Nesting at home for the Holidays doesn’t need to feel like you're being deprived.
It should most assuredly feel like you’re pampering yourself ~ treating beleaguered you and your family to those little luxuries that you may have overlooked this past year due to the barrage of never ending, relentless mal.
This year, give yourself permission to revive long-held cultural or familial holiday traditions.
And start new ones to fuel your own hygge - create a comfort and style that suits your spirit. You’ll look back in years to come happy that you threw off those “onesies” or what I’ve read are a preponderance to wear “sweat pants” or pajamas (please say it ain’t so).
**Years ago, I was asked to speak to incarcerated women about going for that first job interview and my counsel to them was to look good. When you feel and look your best, you can’t help but ooze confidence. So start dreaming good thoughts.
I suggest you start with a personal kind of advent wreath for you ~ and your family.
To get you started I thought I’d share a bit of background about what exactly is an Advent Calendar and why you’d want one.
The history of Advent Calendars dates to 1851, Germany. There, a lucky Gerhard Lang’s mother (why she doesn’t get her own moniker reference besides, Mother?!)
Anyway, that was then. And Mrs. Lang/Mother ~ wanted her son to experience that sense of anticipation that only the joy of Christmas can bring on.
Mrs. Lang must surely be respected as one of the forerunners of a kind of Martha Stewart genius and creative DIYers when she crafted a calendar with 24 candles - one for each day leading up to Christmas.
Sleuthing the history of the Advent Calendar, I found this reference at The Cottage Journal, that chronicled how young Gerhard’s Mother worked more than a Christmas miracle: “Lang grew up to operate the Reichhold & Lang printing company where he printed the first Advent cardboard calendar with 24 little pictures. A few years later, the company printed the first calendar with the little doors that everyone loves to open.”
So three cheers to good parenting and inspiring the children to become artful entrepreneurs based on their family experience. Who knows what future CEOs you might jump start…
Today, you can certainly use your creative juices to craft a personal, meaningful Advent Calendar for the countdown to the big day, and to foster the “expectation journey” of better things to come…
How can you make an Advent Calendar?
I’ve seen shoe holders artfully repurposed, with embroidered “days;” paper ones with doors that open to service or acts of kindness that we can perform.
Consider making or getting a calendar with LED lights (safer than those original candles) that you can open each day.
There are felt calendars that allow kids to easily reach for that star at the top of the tree.
I found a font of possibilities on Etsy. I’m partial to the wine, chocolate, and book-themed creations. Don’t forget a calendar for your pet! STAGDESIGN offers dog treats.
And who wouldn’t love a Santa “Claws” treat for your cat? Lily’s Kitchen offers lots of tasty feline treats. And for dogs, too.
You can also purchase an advent calendar - I found ones that are true to the Victorian pedigree as well as more modern ones.
Plants as Gifts
While those of us living in zones that (used to) bring snow, (now, not so much… ) it is nevertheless a time to stow the trowel till spring. But there are lots of garden-inspired gifts to give to your family and friends. Or gift to you!
The quintessential holiday plant to gift or decorate with is the poinsettia. Today, this pretty plant has more to offer than the traditional red bracted Christmas stalwarts. There are white, pink, spotted, and more color nuances than a box of crayons.
I keep my white poinsettias front and center in a lovely composition all year long.
But as ubiquitous as the poinsettia plant is, its history is rather murky. I remember sharing the story when a group of us were clutching our hearts at the incredible poinsettia Christmas display at Longwood Gardens. I thought most folks knew all about the plant coming from Mexico and being introduced to the US by our first ambassador to Mexico, a Mr. Poinsett. Yet, recently, the subject came up again on our Slack conversation with fellow NYBG landscape design alumni group. So, I figure this Christmas story needs re-telling!
According to sources, the poinsettia plant was native to Mexico; the poinsettia was used by the Aztecs as a source for purple dye and medicine for fevers, according to the American Phytopathological Society. It was introduced to the United States in 1828, when the first American ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, noticed the luscious red plants flourishing there.
