Holiday Horticulture & History


Here at Glenwood Gardens, plants are near and dear to our hearts. Luckily, the cold dreary days of winter don’t require a complete withdrawal from matters of horticulture. We can enjoy the botanical offerings traditional to the holidays and appreciate some of the history behind their use.

Our common practice of hanging evergreen boughs to liven up the stark landscape of these darker days did not begin with Christmas. Using pine, spruce and fir was a widespread and ancient custom predating Christian beliefs, representing the persistence of life during the time of year when all else seems dead. Historians speculate Christmas trees were originally used by pagan cultures as tree worship or to ward off evil spirits. Holly was part of the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, a harvest festival during the winter solstice, before it came to represent a crown of thorns and Christ’s blood to Christians in the Middle Ages.


More recent additions to our floral holiday celebration are tropical plants from the New World. This includes the poinsettia, named after an American ambassador to Mexico, and the Christmas cactus. These exotic blooming plants have gained an association with the holidays due to their bold colors and natural bloom period coinciding with the shortest days of the year.

Regardless of history, religion or culture, everyone can enjoy natural, live plants rather than the artificial silk and synthetic varieties now available. Nothing can replace the wondrous textures, familiar patterns and spicy fragrance of fresh plants for the holidays.

Kathy Charvat, Seasonal Naturalist, Glenwood Gardens