Seashell Topiary

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Do you enjoy making Christmas gifts and holiday decor ?  Crafting has remained a part of my December preparations since I was little.  And quite often I find myself turning to beautiful seashells for my projects.

When I was young, we came home from beach vacations with bags full of beautiful shells picked up along the islands off of North Carolina.  I worked those into wreathes and Christmas tree ornaments, and lit tabletop trees.  I remember one year hundreds of beautiful moon shells washed up along the northern end of Virginia Beach after a late summer storm.

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I lived in Virginia Beach for many years, before moving to Williamsburg, and sea themed Christmas decor became a way of life there.  I still love seeing shells worked into wreathes and garlands.

Now, finding shells on the beach has become a rare treat, and I end up buying bags of shells for my projects or relying on friends to share shells leftover from shellfish meals.  But there are many shell ‘beads’ wherever beading materials are sold, pearl tipped floral pins, and of course freshwater pearls to add a bit of elegance.

Back in the 70s and 80s many crafters finished their shell projects with a heavy coat of shellac or polyurethane.  I find this look dated and heavy.  I begin by wiping each shell with a light coating of mineral oil, which seeps into the shell’s structure and gives a more natural luster.  This brings out the beautiful colors, as though the shell were still seen through the surf.  The mineral oil lasts, but can be renewed easily should the shells ever begin to look dull.

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I made three shell topiary trees last December.  We enjoyed them so much that they never quite got given away or even put away.  They are still there on the mantle in the den waiting for the Santas to come out of storage.

I’ve made a new one this year; a taller one.  And I took lessons learned from earlier projects to make this one even better.  You see it here with little folk art Santas we picked up at a local crafts fair yesterday.

Shell topiary trees can be crafted in many different ways.  You might find these beautiful, or hopelessly tacky.  But on the chance that you feel a little inspired to make one for yourself, know that this is a fairly easy project to accomplish in  just a few hours.

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I’ll offer just a few tips to ease your efforts should you want to make your own shell tree.  I begin with a Styrofoam base, and cover the base with fabric.  A good low temperature glue gun is the essential tool for this project.  The actual Styrofoam cone may be anchored in a flower pot, on a wooden base, or even on shell ‘feet’ depending on your style.

After sorting and polishing the shells, begin by hot gluing the larger shells on to the fabric.  Anchor one shell to its neighbor where they touch with a touch of hot glue.  It is important to work slowly and cautiously at this stage to avoid burning oneself on the glue gun’s tip or on freshly squeezed hot glue.  Remember to carefully consider each shell to use it to best advantage.  Most shells have more than one beautiful side, and can be glued in several different ways to showcase different parts of the shell.

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Keep turning the tree as you work and work from bottom to top, building up your design layer by layer.  One can  overlap shells slightly to cover any broken edges or flaws.  Some crafters keep gluing here, and build up a second glued layer of shells to completely cover the base.  But I prefer a different approach.

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Once the tree is mostly covered, and a ‘top’ glued into place, it is time to fill in the spaces to cover every tiny bit of fabric possible.  I’ve used a combination of small shells sold as beads, bits of shell sold as beads, and freshwater pearls.  Each of these smaller pieces came pre-drilled with a hole just the right size to accept a straight pin.  Depending on your taste and purpose, you might even incorporate some glass or metal beads at this point in the design to embellish the tree.

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Again, I work around the entire tree, turning it frequently.  I usually complete the top first and then work down to fill in the spaces with small shell ‘beads’  and pearls.  At some point, all of the spaces are filled and you know your tree is finished.  And other than letting the tree sit undisturbed for a few hours while the glue hardens, that is all there is to it.  Your tree is now ready to display.

This tree will serve as decoration for a holiday gathering next week before heading out to a loved one’s home for the remainder of the holidays.   But I’m keeping these cute Santas, and will bring their brothers out to join them one day soon!

Happy Holidays!

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Woodland Gnome 2016

 

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In A Vase: E. ‘Green Jewel’

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Today’s vase is a celebration of green; particularly the Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ new to our garden.

I was extremely fortunate to find Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ offered on Brent and Becky Heath’s end of season perennial sale a week ago.  I bought two pots, already in flower.  I finally cut two of the flowers for today’s vase, with the intention of helping the plants establish a little better without their flowers setting seed.

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That set the color note, and I added various shades of green with Apple Mint and Coleus ‘Gold Anemone’ for the background foliage.

My offering today features a smattering of favorites, including some a friend especially admired on our impromptu garden tour this morning.  I love the opportunity to deepen a friendship while sharing a garden.  It was her first visit to ours, and now I’m looking forward to visiting the garden she and her husband have designed.

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She was interested in the mints and the Coleus especially.  Of course, the ‘Under the Sea’ line of Coleus are so unusual they really don’t resemble normal Coleus very much.  I love the fern like fringe of these leaves.

There are a few stems of flowering Basil in the vase today, along with a a handful of our happy Black Eyed Susans and a few roses.

