Garlands And Gum Trees

Garlands And Gum Trees

A previous owner of my house loved the color brown. The outside is painted two shades of mocha. The kitchen has brown print wallpaper and brindle-toned tiles on the counters. The upstairs study features walls strewn with brown paisleys. The TV room is engulfed by something that can only be described as cocoa-colored pseudo-Egyptian patterned wallpaper.

I have nothing against brown. I love fertile, loamy dark brown soil (and I wish I had more of it in my garden) and the varied brown shades of tree bark. I like the rich color of old mahogany and sinful taste of dark chocolate. I do not, however, like all the brown that is on the walls of my house, and bit by bit, I plan to get rid of it. But until the brown is completely exorcised, I have to distract myself, especially in the kitchen where the sepia tones are the most egregious.

To facilitate that distraction, I have filled the non-working kitchen fireplace with a large cream-colored vase full of dried eucalyptus branches. They are so fragrant that every time I walk into the room, the eucalyptus scent fills my nostrils and elevates my senses beyond the realm of brown. The redeeming power of that eucalyptus makes me realize how much value there is in something that is almost as common as junk mail and corn chips.

The eucalyptus in my vase is probably Eucalyptus cinerea, also known as Silver Dollar Plant. It has, in the words of one catalog, “round, silvery leaves, pierced through the center by stems. If you have spent any time at all in hobby or craft shops, you know that this particular species of eucalyptus is both inexpensive and readily available. If you browse the mail order catalogs you will notice that when combined with other dried materials inwreathes and swags, eucalyptus can be transformed into something that commands premium prices.

Most people know three facts about eucalyptus: it smells good; it is used in cough drops, cold rubs and other such over the counter nostrums; and it is the favored food of the cute and cuddly Australian koala bear. Most people probably don’t know that you can grow your own if you choose to.

Eucalyptus cinerea is actually only the tip of the eucalyptus iceberg. Hortus Third, that indispensable reference book, notes that there are over 522 species of eucalyptus and over 150 varieties. Most of the species are native to Australia and Tasmania, and many grow into large trees. Eucalyptus globulus, also known as the Blue Gum Tree, is the main source of the medicinal eucalyptus oil that is so helpful for stuffy heads and clogged nostrils. Noted for its antiseptic qualities, the oil can also be prepared with other ingredients and taken internally to combat fevers.

Eucalyptus citriodora, the Citron-Scented Gum tree, is, as the name suggests, a source of a lemon-scented oil that is used in perfumes, soaps and other fragrance products. Another member of the same family, Eucapyptus Sturtiana, reportedly smells like ripe apples.

Even if you love the scent of eucalyptus, you probably can’t accommodate a large tree that would have to be overwintered inside your house.  fortunately, you can obtain seeds for both the highly ornamental eucalyptus cinerea and its cousin, Eucalyptus ficifolia, and grow them in containers that can be moved indoors when it turns cold outside. According to the mail-order seed supplier, the cinerea species is “fast-growing” but can be “pruned to the desired height.” A little exertion with the pruning shears could yield lots of raw material for wreaths, swags, and garlands while saving the hassle and mileage that you might otherwise spend going to the crafts store to obtain them.

The ficifolia (fig-leafed) species boasts “showy panicles of red flowers” and alluring rough-hewn bark. In contrast to cinerea, it is described as “slow-growing”. Chances are, with judicious top and root pruning, it could fit comfortably in a large pot for a long time. The people who design and manufacture those big pots on wheels undoubtedly intended them for just such situations.

The best thing about dried Eucalyptus cinerea is that it is the perfect decorative accessory for lazy people like me. Add some holly and a red ribbon around the vase, and it is perfect for Christmas. After the holidays, remove the holly and the red ribbon and substitute some dried statice and strawflowers for an arrangement that will work through spring. When summer arrives, use the eucalyptus as a filler in fresh arrangements. After Labor Day mingle it with some dried bittersweet or Chinese lanterns. It always works. In fact, eucalyptus may just be the little black dress or conservative dark suit of the horticultural world.

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