Flowers for the holidays

Fresh options for using blooms in festive decor

By Ann Smith  //  Photos by Ann Smith and Mark Dryer

(L-R) Tammi TerAvest, Tammi Van Huis (co-owner) and Craig Montanye, Pat’s

Flowers liven up a home just as much in winter as they do in spring and summer.

Sure, they may play second fiddle for a few weeks to a Christmas tree — but even then, floral arrangements’ color and texture infuse a room with warmth and energy.

“They’re fresh and full of life when it’s so cold outside,” says Emma Bennett, a floral designer at Picket Fence Floral & Design in Holland.

If what pops into your head when you read “flowers for the holidays” is a potted poinsettia — done. If pine is plenty for you, enjoy it. They’re lovely. 

For those inclined to shake things up a bit, though, there’s a world of other options.

“Nowadays, anything goes. People are doing what makes them happy,” says June Harsevoort, manager of Glenda’s Lakewood Flowers in Holland.  

Evergreens? Not necessarily. Annette Clover of Huisman Flowers in Grand Haven made driftwood her holiday decorating theme this year. “Since we live on the lakeshore and we have that lake feel, that’s what I incorporate,” she says.

Red and green? It’s not for everyone. Craig Montanye of Pat’s European Fresh Flower Market in Holland routinely uses yellow flowers on his Christmas table, to complement forest green dinnerware. His colleague Tammi TerAvest might work a hint of persimmon or dusty blue into her green and white color scheme, but never red. 

Centerpieces are the most requested arrangements at this time of year. (See page 48.) Florists are happy, though, to help customers envision other ways to decorate for the holidays with flowers and greens — whether an arrangement will be created in the shop, or go home with customers as stems and bunches. 

Here are some ideas and tips from lakeshore floral designers.  

Go big at the entryway

While low arrangements are best on a dining table, in a foyer “a tall arrangement brings the ‘oh, wow!’ factor” as visitors step indoors, Bennett says. She suggests starting with holiday greens and a few roses and filling out the arrangement with less expensive long stems like daisies, carnations or alstroemeria. “They keep the price down but are still very festive,” she says. 

Outside, “going big” can be as simple as swapping new material into large porch pots and coco-fiber-lined hanging baskets already in place. For a winter hanging basket, Huisman Flowers designer Vickie Gill likes greens that drape, ribbons that cascade, and three big pine cones. “It’s different. People notice it,” she says. 

Floral designer Emma Bennett and owner of Picket Fence Floral & Design Sarah Boetsma
(L–R) Floral designer Emma Bennett and owner of Picket Fence Floral & Design Sarah Boetsma

Embrace what you already have

Flowers arranged in a container from home can be more personal  – and providing your own makes your flower dollars go farther. Customers do so all the time. Pat’s in Holland has a client who asks the designers every year to make a Thanksgiving arrangement in the same ceramic turkey.

A vase, a bowl that matches dinnerware, a teapot or a pitcher all work. Harsevoort, who once fashioned a centerpiece in a champagne bucket, suggests that you search your closets — and if you come up dry, buy one container that would work in any season, such as a neutral-colored ceramic container that can conceal floral foam. 

Regard greens as co-stars

Florists talk as much about greens as they do about blooms. “I love pine greens,” says Gill, who points out that evergreens used at Thanksgiving can last till late December. To add texture to classic Christmas foliage, Montanye suggests tucking in distinctive greens like monstera leaves, dusty miller and eucalyptus. 

Tablescape created by Glenda’s Lakewood Flowers
Tablescape created by Glenda’s Lakewood Flowers

Create a tablescape 

If you can place food on a counter or buffet, consider making your dining room table your canvas. “A tablescape can help generate conversation, especially with people who don’t all know each other,” reports Harsevoort, who calls herself “a tablescape junkie.”

Her recipe: top a neutral tablecloth with a runner or draped fabric. At the center, place an arrangement of greens and flowers (avoiding strongly scented flowers like Oriental lilies and some roses, which might clash with the aromas of food). Along the table’s length, play with other elements such as pumpkins, leaves or pinecones; ornaments (“most people have more than they know what to do with,” she notes); wax or LED candles; and perhaps some bowl fillers or table confetti from a craft store. Leave six inches between dinner plates and the tablescape.

Bennett shares that carnations and evergreens are so resilient that simply laid on a table or secured to a wreath, they’ll last several days — and then, if cut and put in water, they’ll recover.

Use objects, greens to create vignettes

On a smaller scale, objects can anchor tabletop arrangements in other rooms, with a few greens and flowers worked in. Gill used to decorate Christmas trees in every room, but since she downsized there are fewer trees and more vignettes. She might create one with a tall wooden Santa, pine boughs and cones, and some ornaments.

Place flowers on a tree or wreath

“Dried hydrangeas are easy to stick into the tree,” says Tammi Van Huis, the co-owner of Pat’s. Other dried blooms work, too, as she and her colleagues will soon make clear. All year they hung unsold roses up to dry. Soon, at the shop, they’ll arrange them like a garland around a tree.