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Whether creating an arrangement for a window box, urn or other weatherproof container, “Let your imagination run wild,” says Paul Zammit of the Toronto Botanical Garden.Paul Zammit

'Make it personal; make it your own." That's the advice Paul Zammit of the Toronto Botanical Garden offers anyone wanting to put a little fa-la-la-la-la finery on their doorstep this holiday season.

Whether creating an arrangement for a window box, urn or other weatherproof container, "Let your imagination run wild," he says. "Add a lantern for evening light, or seed heads from the garden." Whatever you use, be sure to insert accents such as cones and spheres so they appear to be part of the arrangement, otherwise they'll seem to float in the air, looking like orbiting planets, he cautions.

Before beginning, though, take a look at the surroundings, Zammit advises. Consider the colour of the brick of the house, the front door and the container you're using, he says. Branches of southern magnolia leaves, with their velvety brown undersides, can connect the arrangement with a stained wooden door or the rusty patina of a container. He uses the same technique when selecting evergreen boughs. If there's a blue or silver evergreen tree growing in the yard, he'll choose branches of silver or noble fir that echo those colours. These are two of his favourite materials, along with white pine, cedar (the types with cones) and eucalyptus (with seeds, of course).

For winter appeal that extends beyond the holiday season, Zammit selects a rich variety of greens and accents. "A minimum of three different types of fresh greens will provide a diversity of texture and colour," he says. Items symbolic of the holiday season, such as holly berries that can fade and shrivel like raisins by New Year's, can be carefully cut from the arrangement and removed once the holidays are over.

Zammit also uses twigs and branches of dogwood, willow and birch to give the design some density and height. These are airy enough that they won't block the wind and topple the arrangement.

The arrangement can be prepared in a plastic or fibre pot that's slightly smaller than the decorative container. Sand helps keep the boughs in place. "It's dense enough to support the stems of the evergreen boughs and it provides some weight, too," he says. At home, though, Zammit uses composted manure instead of sand. "In the spring, when I take apart the arrangement, I spread the manure on the garden as a soil amendment."

When complete, the plainer pot can be inserted inside the pretty outer container. "But please, please," he says, "it's important that the rim of the plastic or fibre pot is not visible!" So, place it deeply enough into the container that the boughs hide the insert. "And think about where the container will be placed," he says. Be careful that branches don't extend so far out that they get caught in the coats and clothing of passersby.

Finally, use the same types of greens and accents from the container design for a wreath on the door. "This creates a connection that completes the picture."

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