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 spectacular.
ABOUT THE DISPLAY
At Longwood, every year brings a reimagining of the Christmas tree in terms of color, theme and decoration. Located throughout the garden’s 4-acre Conservatory, the 50+ trees shine with thousands of lights, fresh florals and glass ornaments. Each tree fits the design of the particular room or hallway in which it is located. And most are accompanied by masses of seasonal flowers.
It’s always a glorious surprise to discover these masterpieces and the new twists they provide on holiday decoration. That said, this year’s exhibition takes things to even greater heights. In addition to the traditional towering evergreens, the Main Conservatory boasts a floating forest comprised entirely of festive firs. Elsewhere, there are trees constructed from such diverse materials as books and birdhouses. And there is even a Christmas tree made entirely from panels of green, stained glass.
This year’s display includes a tree made out of stained glass
A VAST COLLECTION OF CHRISTMAS TREE ORNAMENTS
Needless to say, ornaments are key to the Christmas tree and Longwood’s vast collection has evolved over decades. When not on display, the ornaments make their home in a barn on the property. In order to keep things organized, each is individually wrapped, tracked and stored in one of 400 boxes sorted by color. A thick volume called ‘The Ornament Book’ further categorizes each one by color, size, weight, material and the space it will occupy in the Conservatory.
Metallic ornaments from the Longwood collection/Photo by Morgan Horell
All told, the collection includes around 55,000 pieces. Crafted mainly of glass, they range in size from a few inches to almost two feet. The palette is predominantly red and gold, but, plenty of other colors, like silver, green, pink and turquoise also figure in the mix.
Longwood’s largest ornament/Photo by Casey Orlosky
Almost as soon as the display closes, work begins on next year’s show, usually right after the New Year. First, the designers and staff select their ornaments from the collection. Then they prioritize them by room and space. Usually by March, the whole process is completed and the ornaments, their locations and configuration for the following Christmas are detailed on a spread sheet. Finally, installation begins in November.
From classic to modern, all-natural to full glitz, Longwood Gardens offers a treasure trove of holiday inspiration. See if one of these beauties can’t help turn your tree into a Christmas masterpiece.
TRADITIONAL CHRISTMAS TREES
To enter the display, visitors must first pass through the East Conservatory, a half-acre, vaulted glass space composed of waterfalls, pools and fountains. In December, though, these features pale by comparison to the Christmas tree positioned at the far end of the garden. And this year’s specimen is a stunner. Measuring in at 24 feet tall, the white fir features chains of different size red balls embellished with hundreds of tear-drop icicles.
Christmas Tree Idea #1: For high visual impact, take into account the color of your tree’s foliage when selecting your ornaments. Place larger balls in the interior of the tree and smaller ones on the outside to create a sense of depth.
The following two trees, featuring pink, silver and white balls, mimic the theme established by the soft pink poinsettias at their base. Today, the many new poinsettia varieties offer a wealth of ideas for holiday decorating.
Christmas Tree Idea #2: Place live flowers at the base of your tree and coordinate the color with your ornaments.
If you’re a true traditionalist, however, it’s usually all about 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.
When it comes to perspective, the size and shape ornaments you choose can make your tree appear either taller or wider. The long, dangling ornaments on the small tree above, located in the Main Conservatory, make it look taller. By contrast, the mix of round balls and garlands on the tree below make it appear wider.
Christmas Tree Idea #4: Use round balls and garlands to make your tree appear wider.
Below, another tree in the Main Conservatory is a cool mix of blues and silvers. But, 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 features 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 Conservatory consist of wire forms 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.
SMALL CHRISTMAS TREES
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 massive composition. Here are some great themed Christmas tree ideas from the Gardens.
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.
UNUSUAL CHRISTMAS TREES
Following are a few unusual trees from this year’s exhibition. For example, the ‘tree’ below (located in the Mediterranean Garden) was constructed entirely of green, stained glass panels which were then suspended from the ceiling.
Located in the Music Room, this ‘tree’ consists entirely of children’s books. At the end of the exhibition, they’ll be donated to local public schools.
Finally this tree, located in the Xeriscape Garden, is nothing if not an eye-catcher. Looking a bit like a Christmas tree that recently caught fire, it consists of dried, metallic-brushed tumbleweed. Despite the unusual coloration, its browns and silvery greens combine well with the other silver and grey tones in the garden.
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.