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Designing a White Christmas

If there is one thing you cannot count on here on the "wet coast," it is a white Christmas. Sure, we can go up the mountains to enjoy the snow or travel to that cabin in the interior, but wouldn’t it be nice to have that same feeling right at home? Yes, there are a few drawbacks like having to shovel the sidewalk and getting those winter tires on, but nothing puts us in the holiday mood better than a little snow blanketing the garden.

White Accented Fresh Wreath

What if I told you that there might be a way to fool yourself into believing in that white Christmas, despite the ever-present greenery just outside — a means of implementing the purity of an alba garden from your front door, through to the indoor living spaces. We start by examining the snowy palette in plants and décor, keeping in mind that your best contrast here is a green of any hue.

Indoor Plants

White Phalaenopsis Orchid
White Phalaenopsis Orchid

Most of us are too young to remember when potted white Chrysanthemums were the flowers of Christmas, at least before the advent of red poinsettias in the 1950s and ’60s. Sadly, these are rarely available now (except at Thanksgiving) but there really is no shortage of white-flowered indoor plants. Probably the best place to start is with the bulbs, as Paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceus) bring us spicy fragrance and small clusters of lily-white daffodils just in time for our seasonal celebrations. Similarly, the dramatic flowers of the towering Amaryllis bulbs can be forced into bloom for Yuletide, and many pure white varieties such as ‘Mont Blanc’, ‘Donner’ (dbl. form), ‘Dancer’, and ‘White Nymph’ should be relatively easy to find. White orchids (such as Phalaenopsis) are also readily available this time of year and they make an excellent party favour when visiting family and friends. Alba poinsettias (including the ivory-coloured ‘Winter Rose Eggnog’), Princettias (new style of compact poinsettia), Christmas cactus (which are actually pale pink), cyclamen, kalanchoes, azaleas, and Calandivas (dbl. form) round out this pale palette. Don’t forget houseplants such as Anthurium or even the variegated Christmas Fern (Selaginella kraussiana ‘Variegata’), as the latter makes a great accent in mixed planters.

Outdoor Options

Outdoor plant choices are a little more limited at this time of year, so probably the best place to start is with Helleborus niger. Also known as Christmas Rose, these are often forced into full bloom in early December and those pristine white flowers sharply contrasted by the glossy evergreen foliage work well in planters and can even be brought indoors for a short period of time in a cool room. A new variety of Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) with white berries, ‘Peppermint Pearl’, also works well in mixed planters, keeping in mind that the fruit takes on a pale pink hue as they mature. Variegated English Ivies (‘White Ripple’), Euphorbias (‘Glacier Blue’, ‘Silver Swan’), and common Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Tricolor’) also make great accents, while white pansies and Florist Cyclamen (C. persicum) add floral colour, although the latter needs to be kept out of the rain and won’t last all winter.

Alba Decor

White and Gold Interior Décor

Remember that décor starts at the front door, so make sure your ‘White Christmas’ theme is well entrenched at the entrance to your home. Porch pots filled with luscious greens and tastefully accented with white birch poles, ribbons, frosted pine cones, painted branches, and doves are relatively easy to create. Your other option here is a mixed planter of hardy plants and seasonal colour mentioned in the preceding paragraph. A matching wreath hanging on the front door will complete the look, and for those of you concerned about a lack of contrast, remember that the colour of the door usually provides a nice colour shift. Flocked wreaths are also occasionally available and are easily spruced up with a few simple decorations. Once inside, you should remember that the best complements for white are usually hues of deep green, gold, silver, and surprisingly, natural wood tones. Clusters of plants and décor can be created almost anywhere there is space, including the mantle, on top of the kitchen cupboards, coffee or end tables, buffet, or even the obvious choice, the dining table centrepiece. Don’t forget to include some of your houseplant greenery into these displays, as white variegation and even small topiaries really add to the overall ambiance. If you are pressed for space then consider creating shallow mixed planter bowls, which can incorporate small poinsettias, Christmas ferns, dwarf flocked conifers, and even a few white-tipped pine cones to set it off.

So, as you can see, a ‘White Christmas’ is more a state of mind here on the wet coast, but with a little décor to reinforce our most common seasonal fantasy, we can all enjoy what is often the greenest day of the year.

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