Here’s what’s blooming in town this week to make your walks more enjoyable
Amidst the fluctuations of the weather, certain parts of our gardens tend to retain more warmth than others. South facing walls, especially if protected from northerly winds, are sun pockets where snow melts more quickly and flowers bloom earlier in spring and continue longer in fall. Next to a brick or stone foundation that retains heat, you may find flowers even now that are still blooming or which hold onto vestiges of fall foliage. Brick walls, stone and pavement collect heat from the sun during the day. Birds and other wildlife seek out these areas to keep warm and to look for seeds and fruits through the winter.
Wreaths on the doors and decorated trees seen through the windows say “’Tis the season to be jolly!” A large group of Saugonians gathered on Dec. 1 to make wreaths at the workshop sponsored by the Saugus Garden Club, and many of these can now be seen on doors of homes around town. As mentioned last year, most wreaths are made of balsam fir (Abies balsamea) or Fraser fir (Abies fraseri) branches, but many other evergreen species also can work well if you have trees and shrubs in your yard that would benefit from some pruning! Using a mix of greens provides attractive textures, and in looking around your garden you may see other materials to add as embellishments – for example, rose hips (Rosa spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.) sprigs, fuzzy gray foliage of dusty miller (Jacobaea maritima, formerly called Senecio cineraria) or red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) branches. Bells, Santa faces, sparkling balls and other ornaments as well as bows can also add a distinctive personality to a wreath or swag. While plain wreaths are available at the garden centers, and wreaths are not difficult to make if you have a wreath frame or even a wire coat hanger, a swag is even simpler. Just fasten some branches together, add a bow or other decoration and hang it on the door.
Kelly’s Roast Beef has two enormous wreaths, almost certainly the largest in Saugus, with bright red velvet bows and white lights. These wreaths are over 6′ across. Kelly’s in Saugus is part of the small chain which started in 1951 at Revere Beach, and the Saugus location has many nostalgic photographs of Revere Beach from that time period inside its restaurant.
Balsam fir (Abies balsamea) is native to the colder parts of North America, and while its range does extend into Massachusetts it is usually found primarily in higher elevations here. It is far more common as you travel northward, and most balsam fir trees grown as Christmas trees are in northern New England and Canada, while here and farther south the trees are often Fraser fir (Abies fraseri). The two are so similar that botanists continue to argue over whether they should be separate species or whether they are regional variants of the same species. They both have a similar scent, although it is generally agreed to be stronger in the balsam fir rather than Fraser fir. The arrangement of needles on the branches is fuller and thicker looking on Fraser fir, which often leads to this species being preferred when judged by appearance alone. In New England, these two trees are the most popular as Christmas trees, while others may be more popular in other parts of the country. Pines (Pinus spp.) keep their needles longer indoors in dry conditions, but they lack the intense fragrance, and their longer needles may make hanging ornaments more of a challenge.
Douglas fir (Psedotsuga menziesii) is very popular in the west, and while it somewhat resembles true firs in appearance, it lacks the “Christmas tree smell.” The balsam fir fragrance is considered so iconic that candles and room sprays that give off a balsam fir scent are very popular at this time of year and extensively used in homes where the trees are artificial or other tree species are used as the Christmas tree. Even dried needles, such as those used in what are often called “pine pillows,” can emit the fragrance for years – pine pillows are not usually made from pine but contain crushed balsam fir needles.
Editor’s Note: Laura Eisener is a landscape design consultant who helps homeowners with landscape design, plant selection and placement of trees and shrubs, as well as perennials. She is a member of the Saugus Garden Club and offered to write a series of articles about “what’s blooming in town” shortly after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. She was inspired after seeing so many people taking up walking.