You don't need lots of different types of evergreens for decorations. Boughs of 'Little Gem' magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora 'Little Gem') make up the bulk of our display. This selection has 4- to 5-inch, shiny, green leaves with coppery brown backs. The elliptical to oval foliage is much smaller than that of most magnolias and works well on narrow mantels. 'Little Gem' is a compact magnolia that can reach around 25 feet tall and is a prolific bloomer.
For a spark of color, we tried a few berried branches of 'Savannah' holly (Ilex x attenuata 'Savannah'). This plant grows 25 to 30 feet tall and has an open, pyramidal shape. It fruits heavily each winter, producing large, brilliant red berries. Long stems of windmill palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) anchor one side of the fireplace. The stiff, coarse-textured, fan-shaped leaves hold up well when cut. This is one of the hardiest palms and will tolerate temperatures that are well below freezing.
We filled glass vases with lemons and magnolia cuttings for a bright color contrast. To save money, look for produce sold in bulk at discount stores and wholesale clubs. Most fruit should last a couple of weeks when submerged in water. Change the water every three to four days to keep the containers clean.
An inexpensive wooden-framed mirror takes center stage when magnolia leaves are attached with a staple gun. The leaves overlap one another to cover the staples. We flipped some of them over, revealing the coppery color on the undersides.
Flames Without the Heat
Many winter days in the South can be too warm for a fire. If the weather is mild, different-size candleholders placed in front of the fireplace are a good alternative. Always remember to use caution around open flames, and keep foliage below the candleholders and away from the flames.
"Magnolia With a Twist" is from the December 2004 issue of Southern Living.