By: Sara Henderson
The wreath is one of the oldest decorations. The word wreath likely came from the Old English word “writhen” which meant “to writhe or twist” and they are traditionally made by twisting branches together in a circle. The act of hanging wreaths on walls dates back to the Greeks and Romans who used them as symbols of victory. Today they still symbolize victory, just not in battle. They are used to symbolize the Christian belief in victory over death as well as the Pagan celebration of the continuance of life.
Evergreen shrubs are a critical component of our gardens and this is never as apparent as during the winter months. They bring richness to the otherwise gray landscape and a promise that spring will be here soon. They also bring beauty to our homes during the cold winter months and can be used in all types of arrangements and holiday decorations. Boxwood, hollies in their many forms, and conifers often come to mind when we think of decorative evergreens, however the selection is almost endless. We have planted many different varieties at Oakland and have a great diversity of shapes, forms and colors. Our collection includes great quantities of boxwoods and fragrant rosemary, shiny hollies with green, variegated or golden leaves, wiry blue-green or gold conifers, and other lesser known choices.
Not all evergreens are shrubs. Jackson vine (Smilex smallii) is one of a few native evergreen vines and has a uniquely southern story. This southeastern native can be found throughout the south and was historically gathered for decoration during winter months. It was used to decorate tables when Stonewall Jackson visited Alabama and has been known as Jackson vine ever since. We use it on the Cotting-Burke mausoleum where Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy and Governor of Georgia, was temporarily buried.
Another evergreen that was used extensively for Christmas decoration in Southern homes is Christmas fern, (Polystichum acrostichoides). It can be found in rich woodlands throughout eastern North America. It is easy to identify as its fronds are evergreen but lay flat on the ground in the winter. These fronds are not nearly as long lasting as branches, but they are no less beautiful. You can see it growing in shady corners in the Ladies Memorial section at Oakland.
Look around next time you visit and notice the many different evergreens in our gardens. They are all well adapted to our climate and easy to grow, making them ideal for your garden as well.
The Historic Oakland Foundation will be selling handmade, fresh balsam fir wreaths again this year. These have been very popular in the past and this year, in keeping with the tradition of gathering greenery from gardens and woodlands to decorate the home, we will be offering the option of having these wreaths enhanced by the addition of fresh mixed greens collected from Oakland’s gardens. We will be happy to place the wreath on your family’s plot or they may be picked up and taken home to enjoy. Orders will be taken through December 16.