Making The Season Bright

hollyHistoric, Festive Floridian “Art in the Landscape”

By Mary and Hugh Williamson

There is every reason for even the most recent of Florida arrivals to discard the tradition of typically northern holiday décor! Our state’s history and the bounty of natural decorative resources provide all we need for a celebratory expression that is uniquely South Floridian. State and world histories offer wonderful tales of how our traditions came to be.

The Inspiration

Addison Mizner

Addison Mizner

Perhaps Addison Mizner’s vision of a Mediterranean-inspired luxury South Florida lifestyle was inspired as travel to the war-torn Mediterranean that was so enjoyed by affluent Americans prior to World War I became inconvenient. World travelers were indeed in need of an alternative to European destinations, but as our Florida environment supports Mediterranean flora, perhaps Mizner had another inspiration. We know that the Spanish brig Providencia, upon wrecking off what is now Palm Beach, full of coconuts, was the genesis of the city’s name and fostered our love of palm trees. That 1878 event may well have been divine providence, influencing the destiny of the gold coast.

Palms are not indigenous to Florida, but they are so at home here; a big part of our year-round ambience and of the Christmas and holiday landscape. Combined with other Mediterranean plantings, they provide a magical, sculptural and statuesque base for the lights, glitter and glamor that we relish at this special time of year. As with our revered architecture, many of these wonderful components of our landscapes have a history that is rooted in the Mediterranean. There are also interesting connections to Christmas and the Winter Solstice.

It is unlikely that Mizner’s intimate Opening Night Celebration of what is now the Boca Raton Resort and Club on Christmas Eve, 1925 included any fake snow. It more likely reveled in the unique South Florida manner in which we “make the season bright”! George Merrick of Coral Gables fame and James Deering as well were responsible for the Mediterranean Revival trend in South Florida, that just “looks right.”

A few additions from other Mediterranean-influenced areas of our country, such as the luminarias which are so popular in New Mexico, have a genesis with Spanish merchants and add to the theme. These simple, candle-lit brown bags can be stirred into the landscape for a heightened experience. Lining a drive, they welcome guests with the holiday glow.

Combined with palms, our rosemary, eucalyptus, holly, mistletoe and magnolias afford what with exterior lighting can become a magical expression of the glamor of the season. The branches can be harvested to provide luxuriant bundles for your interior. Add the punctuation of Florida pears and pineapples (gilded or naturally beautiful) for an opulent and festive presentation; a joyous visual celebration. These plants proliferate beautifully in South Florida, and enhance the landscape no matter what the time of year. But they all have the bonus of a special holiday meaning.

A little history, & some practical application
Rosemary has been said to have been the favorite of the Virgin Mary. Legend has it that on one occasion, while resting, Mary spread her blue cloak over a white-blossomed bush. The flowers miraculously turned blue. The shrub then became known as the “Rose of Mary.” And the legends continue, from Pliny on. Rosemary was credited with preventing unpleasant dreams, with warding off colds, inhibiting gout and even thwarting the Black Plague. Spanish lore suggests the very pungent rosemary plant as a deterrent to witchcraft and even bad incidents on the road. These are all handy applications, but heartily contested. Wealthy sixteenth century nobility presented gilded rosemary as gifts to their guests. Now that notion brings to mind some real uncontested and creative possibilities for holiday décor. Rosemary is also a traditional flavoring for lamb dishes, and was even an ingredient in Queen Anne’s favorite mead!

Eucalyptus is found all over the world. It enjoyed heightened prominence following Captain James Cook’s expedition to Australia, where it is ubiquitous. Eucalyptus then thrived in Spain and Portugal, and now thrives in South Florida as well. It is also called the “silver dollar plant,” and its combination with other shapes of greenery offers a beautiful texture and a lush presentation. Some do prefer to leave the foliage outdoors, as the fragrance can be suggestive of a spa.

Holly was a plant sacred to Celtic Druids long before we decked our halls; its shiny green leaves suggest eternal life, and its cheerful red berries are especially welcome as color in our gardens wanes for a month or two. Holly was also an important part of the Roman Festival Saturnalia… a festival of light that coincides with the Winter Solstice. In addition to holly, many of this pagan holiday’s traditions, including gift-giving and celebratory meals have parallels to the Christian celebration of the nativity.

The elegantly-shaped and classic Nellie Stevens holly tree reaches over 15 feet, albeit rather slowly. It thrives in South Florida, and while it is evocative of the holidays, it is a beautiful specimen in the landscape year-round.
Mistletoe is found in Florida growing on the native oak laurel. Pagan connections of mystery and fertility have long been forgotten, but the fun and frolic of “kissing under the mistletoe” remain. This “oak mistletoe” is a joyful and festive addition to a garland or centerpiece, but the pearl-like berries are poisonous, and must be kept from small children and pets. It is fun to gather, however. As it often grows on the unreacha-ble tops of trees, some harvesters in southern states find that a carefully aimed shotgun can yield quite a booty.

Mistletoe is found in Florida growing on the native oak laurel. Pagan connections of mystery and fertility have long been forgotten, but the fun and frolic of “kissing under the mistletoe” remain.  This “oak mistletoe” is a joyful and festive addition to a garland or centerpiece, but the pearl-like berries are poisonous, and must be kept from small children and pets. It is fun to gather, however.  As it often grows on the unreacha-ble tops of trees, some harvesters in southern states find that a carefully aimed shotgun can yield quite a booty.

Magnolia trees offer shiny, vibrant greenery that mixes well with pine, cedar, holly and rosemary for a cheerful blend of color and texture in holiday wreaths. It is great base, as its structure is sturdy. Magnolia trees, lighted from the ground, seem to shimmer and become art objects in the landscape. Pruning arms full of luxuriant branches for your home’s interior celebration only encourages the tree to burgeon with new growth.
Our sub-tropical treasures are every bit as festive as snow-laden boughs, although our celebration of our climate, architectural legacy and sumptuous flora continue through the year.

Our sub-tropical treasures are every bit as festive as snow-laden boughs, although our celebration of our climate, architectural legacy and sumptuous flora continue through the year.

Modern Day “Queen Anne” Rosemary Mead
½ gallon purified water, in a widemouthed one-gallon jug
24 oz. honey
½ envelope yeast
1 orange, sliced into eighths
¼ cup rosemary
24 raisins
• Combine all the ingredients
• Shake to aerate for five minutes
•  Top with a little more purified water, and cap with a balloon, pin-pricked on the top.  Sit tight as it racks until next Christmas.  It’s worth the wait.  We do recommend that you visit the many available wine and mead blogs to ensure proper sanitation and learn of best practice.

 

Making The Season Bright