Designer brings natural elements into holiday decor
Greg Lehmkuhl, the creative director of the garden, home and outdoor lifestyle brand Terrain, joined staff writer Jura Koncius last week on the Washington Post’s Home Front online chat. Here is an edited excerpt. Q: I’m looking to buy winter planters. What’s your favorite tree or bush that will last?
A: My favorites are varieties that have interesting sculptural character. For example, atlas cedars or deodar cedars. Weeping Alaskan cedars also make a dramatic statement. Often you can get young trees for a great deal at the end of the season, so now would be the time to look. Q: I always hang wreaths on my front windows for the holidays. I change the ribbons occasionally, but do you have any other ideas to jazz up this classic look?
A: If you’re looking for an alternative to classic ribbon, I use red-striped upholstery banding or torn strips of cotton velvet. Anything with more humble origins is nice. In our travels overseas, I have noticed fewer looped bows, which I find refreshing. The flourish of a simple ribbon wrapped once around a wreath is quite elegant. Q: What wreath materials do you think will be popular this year?
A: We have some unusual fresh bunches coming in this year. I’m excited about the rose gold eucalyptus and bleached pine cones, and – for a more dramatic focal point – dried protea blossoms are making a strong showing. Q: We’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner. What’s your favorite way to make a dining table feel festive without cluttering it?
A: One of my favorite
displays in the Terrain store uses our wreath hanger suspended above the table, so you’re not overcrowding the actual table. I also like to start with a wreath with a simple base of honeysuckle vine, dried and fresh festive greenery, and some battery-operated lights. Q: The deer in my front yard eat everything. What can I put on my steps that would look festive for the holidays and not get eaten?
A: There’s always boxwood, but if you want to go with something in the pine family, deer typically stay away from firs. I like Korean fir, which is known for having many cones on a juvenile tree. Q: I order amaryllis bulbs every November for the holidays. Any ideas for showcasing them?
A: Pair blooming amaryllis with armatures of various winter stems. I like “Midwinter Fire” dogwood, because of its orange-to-red colors, and curly willow for its bright orange. These stems add a growing structure that prevents the flowers from falling over, and also incorporate color to the arrangement before your bulbs bloom. Q: I’ve bought myrtle topiary trees several times for my mantel. What is the best way to keep these alive? They dry out so easily.
A: Keep them in a shallow tray of water to maintain hydration. I also recommend a self-watering pot that has a reservoir with a wicking system. You can actually make your own with torch wicks and a pot that sits elevated inside a larger pot. Q: How can I convince clients that they will enjoy the holidays more if they simplify their food, decorations, parties and gifts?
A: The season is about sharing and finding a happy medium. In my family, the way we navigated through those situations was to compromise. One year my dad would get to display his over-the-top collection of family heirloom German glass ornaments (there were at least 1,000), and the next year my mom would get to display her Scandinavian birch-bark ornaments for a simpler tree. As kids responsible for putting up and taking down all of the ornaments, we always liked the simpler tree. Q: What are some holiday ideas for our empty window boxes?
A: If you’re feeling adventurous, try making a miniature forest with a row of black spruce tips. Q: What family tradition do you most look forward to around the holidays?
A: When I get home to Wisconsin on Christmas Eve, it’s my job to put lights on a fresh-cut Christmas tree outside near the road. Q: I like to start planting amaryllis bulbs that will bloom during Christmas week. How many days before Dec. 25 should I start ?
A: Generally, the rule is six weeks before Dec. 25, so you would want to start them on or around Nov. 11. Q: I bought some batterypowered candles for my windows last holiday season, and they ended up looking pretty lame. Do you have any recommendations for this look? I’d prefer not to have to plug them in, but I do have outlets available near the windows.
A: We have a batteryoperated moving flame that’s beautiful but best experienced up close. But I find that a cool-burning 4-watt night-light bulb is the best from a distance to give the most realistic color of a real flame. I also would avoid anything orange. Q: What is your favorite way to decorate outside for the holidays – especially if you want your house to stand out?
A: The good news is that it can be fun and rewarding to come up with a different approach each season. The important thing is to look at the materials you have differently and remember that nature provides the best ingredients.
Apilco’s Tuileries dishes. Design experts agree that white dishes can be used for daily meals as well as special occasions.