The great use of our wild or native plants for decorations dates from about twenty years ago and is ever on the increase. An incentive to it was the much greater observance of Christmas day as a church festival and our greatest and most joyous holiday. The hundreds of carloads of holly used in our northern cities today had a very small beginning. It is just twenty-five years ago that a patron of mine, a lovely woman, one of those who make you glad you live and contented with your lot, sent me a holly wreath on Christmas eve. She had brought it from New York city, and thought it would be a novelty and a pleasure to me. It was both. It brought vividly to mind the days of "auld lang syne" and the mother country, which, however true and loyal is your allegiance to your adopted country, must and should forever remain a warm spot in the heart of every man worthy of the name.
For a few years the use of holly increased slowly, but for several years past immense quantities have been sent north, and it must grow in unlimited areas to stand the annual drain of our holiday wants. Most florists who grow and retail have to handle these native decorative materials, and how to preserve them in good order is of chief importance.
Holly arrives from beginning to end of December. It is made into wreathing, but much larger quantities are used as sprays and branches. Holly wreaths, either all holly, or ground pine and holly, are made and sold in enormous quantities. The large wreaths of holly, two and three feet in diameter, are handsome and look well in large decorations. It should when received be kept in the cases and they should be stored in a cold shed, but not where they will get zero weather. When frozen so hard the berries drop off when thawed out. Cool but not too cold is right. I have never found a better place for the wreaths when made than a cold, dark cellar, but in the absence of that a coldframe with some coarse paper to lay them on, and not more than three or four deep will do, and cover the glass with mats or boards to keep out the light and excessive cold. You can't make these wreaths all on Christmas eve, and have to begin making up a week or more ahead.
Ground pine or lycopodium, which Mr. and Mrs. Poor Lo and family gather in the woods of Wisconsin, is easily kept. It comes in crates and should be always kept outside, but covered with a cloth of some kind, or the exposed parts quickly get browned. It will keep a long time, fresh and green in the crates or made into wreaths or wreathing, if kept cool and dark; beneath a bench in a cool house or in the coldframe will do. When we bring in the bundles to prepare for making up, dip each bunch in water for a minute or two; it will make it more pliable and easier to work up, but don't leave it in the tub over night or it will turn black after you have made it into the wreaths.
Mistletoe is imported from France. We have the southern mistletoe, but it is not the kind the Druids worshiped and has no such associations, and although it may answer the purpose (the pleasant purpose) of kissing your wife's sister beneath, it is not the real thing. It seemed in better demand than ever last year, and as its privilege powers are better known it will be a favorite with young and old of both sexes. I think last Christmas was the first season that we had any more than realized the cost of it. It had been in other years mauled about in a dry store for a few days till there was nothing but the bare twigs left. We placed it in a cool, moist, dark cellar, and handled it just as little as possible, only to sort it over into 25 cent, 50 cent, $1, $2 or $3 sprays, and in that way were not only able to furnish nice berried pieces, but made a little money besides. It's not a large commercial transaction, but you may as well do it right.
Laurel, so called (Kalmia latifolia), is the finest material for wreathing, and thousands of yards are used for many and various kinds of decorations. It lasts a long time in good appearance, fresh and no dropping of leaves. It is clean and pleasant to handle. Though not so cheap as the ground pine wreathing, it is a hundred times richer in effect. Laurel is procured from the Allegheny mountains at any time and is widely distributed. It will keep after cutting a long time in any cool place.
The branches of the noble Magnolia grandiflora, which grows in latitudes where the thermometer does not go below 15 degrees of frost, make a fine decoration, and should always be used in sprays or branches. The fine, bright glossy green of the leaf is seen to great advantage contrasting with the bronze old gold color of the underside of the leaf. The branches when received should be kept cool and moist and not exposed to hard freezing or allowed to shrivel from dryness.
The leucothoe sprays are very ornamental. They make magnificent wreaths or wreathing, being exceptionally easy to handle for this purpose. Their use is not confined to the holidays; like the laurel, they are used throughout the winter months. Keep cool and moist.
Wreath of Leucothoe, Galax and Flowers.
Wreath of Boxwood Sprays.
Though small in bulk, the greatest in value of all the wild plants is the galax, the leaves of which are used for wreaths, panels, all designs emblematic and of good luck. It is, however, for funeral designs that the greatest quantity is used. They have grown steadily in favor till last year an aggregate of twelve millions were sent north. The small, green leaves are now largely used to encircle a bunch of violets. They have one great quality, for whatever purpose used they are most lasting, and when a design has to be sent away a few hundred miles they are often chosen for that excellent quality.
Dining-room Decorations for a Reception.
Harlan P. Kelsey, of Boston, who introduced the galax leaves to our northern market in 1890, says the sale has steadily increased till last year he alone handled many millions, while the price has come down from $3 per 1,000 to $1 to the retail florist, and inferior leaves much below that even. There has been a considerable lot exported to Europe the past two seasons, and Mr. Kelsey says Germany takes the bulk of them.
Florists who have not the conveniences for keeping them over winter in large quantities had better get them in moderate quantities occasionally from those who understand keeping them in cold storage. We saw a case of about 20,000 put down in a warm cellar one November, just as they arrived in the box, and we saw most of those come up the cellar stairs again at intervals that winter and spring heated and useless. If they had been unpacked, the bunches laid out and a little damp sphagnum laid between each layer, this careless and ignorant mistake would not have occurred, but the cooler the cellar the better.
This instance of how not to keep galax leaves was not an accident; it was neglect, for which in the old harsh days men used to lose their jobs; but since store clerks (alias shopmen) wear 5-inch stiff collars and part their hair in the middle, it hurts their feelings to instruct them.
There are besides the southern material, evergreens from our northern woods that we use for different decorations. The common hemlock (Abies Canadensis) is quite graceful in wreathing, and the American arbor-vitae, often called white cedar, is useful. A drive of a few miles to the music of sleigh bells and frozen toes brings us to the home of our evergreens, and the white spruce, so much used for Christmas trees, is also found, although the well-grown Norway spruce makes the ideal Christmas tree. Fancy what beautiful Christmas trees they get in Leadville, Colo., where the beautiful Colorado blue spruce grows on the mountain side, and with us it is about $2.00 a foot. We will not be jealous of their noble conifers, for perhaps their rocky slopes are not covered with golden rod as are our fields and lanes just now, and how beautiful.