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.
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.