Foraging, Poinsettias, Venice & Dough, that’s what I’m thinking about in this week’s blog.


Foraging for winter decorations is one of my favourite things to do. When the air is crisp with abrilliant blue skyI layer on my fall clothes and head out along our fields. Out of the wind, can be almost balmy.

There is nothing like thick resin smell of a fresh cut pine branch. The startling reds of dogwood twigs and winterberries are the foils to the blues of Juniper berries and Spruce and entice me to gather branches in my garden, gully and along forest edges.

I have been foraging winter decorations for many years. Before rebuilding the Crazy 8 Barn, I spent the pre-Christmas seasons making hundreds of outdoor and indoor arrangements and wreaths to sell at the markets and to my landscaping clients (I know, it’s been a long and winding road!)

We call it greenery, but it runs the gamut from golden yellow, to blue, and all the hues of green with splashes of red from branches and berries.

Today, I will share my expertise with you, to help you enjoy your winter decor whether your forage it or buy it. I have divided my list into items that are good, bad and ugly. Some greenery, like some people, are both good and bad depending on how you care for them. Then, there are the just plain ugly things that you should avoid, no matter what.

The Good:

Pine – all pines, smell lovely, retain their needles and can be harvested throughout the
season. I think they are the best and most versatile and fill in arrangements with their structure. 

Cedar – harvest before first hard frost, usually around Canadian Thanksgiving, store in open garbage bags in total shade and use as needed. This retains the bright green colour. Also check tip of leaves to makes sure there are no brown spots.

Cones – All fallen cones add interest and if you wrap a light wire around the bottom, you can easily stick them into arrangements or tie onto your swags. White pine often have a gummy substance making them messy to work with. Red or Austrian pine are great for rustic arrangements, White Spruce are smaller and good for indoor arrangements and Norway Spruce are large and make an impact. This year’s cone crop tend to close up when moist. Keep them dry for next year and they will be even better.

Spruce – Tips of Blue Spruce from your garden are great for a pop of colour and hold their needles.

False Cypress – this stringy leafed evergreen, whether brilliant gold or green adds nice texture. Selectively prune in your garden.

Juniper – With its bright blue berries or golden accents are great for outdoor urns or swags. Don’t use indoors as it often has a faint odour of cat urine (Yikes!) that is unnoticeable outdoors.

Winterberries – these brilliant red berries are our native deciduous holly-type bush. They stay the nicest if you use them outside. Inside, they last about as long as fresh flowers. You’re lucky if you have them on your property or you can now buy them locally from Hat Trick Farms near Blenheim.

Highbush Cranberry – the native or naturalized shrubs have juicy dark red berries. They last well, but only use them in your outdoor arrangements as they smell like a pile of dirty socks when warm, inside your house.

Holly – Many of us have Holly bushes in our gardens, the females provide the lush red berries and the males can be trimmed back for interesting greenery. Last a long time indoors and out.

Red Twig Dogwood – These shrubs are best if they are trimmed back regularly. The bright red new branches are a holiday tradition. You may find that the twigs have rooted in the Spring when you empty out your winter planter. If you have a moist, shady spot, put them in the ground and you will have red twig dogwood forever.

Magnolia buds – the furry covering of next year’s flower buds add an interesting twist to arrangements. Only cut off branches that you don’t want to bloom in the Spring.

Sand – perfect base for arrangements if you have some available. Make sure to put some layers of newspaper over the holes in the bottom of your pot so that sand does not drain out. Sand freezes hard and heavy so your pots don’t blow around in the wind.

The Bad:

Hard Pruning – Be careful not to cut too many live branches off a shrub so that you damage the shape or future growth of the plant.

Potting Soil – Will be handy as it is likely in a pot already, but becomes light and outdoor urns can blow around. Make sure to secure pots.

Spruce – avoid White Spruce, especially if you are buying an arrangement. They drop their needles early and often.

Sumac seed heads look wonderful in rustic arrangements but can be invasive if not disposed of properly in the Spring.  Spray painting with red paint may reduce seed viability.

Thistles – again, seed heads look great, but can spread thistle seeds around your yard. Spray painting can reduce their viability.

The Ugly:

Disposal – careful disposal by composting or burning can reduce the spread of invasive seeds in the Spring.

Other People’s Property – NEVER cut branches if you don’t own the property or have permission from the owner. Cutting on public property is also discouraged.

Phagmites Plumes – these big grass-like reeds grow in ditches and wetlands and are one of the most invasive and damaging plants in Ontario. DO NOT USE. You cannot control the spread of its seed throughout the season.

Wild Rose Hips – The small red berries look great, but they are restricted in many of the United States as being extremely invasive. They will spread fast growing roses that spread to woodland edges and open meadows.

Good luck in creating beauty with your winter decorations, enjoying the Good and avoiding the Bad and the Ugly.

