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Originally published Friday, December 20, 2013 at 11:05 AM

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To beat the gloom and make the season bright, think white

Even as the sun turns its face away from us, taking its light and warmth with it, white makes the most of any remaining rays. Using plenty of white indoors and out makes up for the lack of sun as best we can.


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IS IT OK, three days before Christmas, to admit how much I prefer white to red and green? Like sunlight, of which we’re sorely deprived, white is composed of all the colors of the spectrum. No wonder it glows.

Holiday red and green, like gravy and stuffing, are just too rich and heavy. I want white lights, white flowers, white candles, white tree bark.

Even as the sun turns its face away from us, taking its light and warmth with it, white makes the most of any remaining rays. Using plenty of white indoors and out makes up for the lack of sun as best we can.

It’s true that decorating with red and green is inspired by nature: Think holly. But since yesterday’s solstice marked the year’s shortest day, surely it makes more sense to take our cue from nature’s palest notes. Just think how our spirits lift with a fresh snowfall or a thick, glittery coating of frost that reflects and magnifies moonlight and sunlight. We need every drop of light we can get this time of year. Our weather may be temperate, but our winters are dark.

A grove of white-trunked birches in a winter landscape is a beautiful sight. On top of Queen Anne Hill there’s a tall, slightly crooked old house that looks as if Pippi Longstocking might live there. It’s painted white, trim and all. The front garden is a grove of nine paper birches (Betula papyrifera). Some are multitrunked, with chalk-white bark peeling so extravagantly you’re tempted to gently pat it back in place. This simple, pale garden shines like a beacon amid the neighbor’s dark evergreens and heavy shrubbery. It looks light and airy in summer, but winter is its finest season.

A few big clumps of Helleborus niger added here and there at the base of the birch trunks would complete the scene. This pure white, large-flowered hellebore is known as the Christmas rose because it’s the earliest of the hellebores to bloom, often opening its flowers in early-December. H. niger is truly a deep-winter perennial, bravely holding its flowers up through ice and snow for a double hit of white.

Indoors, where you can cosset flowers in warmth, there are more choices. Potted plants have such an advantage over cut flowers; they bring life and nature into the house, and they last for many weeks. Prolong their bloom by moving them into a garage or covered porch to stay cool overnight. The warmer the house, the faster the flowers go over.

If you start with a double amaryllis, like the sumptuous ‘Alfresco,’ you don’t need much else. You can pot up these big bulbs in autumn, or take the lazy gardener route like I do and buy them about to pop open. The snowy double flowers are so big and frilly, it’s almost like having a ‘Casablanca’ lily blooming in your house in the middle of winter. Minus the scent, unfortunately.

But you can make up for that with a few little pots of supremely fragrant paperwhite narcissus or a basket of jasmine. The narcissus force quickly and easily (the amaryllis are a little tricky, needing more heat and time to coax them into bloom).

And if you buy the biggest, blooming basket of jasmine you can find, your house will smell like the tropics on cold winter mornings. Now that’s luxury.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle freelance writer. Check out her blog at www.valeaston.com.



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