Soule Garden: For a more festive yule, add a yule log to celebrations - Tucson Local Media: El Sol

Soule Garden: For a more festive yule, add a yule log to celebrations

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Posted: Wednesday, December 9, 2009 12:00 am | Updated: 1:32 pm, Mon Apr 18, 2011.

Face it, plants and people go together. Almost every holiday on earth is celebrated with plants or plant products (food), and the current festivities are no exception.

Here in the great American melting pot, we take parts of celebrations from all the cultures around the world and mix 'em together, creating a rich and heady holiday season.

No matter what culture, plants abound in this season. Solstice is celebrated with fasting, feasting and a special bonfire. Chanukah is celebrated with feasting and latkes and souvgahniot. Kwanzaa specifically includes fresh fruits, libations and a feast.

For many, Christmas simply isn't without a Christmas tree. And of course there is the whole Christmas feast with "traditional" foods like gingerbread men, peppermint candy canes, nutmeg on the eggnog, all manner of spices in the wassail, tamales, chocolate advent calendars, plus cranberry sauce and sage stuffing for the turkey. Poinsettias, mistletoe, Christmas cactus, evergreen wreaths and miscellaneous decorations with holly berries are in there somewhere, too.

So while we are enriching our holidays with customs from around the world, how about adding a yule log? Not the video image of a burning log, I mean a real log.

The name "yule log" comes to us from "across the pond" in the U.K. It is said to derive from an ancient Druidic tradition, and yet a holiday log is found in many cultures, including the Tio de Nadal from the Catalan region of Spain, the Chichilaki from European Georgia, and the Badnjak or Veseljak from Serbia. Whatever the culture or tradition, a holiday log is useful to remind us that even in the darkest, coldest, most desolate time of the year, light, and heat, and warmth is there for us.

In the spirit of that tradition, you could add a log to your holiday celebrations. Even if you don't have a fireplace. It doesn't have to be burned. Its mere presence is a symbol for the light.

And why is this in a gardening column? Because I harvest a "holiday log" from my garden every year. It doesn't have to be a huge log. Most of my "logs" are a bundle of three or four mesquite branches. Each is a inch or so in diameter and about two feet long.

To this I add all manner of decorations. Since I have bundled the branches with a fine wire, it is easy to tuck in all sorts of plants. First I start with a background of evergreens from local landscape plants. Sprigs of blue green juniper, small branches of chartreuse green cedar, and some twigs of bright green eldarica or aleppo pine needles. These evergreens look and smell great.

Next, garnish the log with bright red berries from local

landscape shrubs such as pyracantha or nandina. Pine cones also give a lovely touch. Finish the log with some bright ribbon, and perhaps a festive candle.

The log can be decorated with traditional items from any number of cultures. Add branches from an olive tree (Greece) for peace in the coming year. For a year of prosperity and plenty, add cattail or bulrush (China), some dried wheat sheaves (Bulgaria), dried poppy pods (Kurdistan), and date stalks or pomegranates (Coptic tradition). These are some of the ones I have come across in my wanderings and incorporated into my holiday traditions. There are others, like ivy branches, said to help insure marital fidelity (Italy) or holly for eternal life (United Kingdom).

A few cautions. Nandina and pyracantha berries and all parts of holly and ivy are poisonous to people and pets. All decorations listed can be highly flammable when dried. The evergreens are especially hazardous as they are full of oils. If you do burn your holiday log, I suggest you do it outside in a fire pit. If you have a candle, it can be burned instead of the log but do not leave it burning if you leave the room for even a single second. I am not kidding. Fire is a horrific force and almost as fast as lightning.

Finally, just a little more holiday plant trivia. Tradition has it that the three wise men brought gifts of frankincense and myrrh, both the fragrant sap from rare trees. Gifts so valuable they were ranked right up there with gold as a special offering. Hooray for plants! Wonderful for human celebrations.

It doesn't have to cost much to turn your yard into a pleasing space to relax in. For a personal consultation, or for more information on a five week landscaping class that starts in February, contact Jacqueline at 292-0504. Please leave a voice message.

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