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Green Acre #361: Magnolias Take a Bough

Magnificent magnolia kissing balls punctuate a porch in Raleigh, North Carolina. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

By Stephanie Cavanaugh

MAKING MAGNOLIA-LEAF balls is the kind of activity that is beyond me. However, I am happy to tell you that it is easier to do than you might think, unless you are me, in which case, as I’ve just said, it’s an activity that’s beyond me. 

Ask me to arrange flowers in a vase and I’m brilliant. Ask me to fidget with snippers and stick things evenly anywhere and it’s not going to happen. 

The Prince and I were in Raleigh, North Carolina, last week, visiting our Baby and her Personal Prince Pete to celebrate our devastatingly handsome and brilliant grandson Wesley’s second birthday. He now says Shit! What a little treasure. 

Along for the ride was MK, Baby’s Mother-in-Law, who shares with me a fondness for Popeyes, though she prefers spicy. Thankfully we can have it both ways.  

It was MK and Baby who requested this column. We’d been driving around Oakwood, a historic neighborhood near downtown Raleigh filled with a mix of 19th- century homes, most with fine front porches. There are Victorian gingerbreads, Queen Anne’s, four-squares and cottages; all beautifully kempt, colorfully painted, with delightful gardens. The sort of place where spring is a flower show, Halloween is a decorating extravaganza, and the Christmas Candlelight Tour is a very big deal.  

An award for something hangs beside the front door of a grand Victorian on a main avenue. I would tell you what the award is for, but I didn’t notice it until I was back home in DC and I can’t make out the writing on the photo. The pale purple house with its khaki trim and teal shutters is nestled in evergreens. A wide front porch wraps the house, with Carolina jasmine smothering the railings and columns.

This year it’s done up with mammoth balls of magnolia leaves, topped with huge hot-pink bows and hung from the porch roof by (presumably) chains covered in scrunched-up hot-pink fabric, that extra fillip that subtly hollers, Top that,  plebeians.    

The second-floor railing takes it completely over-the-top with stars made of gilded magnolia roped together with what appears to be a garland of perfectly draped laurel leaves—oh, please tell me it’s fake—and wreaths with a flourish of hot-pink ribbons in the upper windows.    

I crept up with my camera and snapped the porch. MK complained that I got the back of a chair in the shot, but though I was tempted, I did not rearrange the furniture. What a spot. And those balls, those balls.

Never mind the back of the chair! This Raleigh, North Carolina, porch is magnificent. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

While I’d be willing to bet there was a fine florist’s hand involved in these specimens, they are not particularly difficult to re-create. If, as I mentioned earlier, you are not me, all you need is a foam ball of some girth, a bunch of leaves (perhaps you have a friend with a magnolia tree that you can pillage), snippers, a couple of hooks, a length of chain and ribbon—plus some matching fabric for the scrunchy chain cover. 

Snip clusters of leaves, leaving a couple of inches of stem intact. Jab stem into Styrofoam. Repeat until the ball is tightly packed with leaf clusters. Stick hook in top, attach chain, tie a huge bow, somehow or other make a scrunchie, put it on the chain. Add a hook to the top. Suspend from ceiling or porch or whatnot. Done!

Those beautifully shaped magnolia balls in Raleigh were fantastic, but they require a certain degree of precision and patience. However, a quick Google search under “kissing balls”* showed how you can freestyle something splendid with tree trimmings, pine cones, mistletoe, flowers and various ornaments.  

Michaels has 9.6-inch balls that customers say work perfectly. In fact, one stop at the craft center will yield all the supplies you need.

Except the house.    

*And here I thought kissing balls were only mistletoe. 

A grand Victorian in Raleigh, North Carolina, made even grander by its Christmas decor. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

10 thoughts on “Green Acre #361: Magnolias Take a Bough

  1. Chris Miller says:

    Just fantastic shots, Stephanie. As always, your creativeness with words makes it easy to imagine what you have described.

  2. Bonnie Mitchell says:

    Too much work, thought & creativity for me! Surely their garden attendants took care of it. But love that Wesley is learning to use interesting words.
    Thanks for the tour of NC – you make me smile every time you set your “pen” to “paper”. ❤️

  3. stephanie cavanaugh says:

    Sarah! Miss you too. And MK, well, here’s to Popeyes.

  4. Sarah von der Lippe says:

    Loved reading this! Loved reading your writing! Need to remember to come read you more often because you never fail to make me think and smile. Miss you!

  5. Mary K Weddle says:

    It was an amazing house, and, Stephanie, you have captured it perfectly! Both photos and prose! The tour in Raleigh was so festive – a regular cornucopia of color! The long lines of people waiting to get inside the homes confirmed their creativity was at a Level 10! Great to tour with the Expert Gardener and now to receive the how-to’s on the magnolia balls. I’m rushing to Michael’s now … Happy Holidays, MK

  6. stephanie cavanaugh says:

    Maggie — it IS that sort of porch. Really tempting but didn’t think the homeowners would appreciate it. And Jeanie — do people live there? YES! And how I envy them.

  7. stephanie cavanaugh says:

    Kitty! What a pleasure to hear from you. If you actually do this, I’d love to see the results — so would everyone else, I’d bet. Next column I’ll keep you in mind as I write… Have a wonderful holiday. Stephanie

  8. Jean Gordon says:

    Lovely, I never saw this decor before, nice change from the usual wreaths. Do people live there? Very orderly and clean. No kids, dogs, food, drinks. Keep writing.

  9. Maggie Hall says:

    Seeing the back of the chair is fine. It makes me want to dive onto that porch and take a seat…..

  10. Kitty Larkins says:

    Hi Stephanie, I look forward to your column every Thursday. It is like receiving a note from an amusing friend. I live in the south with a big magnolia in the side garden and have a porch where these would look perfect. Thanks.

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