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At Maldonado Farms in Encinitas, Kim Maldonado sells Christmas trees from her farm in Oregon. Photo by Jano Nightingale
ColumnsJano's Garden

Jano’s Garden: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Our family would never have had an artificial Christmas tree. My dad, who was an industrial designer by trade, looked at Christmas as a time when his creativity could flourish.

The most notable holiday decoration in my memory was an antique sleigh hung at the doorway of our suburban Milwaukee home, which was decorated with freshly cut pine boughs and bright red apples. As a teenager,

I never understood the originality of this piece until later in my life as a horticulturist.


So when I met Gary Barnum, former Director of Horticulture at the Clark Foundation in Cooperstown, New York, I was awed at the magic he and his landscaping staff created on the streets of this small historic city. According to a 1997 New York Times story, “They have created it all without a shred of tinsel or a single glass ball, or even a hint of the fellow with the beard. Dried pomegranates, pine cones, thistle heads and seedpods pave surfaces that look like fine Italian inlays.”

A holiday wreath from Maldonado Farms made from eucalyptus and dried flowers. Photo by Jano Nightingale

I set out this week to research and share some of the secrets of extraordinary holiday decorations, and contacted Gary at his home in New York.

Now retired, he was happy to have been remembered for his work, and explained, “We really enjoyed creating an old-fashioned but new holiday look at the same time.

So many hours went into each wreath and we hand-painted natural materials to give them an extravagant look.  A horse chestnut or a walnut painted gold, with a few pomegranates placed on a traditional pine wreath, create a visual look that is memorable.”


When sharing his design secret of “paint it gold,” he referred me to the Golden Artist Colors Co. in New York, whose selection of over 20 varieties of gold paint are suitable for outdoor projects.

Their catalogue is available at, or 607-847-6154, and locally available at Dick Blick stores.

“Sometimes constructing the natural wreath can be tricky, but we used a drill and floral picks to stabilize the fruit, nuts and grasses and eventually you get the hang of it,” said Gary. Detailed design plans can be found on the Martha Stewart website and Etsy.


In search of unusual fruit and plant materials with which to build my wreath, I visited the Carlsbad Farmers Market, held on Wednesdays, where I met Brooke Maldonado from Maldonado Farms in Encinitas.

Her beautiful display of cut flowers wows all passersby at the market, and that day she displayed two elegant wreaths crafted from local eucalyptus.

She had constructed the base of wreath from eucalyptus and used fresh flowers including Billy Buttons, Statice and Blue Thistle to create a natural, holiday alternative to a pine wreath.


Later in the week, I visited the family farm in Encinitas, where Fred and Kim Maldonado offer an outstanding variety of Christmas trees, wreaths and holiday plants. “Our trees come from my farm in Oregon, which are shipped weekly, so we can guarantee their freshness,” Kim said.

She took me on a tour of the greenhouses where the wide variety of Spruce, Cedar, Noble Fir, Blueberry Juniper and Grand Noble are offered in wreaths, swags and trees. “It is important when hanging a wreath outdoors to be aware of the California sun. Be sure to place your wreath in a shady area, or under a doorway, to keep the needles from burning. Also, spray the wreath daily with water to keep it from drying out.”

Maldonado Farms is located at 556 Union Street in Leucadia and the tree lot is open every day from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Their floral products are also available at the Carlsbad Farmers Market on Wednesdays.

I hope I have given you some ideas for your holiday decorations.

I have collected photos of the Gary Barnum Christmas Collection for future crafters, so contact me at [email protected] for ideas! More holiday ideas for you and yours next time!

Jano Nightingale is a horticulturist and former Director of the Cornell Master Gardener Program in Cooperstown, New York. She lives in Vista with her son and works on community gardens in North County.