EARLEVILLE — When the Greenfingers Garden Club began gathering at the Mount Harmon Plantation about 12 years ago to make decorative greens for the holidays, they set out to bring a bit of Colonial Williamsburg-style wreaths and decorations to Cecil County.
“We started talking about wanting to do a Christmas event and how special what they did at Williamsburg was,” said Paige Howard, executive director of the Friends of Mount Harmon.
After an initial workshop, Howard said the members discovered a passion for making the decorations.
“They loved it and enjoyed making them and realized they could do enough to decorate the manor house,” she said.
Greenfingers Garden Club President Glenda Carpenter said the club met Thursday to craft wreaths, medallions, table centerpieces and other arrangements with greenery sourced from Mount Harmon’s campus. Then, the club members decked the halls of the manor house with their creations for Mount Harmon’s Yuletide Festival on Saturday and Sunday.
Carpenter’s favorites arrangements are the medallions.
Unlike the wreaths, which have a hole in the middle, the medallions have greens covering their entire surface. That formation allows the crafter to use their imagination more with placing the materials, according to Carpenter.
“You get to use your creativity more on these,” she said.
Materials for the decorations include boxwood, magnolia, lotus pods, flowers, grasses, berries, pine cones, pheasant and owl feathers, oyster shells and other items found either on Mount Harmon’s 200-acre nature preserve or reminiscent of the Chesapeake region.
Carpenter said one year they even had arrangements that incorporated monkey balls, the colloquial name for the fruit of the Maclura pomifera tree.
“One year, one lady took them and sliced them and baked them and dried them out and used them,” she said.
A new addition to the Yuletide Festival this year were kissing balls — greens arranged in spheres that are meant to be hung in one’s home and kissed under as part of a tradition similar to that of mistletoe.
“They’re very simple but everybody loves them because they’re colorful and you can just hang them anywhere in your home,” Carpenter said.
Carpenter said she enjoys the assembly process, but her favorite part is getting to transform the manor house with the greens that the club has created on the days of the Yuletide Festival.
“To me, when we’re up in the education center making them, it’s just a bunch of ladies standing around talking and things start to come together. Then, at the end of the day it’s all laid out and it’s just beautiful,” she said. “But then when it gets in this house, it takes on a whole new look.”
In Mount Harmon’s colonial kitchen, volunteer Pat Cox treated attendees to colonial treats like hearth-baked apple cake and wassail, an apple cider-like drink containing spices such cloves, allspice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
People may imagine colonists cooking over a fire, but Cox said for most dishes they did not cook directly over a flame.
“Very little is cooked on a flame of the fire,” she said. “We use the embers. Just like when you walk up to your stove and you turn that knob and your burner comes on, we have to use the hot coals. We dig in our fire and bring out our hot coals.”
That is because colonial cooks needed a constant heat that a fire could not provide, according to Cox.
Cox and her late husband had been coming to Mount Harmon for 20 years to collect firewood whenever a tree would be downed. After her husband passed away 10 years ago, Cox saw that Mount Harmon was looking for volunteers for the colonial kitchen and she decided to use cooking to help herself “get out of the doldrums that I was in.”
Cox said she admires how colonial women adapted to different problems or conditions that arose in the kitchen.
“To cook a meal, you had to grate your sugar because it came in a cone … You had to sift your flour because it had stones in it and wheat that didn’t get ground at the mill. You had to get the bugs out,” she said. “It took you an hour just to get your ingredients together.”
Stay tuned in the Cecil Whig throughout the month for more pictures from this and other holiday events.