Being an avid horticulturist, Poinsett sent some of the plants home to his greenhouses in Greenville, South Carolina. He also shared the plants with fellow growers.
But poinsettias as we know them today, became associated with Christmas thanks to the savvy marketing of a German immigrant family, the Eckes. The family settled in California, in the 1900s. Albert Ecke noticed wild poinsettias growing along roadsides in the winter, thought they would make good Christmas flowers and set about growing the plants as an off-season crop.
The true marketing came into play in the 1960s, when Paul Ecke Jr. began to give poinsettias away to TV hosts such as Johnny Carson and Bob Hope. He also managed to incorporate his plants in women’s magazines’ Christmas photo shoots. This media savvy caused poinsettias to be accepted as a necessary holiday decoration.
The Eckes had a monopoly on the poinsettia industry until the 1990s, thanks to a technique that caused their poinsettias to look much fuller than competitors’. In 2002, Congress passed an act that made Dec. 12 National Poinsettia Day in honor of Paul Ecke Jr.’s contributions to the poinsettia industry. Dec. 12 was chosen because it’s the day Joel Poinsett died in 1851.
Lovely plant story, isn’t it?
Closer to home, you can take seeds from your own garden to gift.
Gather the seeds from the plants you’re bringing in or pruning back for the winter.
I was the lucky recipient of some poppy seeds from a dear garden design client and friend, Gina & Ted. I, in turn, gifted some of the lode to my brother, the musician, James Popik.
As an auxiliary aside, the plant lore of planting poppy seeds is to sow them on or near Veteran’s Day to honor our military heroes, and the beautiful flowers will bloom on or near Memorial Day, to honor those fallen heroes who died for our freedom…
Poppies can also be a symbol of imagination, messages delivered in dreams, beauty, success, luxury, extravagance, and even peace in death.
The poppy has long symbolized peace, death, or even sleep.
The Ancient Greeks, Romans, and Egyptians connected poppies with sleep because of the sedative nature of its sap. In particular, the Greeks related the flower to Morpheus, the god of sleep. Remember the Wizard of Oz scene where Dorothy and her friends were lulled to sleep just before getting oh-so-close to Oz?
Don’t have seeds to share?
Consider bulbs as Garden gifts. You can tie up some bulbs in a fetching bag and pretty ribbons or plant them in a pretty bowl or now to gift later this Spring bulbs can be “forced” indoors for an intoxicating container display. Especially those fragrant, Paper White Narcissus. I adore them.
And who better to get your bulbs from than my go-to bulb source: John Scheepers.
I love them; as do my garden design clients who almost weep with joy at the beauty of the spring bulbs.
I also have suggested to those Yankees who’ve migrated south to live and then bemoan they can't enjoy their revered spring bulbs bloom displays to think about potting up those glorious bulbs in containers, a la forced bulbs. And in terrariums, too.
Here’s the Scheepers’ bulb experts tips
Can’t get better advice anywhere.
As I’ve noted in the past and even with my NYBG landscape design alumni community, the dedicated pros at Scheepers are completely dedicated to your success.
Oh, and Margaret Roach was a great comfort to me a year ago when there was an inexplicable bulb debacle with one of my clients. God Bless, Margaret. She shared her and Martha’s challenges with the same bulb… Ask me…
If you don’t already subscribe to her Away to Garden or her podcast ~ please do sign on and gift to a garden friend. It’s engaging, educational, and downright “dirty” fun that we can all relate to. Margaret is most knowledgeable. And generous.
Well, I hope I don’t need to put too fine a point on the fact that we are all spending more time indoors, so let’s just move on to the happier, healthier, living-well tip that indoor plants refresh and clean your indoor space. Plants heal us. Period.
Further, indoor plants are so very easy to grow. Even in low-light situations. Caring for plants in a soul-enriching experience, especially for seniors.
Want to be a plant parent?
