plant material in creative floral designs. In addition to overseeing this program, I currently teach flower arranging classes at Mt Cuba where I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for floral design. I’m drawn to flower arranging because I love color!

Mt. Cuba Center: What is your favorite flower or filler to use in floral arrangements?

Donna Wiley: While most people think of southern magnolia as a holiday green, I use it from summer through the winter. The long-lasting foliage has glossy-green leaves with velvety, brown undersides so it looks as good with summer blooming flowers, such as Rudbeckia spp. (yellow coneflower), as it does with evergreens and berries. Magnolia grandiflora ‘Little Gem’ is a great cultivar to use for cut greenery. It not only has smaller leaves that fit nicely into arrangements, but the overall size of this magnolia only grows to about 7 feet wide and 15 to 20 feet tall, making it a good choice for smaller gardens.

Mt. Cuba Center: What’s a basic rule about flower arranging that you think everyone should know?

Donna Wiley: Using foliage with different colors and textures for filler adds richness to your design. Foliage comes in many shades of green plus bronze and silver with unlimited shapes and sizes. While foliage is not the star of the show, an assortment of greenery creates an interesting background for the flowers, subtlety making the arrangement more appealing.

Mt. Cuba Center: What’s a tried and true winter container plant that looks fresh throughout the season.

Donna Wiley: Cornus sericea, or redosier dogwood, is an easy to grow deciduous shrub that gives long lasting winter interest. It likes full sun to part shade and thrives in moist soil, although, it can adapt to drier conditions. Small white flowers are produced in spring, but the real show occurs when the leaves drop in the fall exposing red stems. The cut stems will last in arrangements for months.

Mt. Cuba Center: We love the creativity of your floral arrangements at Mt. Cuba. Can you share some ways we can get creative and extend the life of holiday arrangements? 

Donna Wiley: In the class we are creating a long-lasting arrangement for winter using cut plant material such as evergreens, berries and cones. The good news is that you can use any style of container that suits your taste. The container is an important aspect of your design so it’s fun to get creative. Instead of black, try using a container in a bright color such as red or chartreus to give a totally different look to your design. For Thanksgiving, use a bronze or brown ceramic pot and add orange winterberries and dried grasses to a mix of greens. For a stunning “Chinoiserie Chic” look, find a blue and white Chinese motif ceramic container and insert southern Magnolia stems around the rim then fill the center with masses of winterberries. Do you like something more rustic? Use galvanized buckets and place some birch stems in the center then add shorter stems of evergreens, some cones and a burlap bow at the base. You can even use this technique in window boxes! Pull the plants out after frost, then insert greenery in the soil along with berries, cones and maybe some Christmas balls to keep it festive throughout the holidays. This technique is so versatile, and you can easily customize your arrangement to achieve your own unique design.


Interested in creating your own holiday arrangement? Register today, space is limited!

Natural Holiday Arrangement (Online): Friday December 18 from 1–3 pm

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