OK, so maybe you won’t be copying the tropical tree above. But in December, Pennsylvania’s Longwood Gardens is teeming with Christmas tree ideas. And the displays are nothing short of astonishing.
Every year the gardens change focus, reimagining the Christmas tree in terms of color, theme and decoration. This year’s exhibition reaches new heights with a floating forest of festive firs and towering evergreens embellished with fresh flowers and glittering ornaments. Other new twists include trees built from such diverse materials as books, birdhouses and green, stained glass panels.
This year’s display includes a tree made out of stained glass
Longwood’s collection of ornaments is vast and has evolved over decades. When not on display in the indoor Conservatory, the ornaments make their home in a barn on the property. Each ornament is individually wrapped, tracked and stored in approximately 400 labeled boxes organized by color.
Metallic ornaments from the Longwood collection/Photo by Morgan Horell
The 55,000-piece collection, mainly crafted of glass, features ornaments ranging in size from a few inches to almost two feet. The palette is predominantly red and gold, although plenty of other colors, like silver, green, pink and turquoise also figure in the mix. Each ornament is featured in a thick tome called ‘The Ornament Book’ where it is categorized by color, size, weight, material and the space it will occupy in the Conservatory.
Longwood’s largest ornament/Photo by Casey Orlosky
Work starts on next year’s display in January right after the New Year. The designers and staff select their ornaments from the collection and prioritize them by room and space. By March, the whole process is completed and all ornaments, their locations and configuration for the following Christmas are detailed on a spread sheet. Installation begins in November.
Visitors to Longwood enter the 4-acre glass house through the East Conservatory. At the end of the space is a large tree that sets the tone for the exhibition. This year’s 24-foot white fir features chains of different size red balls embellished with tear-drop icicles. The brilliant red provides a warm contrast to the grey green foliage, while the transparent glass ornaments cool things down .
Christmas Tree Idea #1: For high visual impact, take into account the color of your tree’s foliage when selecting your ornaments, placing larger balls in the interior of the tree and smaller ones on the outside to create a sense of depth.
These two trees, featuring pink, silver and white balls, take their cue from the soft pink poinsettias surrounding them. Today, the many new poinsettia hybrids offer a wealth of opportunities for decorating in addition to the traditional reds.
Christmas Tree Idea #2: Place live flowers at the base of your tree and coordinate the color with your ornaments.
Still, for ornamentation, nothing beats the traditional red. Below is a tree featuring a spectacular array of red and silver ornaments. The white cyclamen at its base make the tree ‘pop.’
Christmas Tree Idea #3: Use long, dangling ornaments to make your tree appear taller.
This tree, located on the fringe of the Main Conservatory, features a mix of long, dangling ornaments and round balls.
Christmas Tree Idea #4: Use round balls and garlands to make your tree appear wider.
Another tree in the Main Conservatory is a cool mix of blues and silvers. The pink poinsettias and anthuriums at its base warm up the pastel palette.
Christmas Tree Idea #5: Warm ‘cool’ colors like blues and silvers with soft pinks and reds.
Who can resist the charm of a child’s tree decorated with hand-made ornaments? This set of Fraser firs was designed and crafted by local students. It features unusual tree toppers made out of slinkies, cardboard ‘presents’ and wooden stars as well as tiny vignettes made from Sucrets lozenge boxes.
Christmas Tree Idea #6: Get your kids (or grandkids) in on the mix and let their imaginations run wild.
Christmas Tree Idea #7: Use found objects to customize your tree.
A highlight of the collection each year is the many trees embellished with flowers and ferns, including begonias, roses and a truckload of poinsettias. The tree below is one of a pair that anchor the central walkway in the Main Conservatory. Each is embellished with scarlet poinsettias and matching flower ornaments.
It’s not as hard as it looks. The potted flowers are wedged into the tree branches and watered regularly.
Other trees in the indoor conservatory are built from wire forms that are inserted with plants and decorated with strands of ornaments. Below, a tree formed from air plants is a highlight of one of the smaller greenhouses.
Christmas Tree Idea #8: Decorate your tree with pots of fresh flowers and coordinating ornaments.
Sometimes space doesn’t permit a large tree, or you’re simply looking to add more decoration to your home. Small trees offer a great opportunity to create on a grand scale without the labor associated with a grand composition. Here are some great themed trees from Longwood.
For the book lover, a tree made entirely from pages.
Natural ornaments and more paper make this small tree a stunner.
Frosted fruits and cinnamon sticks make this tree good enough to eat.
Christmas Tree Idea #9: Make a small, table-top tree out of styrofoam or wire forms and embellish it with plants, flowers, fruit and ornaments.
Following are a few unusual trees spied at this year’s exhibition. The ‘tree’ below, located in the Mediterranean Garden, is made entirely of green, stained glass panels that are suspended from the ceiling.
Located in the Music Room, this ‘tree’ is built entirely of children’s books. At the end of the exhibition, they will be donated to local public schools.
Finally, this tree located in the Xeriscape Garden caught everyone’s eye. Looking a bit like a Christmas tree that had just caught fire, it is made entirely from dried, metallic-brushed tumbleweed. The browns and silvery greens do make for a pleasing composition, though.
Christmas Tree Idea #10: Try using unusual materials to build a tree. There’s no right answer.
For more information on this year’s collection and the amazing outdoor light display, go to Longwoodgardens.org/events to reserve an entry time and purchase tickets. Exhibition is on now through January 6, 2019.
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