Here are a few recommendations for easy-care plants (Yes, even those of you who swear you have a brown thumb. Brown is the color of soil, after all. So you’re good!)
Ferns ~ there is an almost limitless variety of beautiful ferns to suit your style and decor. The only fern I have found that is at all finicky is that diva, the Maidenhair.
Otherwise, you can expect big rewards growing this family of green beauties.
I love my Lemon Button Fern.
And i find it so delightful and curious why so many common names of ferns are named for animals and birds: Rabbit, Crocodile, Kangaroo, and the cool-looking StagHorn Fern: ,
as well as the Bird’s Nest Fern.
I grow many Christmas and Boston Ferns, too. They add so much to a room’s decor. I often pot up diminutive ferns or succulents in re-purposed “pots,” including tea cups, crystal cordial glasses, and votive candle holders to use in a variety of tablescape designs.
Pathos/Devil’s Ivy or Silver Pathos is another easy-sneazy plant to gift and grow
Right now we could all use more peace ~ so growing the storied Peace Lily feels so right
My Polka Dot plant is just too cute
Heart-Leaf Philodendron - sometimes referred to as a Sweetheart Plant because of its leaf shape
Where to get your indoor plants?
If you don’t grow your own plants, I suggest you garner plants from these, my revered, superior horticultural, floral designers and herbalists. I love having a network of trusted plant artists, don't you?
- Kinka for plants, garden art, floral design, edible gift sets and more. This is truly a unique and bespoke source that you can call a friend… I do. Kinka is owned and operated with TLC by an incredible husband and wife team ~ both artisans. He a fine artist, she a garden and floral artist as well as a ceramic creator and so much more. The authenticity and beauty of their collections is unsurpassed.
- And then there is the unique greeting cards that I was introduced to by my Homegrown friend, Nancy Twardowski-Vallarella ~ a food writer at Edible, her "What's Cookin? Long Island" and more, and in turn, her Northport, Long Island friend at Hydrangea Home offers a variety of rich, detailed, botanical art cards (along with lots of other curated, homemade, and irresistible artful things from across the country. Plus they ship everywhere. The lucky recipients of the cards I sent were nothing less than gobsmacked. Plant a card! Double the plant love.
Julia Rosa Artistic Floral Decorator ~ from fashion to floral design to edibles to dreamy gift baskets.
Greenery Unlimited. I met (re-met) one of the owners, Rebecca, last year at the annual Metro Hort “Plant-O-Rama” and not only discovered we worked at BBG at the same time, but upon learning my Art of the Garnish book had been published, she invited me to present a garden-to-glass workshop and book-signing at their shop. While that never happened due to the corona virus’ March madness, the Greenery remains a fabulous source for plants and accordingly, “They believe that bringing the natural world into your home, office, or outdoor space will increase your quality of life.” Amen.
The Sill describes themselves as “a modern plant destination for the modern plant lover.” They offer a constellation of plants for every plant dream. I love their plant humor too ~ welcoming you to their Plant Parenhood!™
Stocking Stuffers for the MomentAnd I sure hope you’re thinking globally and locally when it comes to giving a Membership to your local botanical garden. These cultural institutions and museums of plants offer more than just beauty. They curate plant exhibitions, they sponsor scientific and environmental research; they offer incredible online courses aplenty to choose from. My short list from which to gift a membership includes: The New York Botanical Garden, the Mt. Cuba Center, Virginia’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden (where one of my dear cousins got married), and the John P. Humes Japanese Stroll Garden. I also belong to the Garden Conservancy. Your membership here helps to preserve and celebrate America’s garden art and gardening traditions.” I’m paraphrasing a bit from their mission, but you get the idea. I have a weakness for botanical gardens that began their life as pleasure gardens and you can’t get better than Longwood Gardens and Chanticleer. Membership in these incredible institutions will give you back culture, education, and beauty. Same for National and local art museums. I just renewed my Metropolitan Museum of Art membership. You don’t need me to remind you that your membership goes a long way to keeping our unique cultural values and sustaining our artists.