By Stephanie Cavanaugh
THANK YOU for taking that, said the woman, muffled and masked so that only her screechy voice was identifiable. As I too was muffled and masked, and said nothing at all, I felt invisible.
A good thing as, from that voice, I realized it was someone I detest. As I’m working on my kindness this year, I shall say no more (though my skin crawled at the sound of her screech-screech). I just nodded, more of a cringe, but I think it could be mistaken for a nod, and skittered off.
I was, however, perfectly happy scavenging her leavings, the branches of a cypress tree piled on the curb, detritus from last week’s snowstorm, waiting for the trash trucks.
Such a wealth of branches I was finding, strolling the sidewalks with my granddog, Tallula: Japanese privet with clusters of near-black berries, those frilly cypress, the prickly fir of discarded Christmas trees, glossy magnolia. All neatly embalmed by the cold and heaped on the sidewalks, just asking to be foraged.
Poor dead branch, says another neighbor. So tragic, say I, loading my arms. A florist would charge a fortune for filler like this.
These big leafy branches make for the easiest framework for big leafy arrangements. Cluster a few in a vase or whatnot and boom, you have a tree, or at least a shrub. If you feel so moved, add a few fresh flowers—you won’t need many to make what feels like an extravagant display.
Clip the ends, pull off any leaves at the lower end of the branches so they don’t rot and pop the stems in water. No frogs or fancy tape supports are required. A pair of crossed branches provide all the bracing you need. The greens will be good for a month if you just change the water every week.
I happened to have baby’s breath—gypsophila—left from a holiday arrangement. The white fluffy stuff dries and lasts forever. Poked among the branches, it feels like a miniature snowstorm. When I next traipse out to Trader Joe’s maybe I’ll see if they have gerbera daisies—the brilliant colors and large faces would be jolly. If I’m feeling more romantic, hydrangeas, which also dry well, have a dreamy vibe nestled in the greens. Just three stems of either would be plenty—with big-headed flowers more would probably be overdoing it—which is a good thing, given the cost of fresh flowers.
Clipped branches can also revive window boxes, which tend to look sad around now. If you’ve neglected to plant pansies and cabbages and the whatnots that survive cold weather (if you keep watering), those dirt troughs do little for your home’s curb appeal. But jam a few branches into the soil and—va-voom!—you have presence. Cold weather will keep them looking fresh for several weeks, and you can always replace them after the next storm.