Get ideas for creating a stunning holiday display in your yard with these tips from the courtyard at Blair House in Washington, D.C.
Would you like your landscape to sparkle for the holidays the way it does for diplomats in D.C.? Learn from garden designer Jon Carloftis, who teamed up with members of the Better Homes and Gardens magazine staff to deck out the courtyard of the nation's guesthouse, the Blair House, using casual, modern materials and regional greenery.
Lightweight twisted-wire balls, resembling oversized snowflakes, repeat the spherical shape and silver colors Carloftis used throughout the elegantly decorated courtyard. Silver does double duty in outdoor Christmas decorating, shining bright and nearly white during daytime hours and shimmering and sparkling at night.
Resource: Metal mesh balls, CB2
Carloftis relied on durable materials, such as stainless steel and wire, for Christmas decorations and hardscape elements, such as the fountain, for in-place focal points. Two sizes of stainless orbs float in the water of the three-tiered fountain. When ice forms, the balls will remain as outdoor decor, frozen in place until winter's end.
Here's a hint: To maximize usability, choose containers and other accents that can withstand changes in temperatures from one season to the next.
Give your outdoor holiday decor a cohesive feeling by relating it to your indoor decor. For example, the large stainless-steel ball on this table and the mesh balls dangling from the trees resemble the shape of silver ball ornaments on Christmas trees inside the Blair House.
Resource: Stainless-steel ball, CB2
Add a covering of fresh greens to horizontal surfaces to add interest and color through the winter season. On this wrought-iron courtyard table, a silver ball nestles inside a wreath of boxwood (Buxus sempervirens) roping. It provides a pretty vignette for visitors using the exterior spaces during seasonable weather.
Here's a hint: Classic decorations such as these give you more for your money. Both this greenery and ornament can remain in place once the Christmas season is over, adding sparkle to the landscape until spring. Just be sure to remove holiday-specific accents -- ribbons, for example, or pops of green or red.
It's easy to overdo decor. Carloftis exercised minimalist restraint in the courtyard, relying on just three kinds of greenery (ivy, boxwood, magnolia), a burst of color, and shimmering accents. Red winterberries (Ilex verticillata) and luscious magnolia branches (Magnolia grandifloras) spill from the center of built-in pillars. During the day, simple boxwood wreaths stand out against the white brick wall; at night, the wreaths and courtyard evergreens are lit to provide classic Christmas twinkle.
An easy way to make an impact with any interior or exterior design is to choose one shape and a single material but vary the size to provide visual relief. It's a subtle trick favored by many professional designers. Here, see-through wire balls hang in bare tree branches and resemble oversize snowflakes. At night, spotlights trained toward the trees enhance the snowfall effect.
Rely on regional, natural materials for outdoor decorating accents at Christmastime. For example, use cut ornamental grasses accented with red orbs in window boxes. Opt for materials that provide as much color (such as these red native winterberry branches) or shine as possible, as well as weather-tough pieces that withstand challenging elements.
Carloftis put existing hardscape elements in the courtyard to work as backdrop for the outdoor Christmas decorations. He filled sturdy urns and planters with holiday-specific accents and colors and randomly placed silver orbs along paths. The orbs are held in place with tacky wax or zip ties formed into circular bases.
When it comes to Christmas decorating, the view from outside the house is often just as important as the view from inside. Here, boxwood shrubs provide a tidy evergreen frame for the courtyard. Carloftis used cut boxwood branches for wreaths to fill in blank spaces on the white brick wall. The same greenery repeats in a swag on the upper terrace.
Make holiday magic at night with lights. Here, the simplicity of materials and forms in the courtyard shines through. The same rules apply to outdoor Christmas decorating as they do to year-round gardening: Use mass and repetition for beauty and consistency. White lights, for example, play off the silver orbs and wire balls. Round wreaths relate to the shiny objects because of their shape.
Garden designer Jon Carloftis, owner of Fine Gardens, has created outdoor spaces across the country, from Manhattan rooftops to rural Maryland farms. He is author of several books, including Beyond the Windowsill (Cool Springs Press, 2007). "When you decorate outside in the garden, you need to have a plan, just as you would inside," Carloftis says. "Pick a shape you like and run with it."