Decking the W&M halls

  • Festooned Statue
    Festooned Statue  The Lord Botetourt statue is festooned with a cheerful wreath and candlelight shines forth from the Wren's venerable windows: It's holiday time at William & Mary.  Photo by Graham Bryant '13
  • Greenhouse Poinsettias
    Greenhouse Poinsettias  Ben Owens, the College's greenhouse supervisor, oversaw the production of over 300 poinsettias for distribution across campus.  Photo by Stephen Salpukas
  • Botetourt's Wreath
    Botetourt's Wreath  The wreath on the Lord Botetourt statue is made from plants found on campus; the Wren's 1693 weather-vane is visible in the center.  Photo by Graham Bryant '13
  • President's Wreath
    President's Wreath  The wreath on the President's House was made using Southern Magnolia, cones from various evergreens, Leyland Cypress sprigs, and Nandina berries alongside other materials taken from plants growing on campus  Photo by Graham Bryant '13
  • President's Wreath
    President's Wreath  The fruits on the wreath were all purchased from local sources, while the berries and conifer cones are from campus itself.  Photo by Graham Bryant '13
  • American Holly
    American Holly  The holly used in the Yule Log Ceremony is taken from patches of American Holly growing on campus, like this one by the Rev. James Blair statue.  Photo by Graham Bryant '13
  • Wren Candle
    Wren Candle  Ancient campus forms the backdrop for this candle, one of many illuminating the Wren Building's windows.  Photo by Graham Bryant '13
Photo - of -

The Lord Botetourt statue is festooned with a cheerful wreath and candlelight shines forth from the Wren’s venerable windows: It’s holiday time at William & Mary.

The College’s grounds and gardens crews have been hard at work over the past week decorating campus for the holiday season. Far from typical store-bought holly boughs and plastic wreaths, however, nearly all of the decorations adorning campus locales are produced on campus.

“It’s a very easy place to get fresh greens for holiday decorations. We have a lot to choose from,” said John McFarlane, associate director of grounds and gardens for the College.

{{youtube:medium:left|TNUROtYo8V4, Adorning the campus with poinsettias}}

The fruits of W&M’s campus go into all manner of decorations, most of which are displayed on Ancient Campus, the section of campus containing the President’s House, the Brafferton, and the historic Wren Building.

According to McFarlane, this year’s wreaths—ornamenting the President’s House as well as the Lord Botetourt statue—were made using Southern Magnolia, cones from various evergreens, Leyland Cypress sprigs, and Nandina berries alongside other materials taken from plants growing on campus.

“We always try to use natural materials for our Christmas decorations, and we have so much available that’s fresh and not shipped from anywhere,” said McFarlane.

Sometimes, however, the decorators need materials not readily available on campus, as with the fruit needed to complete the wreaths.

In these situations, the decorators try to acquire materials from local sources. McFarlane noted that the fruits used in the wreaths were purchased at local stores.

A campus-grown plant is also at the center of a cherished W&M tradition: the Yule Log Ceremony.

According to McFarlane, the sprigs of holly given to each student to burn in the Wren’s Great Hall fireplace are taken from the multiple patches of American Holly growing on campus.

The multitude of poinsettias that appear in buildings across campus are among the most noticeable symbols of the season, but they’re grown by one of the College’s least visible departments.

Sequestered in his office behind the Law School, Greenhouse Supervisor Ben Owen is responsible for the plants that decorate campus not only for the holidays, but throughout the year.

In the greenhouse, Owen oversees the production of a crop of poinsettias during the fall semester, maturing just in time for the holiday season.

Noting that the 500 poinsettia cuttings the College produces each year arrive in the heat of summer, Owen said, “I love when they come in because they’re the promise of cooler temperatures…This is one of my favorite times of the year.”

The poinsettia crop grown on campus each year reaches maturity just in time for the holiday season, at which point Owen’s team delivers them across campus to the various buildings for the whole community to enjoy.

First on Owen’s list is the President’s House, where the poinsettias decorate the building’s numerous fireplaces.

“It’s always special to us to do the decorations over there and to be able to go in and see them and the poinsettias,” he said.

After that, the president’s offices receive the plants before the remaining poinsettias are distributed to the various campus offices and even the library—“so the students can enjoy them,” Owen notes.

Owen believes the College’s decision to produce most of its holiday decorations in-house sets W&M apart.

“I think we are very special to have the greenhouse operations here and to be able to grow the poinsettias and whatnot. A lot of universities just buy their stuff in. We’re able to do a better product and grow quality material because we have this operation,” he said.

“You’re just not going to see it around. I think we’re very privileged to have this operation here, and that’s why it’s so special to me…I have the best job on campus.”