Happy foraging,


P.S. I have some delightful 24″ X 24″  Barn Quilts available for Christmas presents.  Look on my website to see what’s available .


Featured Barn Quilt Pattern

This is the Poinsettia in foraging, poinsettia, Venice & Dough
I love Poinsettias.  They were such a big part of my growing up. Every year at Christmas time, my great Uncle Jack Spence would deliver the most luscious and huge poinsettias to his family and friends. We knew it was coming but were perennially amazed when the gush of red and green arrived. Uncle Jack’s poinsettia was a focal point of our holiday decorations. When I see this barn quilt, it reminds me of this down-to-earth-man who was such a big part of our family.
The Poinsettia Barn Quilt is based on a Four Row Grid similar to the 8 Point Star.  Its centre square adds a dramatic punch and also makes taping and painting much easier.

This 24″ x 24″ Barn Quilt is available for purchase online.


What I enjoyed Reading …
This is the Venice in Foraging, Poinsettia, Venice & Dough

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt

Some books stay in your heart forever.  Such is the case for me with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  For years that book has left me with an as-yet unsatisfied yearning to visit Savannah, Georgia. When I heard of this book by the same author, John Berendt, I sought it out.  I was not disappointed.

Berendt takes the reader on a voyage through the centuries as Venice is built and then crumbles through time, crime, ineptitude and disinterest.  His journalistic style pulls you into the story in ways that you can’t at first imagine.

Without planning, Berendt arrives in Venice three days after it’s storied opera house, the Fenice, is destroyed by fire.  His recounting of the much-admired glass blower who will not leave his apartment window as sparks and debris from the nearby burning building force the rest of his family to flee is emblematic of the real-life characters Berendt discovers to tell this story of destruction and rebirth.

So many human talents and frailties become part of this book that you feel you have discovered all of Venice at its conclusion.  It too will leave you with a yearning to visit Venice, possibly again.
As always, please purchase this book from an independent book shop or borrow from your local library.  This is a great way to support authors and small businesses.


And here is the final chapter in Foraging, Poinsettia, Venice & Dough.

Pie Dough

Crazy 8 Barn & Garden Recipe of the Week

Crazy 8 Pie Dough

Our pie dough has been getting rave reviews for years. Most people are surprised that it is almost the recipe off the back of the Tenderflake Lard box. The secret ingredient is the baking powder. It gives your pastry just a bit more flakiness. Keep the dough as cold as possible to roll and don’t over work it and keep unused portions covered to keep from drying out. We made this big batch and then formed it into a large brick shape and stored it in the refrigerator for two weeks. This makes approximately 5 pie shells or 4 dozen tart shells. Pastry can be frozen in pie plates or muffin tins for later use.

5 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

1/2 Tbsp. Salt

1 Tbsp. Baking Powder

2 1/3 cups (1 lb.) lard (Cold)

1 egg

2 Tbsp. White Vinegar

Cold Water

We use a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer but you can do this by hand as well.

In a deep bowl of a stand mixer, combine flour salt and baking powder on low speed.

With the mixer on low medium, add cold chunks of lard and mix until it forms pea sized crumbles. DO NOT over mix.

In a measuring cup (at least 2 cup size) beat the egg and add the vinegar. Add enough cold water to make 1 cup and mix again. You can do this step first and store the mixture in the fridge while you combine the other ingredients.

While mixer is running on low, drizzle 1/3 cup of water mixture over the flour. As it moistens the flour, slowly add most of the water mixture. As necessary, add the last couple of Tablespoons of water if needed to make the dough moist, but not sticky.

On a lightly floured surface, bring the dough together with your hands and knead it a couple of times.

Form into a brick shape and place in air tight container or plastic bag in the refrigerator until ready to use.


Lightly flour a clean surface. Dust Rolling pin with flour

Cut a slice 1/5 of the pastry brick. Place dough like a disc in the middle of the floured surface. Roll a few times in different directions. Pick up pastry, move flour around on surface under it, flip pastry over.

Don’t used too much flour, but also don’t allow pastry to stick to rolling pin or surface. It’s better to be a bit aggressive with your rolling rather than rolling lightly for many more times.

Pastry should be about 3/8” thick and 1” bigger around than a 9” pie plate. Fold the pastry in half and gently lift to cover one half of the pie plate. Unfold pastry so that if flops over the edge of the pie plate. Gently press pastry to pie plate’s shape. Cut excess off at the outside edge of the pie plate.

If making pies later, you can place in freezer and stack up to five pie plates deep. Put in a tightly sealed plastic bag or container. When ready to use, take out of the freezer just before filling and bake pie in oven immediately. Do not allow to sit or pastry will become soggy.

Isn’t interesting how foraging, poinsettia, Venice & dough can come all together.