I’ve walked past the roses in recent weeks, trying, like Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, to feature a few of our more unusual flowers.  But I love the roses and they bring us such pleasure each day.  I relented and cut a few for today’s vase.

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I especially like how the mostly green arrangement sets off the peachy tones of these ‘Lady of Shalott’ roses from David Austin’s collection of English shrub roses.

This is one of my favorite green glass vases, acquired second or third hand many years ago.  The green egg is Malachite and so is the tiny green frog.  This stone frog reminds me of the tiny frogs we find hopping around the garden in August.

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It has been very hot here again today, and we are truly dry for the first time in months.  I spent much of yesterday watering the garden and pulling grass and weeds from around thirsty perennials.

The jewel like green surrounding us a few weeks ago looks a bit faded today, showing the growing distress of our trees and shrubs.  We still hope for some rain tonight and tomorrow.  In fact, clouds were gathering from the west as I went out late this afternoon to cut stems for today’s vase.

I didn’t make it out to the garden this morning before the heat set in, and so waited for the blazing sun to fade behind the gathering clouds before cutting this evening.

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I hope you are still finding beautiful and interesting stems in your garden to cut and bring inside to enjoy.

Preparing a vase each week, or two or three; gives us the opportunity to appreciate the garden’s offerings at leisure and up close.  The flowers look different, more special somehow, trimmed, arranged, and placed just so indoors.  I appreciate Cathy encouraging garden bloggers to cut and arrange each week by allowing us to share with one another through her posts.

Please try your hand at it if you haven’t already.  This is one of summer’s simple pleasures and is not to be missed.

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One of our new Echinacea 'Green Jewel' before I cut for today's vase.

One of our new Echinacea ‘Green Jewel’ before I cut for today’s vase.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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In A Vase: Rooting

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The flowers and foliage in today’s vase were clipped late this afternoon; mostly from pots on the deck.

So many stems cut for the Monday vases this spring rooted in place, that I chose this particular combination with that intention in mind.

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These Coleus, from the “Under the Sea” collection, were clipped from the nursery pots I bought them in on Saturday.  I took cuttings immediately to leave with my father, another Coleus devote’, and now I’ve snipped a little more for cuttings of my own.  The original plants will remain in their pots for another day at least.

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Coleus root quickly and easily in water.  My father simply breaks stems from a growing plant and pushes the stem into the soil in another pot.  He has great success, but I am not quite that self-confident.  I enjoy watching the little white roots form in a vase by the kitchen window before tucking the well rooted little cutting into some soil.

I’ve managed to collect three of the “Under the Sea” cultivars this spring.  So far I have C. “Lime Shrimp,” C. “Bonefish,” and C. “Gold Anemone.”  These are some of the most delicate and unusual forms of Coleus I’ve ever found, and I like them alone or in combination with annual flowers.  Have you found these at your garden center?  The “Under the Sea” Coleus is easy to grow.  It tolerates more sun than some older cultivars of Coleus, and can grow into a good sized plant over the season.

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With the Coleus is a cutting of a dusky purple Petunia I’m growing in baskets this summer.  I like this unusual color, which was the closest I could find to the wonderful gold and purple striped Petunias I grew in baskets last summer.  Sadly, the plants didn’t make it through the winter.  I hope this Petunia will root, as we enjoy it in the vase.

Our Heuchera, or Coral Bells, have bloomed in pots on the deck.  I grow them for their unusual leaves, and these delicate stems of flowers are a bonus from time to time.  The other stems of flowers were cut from Oxalis.

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Finally, I had to add a few little pieces of our Muscadine grape vines, which are such a beautiful shade of green when young and tender.  It is highly unlikely these will root, but I have a place ready for them if they do.  One of the vines I transplanted in early spring has not leafed out, and I cut it back today.

Our mineral today is a cluster of Aqua Aura quartz.

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This is actually clear quartz, which was specially treated to create this unusual blue color.  Our little moonstone turtle sits with the vase, also, as a reminder of the turtle eggs incubating now in our garden.

This is the season when there is always more to do in the garden. 

We’ve both been spending our mornings, into the early afternoon, working outside.  We love this time of year, when the garden is growing so rapidly, but it takes enormous time and energy to keep up with it all.  I stayed a bit too long today out in the hot sun, and so wanted something cool and delicate in our vase indoors.

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Please remember to visit Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden, who sponsors “In A Vase On Monday” each week.  I appreciate her tireless inspiration to cut and arrange home grown flowers, and to encourage other garden bloggers to do the same.   This week she has created a stunning arrangement she calls, “Storm in a Teacup.”  You’ll find many links to other gardeners’ blogs in her comments.

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And remember, you can enjoy beautiful foliage in your vase while it roots.  Just as our gardens find their structure in foliage and accents in flowers; so our arrangements may, as well.

We enjoy both the pleasure of its beauty and the gift of a new plant when we eventually take it all apart.  It is sort of like eating your cake, and having it, too .

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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