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A non native juniper branch used in a natural Christmas decoration at the Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel on Thursday, Nov. 20, 2014.

Since the beginning of time, gardens and nature have been a source for our decorating and crafting traditions. Using materials gathered from nature has a term — wild crafting — and is a popular hobby of nature lovers and gardeners.

Holly isn’t the only plant to incorporate into your holiday designs.

Add some Pennsylvania nature into your decorating and brush up on your horticultural knowledge at the upcoming “Holiday Decorating With Native Plants” workshop, sponsored by the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. The two workshops offered will be Dec. 6 and 7 at Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve and Succop Nature Park, respectively.

“In our program, participants will collect native plants on a short walk on our trails, then put together a wall or door decoration that they can take home and decorate with,” says Rachel Handel, communications director for the Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania. “We will have some pre-collected materials to use during the program, such as ribbons and cinnamon sticks.”

Roxanne Swann, native plant-center coordinator for the Audubon, will lead the program.

“I usually have my hands in the dirt,” Swann says. “I have been with Audubon four years and love working far away from a desk.”

“Roxanne will talk about the plants, too — how to grow them, use them in the landscape and how they benefit wildlife,” Handel says.

“Some examples of native plants to Pennsylvania are: Pinus strobus (white pine), Ilex opaca (American holly), Tsuga canadensis (Eastern hemlock) and Ilex glabra (inkberry holly). Cones from these species will also be utilized,” Swann says.

Native plants, which occur naturally in a particular ecosystem or region without any human intervention, are essential for maintaining environmental balance in Pennsylvania.

They provide years of beauty, attract and nourish native wildlife, reduce the need for insecticides and chemical products, and add grace and informal charm to the landscape.

“Participants will learn how native plants attract birds, butterflies and benefit, insects,” Handel says. “Native plants are beautiful, and here at the Audubon Society we have native-plant experts available year-round to answer all your questions.”

Native plants are adapted to the growing conditions where they exist and are easier to grow and require less maintenance.

“Western Pennsylvania has great plant diversity,” Swann says, “I will be guiding and teaching the workshops, and they are suitable for the entire family.

Participants will learn about some of our beautiful native evergreen trees and shrubs that can be used for holiday decorating.

They will learn how to prune branches to help the tree or shrub while collecting materials for decorating. No experience is needed, and the techniques are easy.”

The workshops will run regardless of possible inclement weather.

“Even in the winter, there is interest and wildlife value in a landscape with native plants,” Swann says.

“The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania’s mission is to connect people to birds and nature through our programs, projects and places. We have three ‘places’ open to the public: Beechwood Farms Nature Reserve in Fox Chapel, Succop Nature Park in Butler and the Todd Nature Reserve in Sarver,” Handel says. “Each reserve is unique and beautiful and features hiking and walking trails.”

Todd Nature Reserve is on 176 acres and was the first reserve of the organization. Succop Nature Park is the newest public property acquired by the Audubon.

“It has two ponds, a historic mansion (owned by the Succop family, who once resided there) and newly renovated outdoor spaces for weddings and rentals,” Handel says.

Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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