Hands down, the number one plant I use for wintertime arrangements is the bare, cold-kissed foliage of deciduous huckleberry. A native plant that many take for granted because it’s plenty common to our local Northwest forests; it’s long been one of my favorites. I don’t care much for its late summer berries, which I find a tad bitter, but my niece picked and ate handfuls this year, finding them sweet and irresistible. The birds relish them, and judging by the mounds of what I believe to be bear scat left in my garden this autumn, they are appreciated by larger wildlife, too.
In spring, the tiny, rounded new leaves are the most heavenly shade of green—equivalent to a paint swatch called “fresh” and when hit by spring sunshine, simply glow. But it’s in winter that I think the woody shrub is most evocative. Once it drops its leaves, the minute leaf buds lend the branchlets a hint of a zig zag. I love the fine tracery of the thin twigs.
When grown in full sun the bare branches color up claret or even plum. I dress the house and patio for the holidays with the branches used in swags, centerpieces and other arrangements. The braches have an understated beauty and combine well with conifer greens and both fresh and dried flowers the rest of the year. Currently I have a single branch paired with feathers in a wine bottle and a more effulgent arrangement in Czech blown glass vase. They’ll last until I tire of them.
The last swags I made by tying handfuls of the brushy deciduous huckleberry branches together with wire lasted for about 3 years until the hanging and re-hanging did them in. I have tall vases of dried huckleberry branches that don’t get handled that are at least 8 years old and still look fine. When the branches desiccate, the red tones drain out of them, and they spend their days a mild and pleasant brown. If you uplight them with a little votive or squat pillar, the shadowy effect on a nearby wall is quite neat.
Vaccinium parviflorum is a woody shrub that grows in both sun and dense shade. Reaching 8’ in time, they are often found rooted in the rich decay of a rotting stump or nurse log. In full sun, the autumn leaf coloration is a saturated red, making this shrub an all around beauty for the garden and for the vase.
© Colleen Miko, 2012