Leaves, feathers, twigs, cotton, okra, moss and seeds — those ingredients and more help make the merriest of Christmases for those attending the annual Alabama Governor’s Mansion Christmas Candlelight Tours the first three Mondays in December.
The Monday Morning Mansion Garden Group (MMMGG) began creating a popular attraction three years ago when the volunteers were asked to decorate one of several trees that adorn the governor’s mansion and Farley-Hill House located next door.
“We use just about anything to make ornaments,” said Prattville’s Jane McCarthy, a master gardener and MMMGG volunteer. “I can’t really tell you where the ideas for ornaments come from. There are several of us who’ve been making our own ornaments for years. Inspiration comes from everywhere. It’s hard for me to walk around outside and not look for things to use.”
MMMGG’s artistic, inventive gardeners hail from the Autauga County Master Gardener Association, Central Alabama Master Gardener Association (CAMGA) in Elmore County and the Capital City Master Gardener Association in Montgomery.
For its inaugural decorating task, the group decorated a wisteria vine tree in the mansion’s sunroom. Hand-painted gourds and other natural nuggets highlighted that tree. Last year, they decorated a fir tree in the Farley-Hill House library. It was adorned with all-natural ornaments.
“A lot of the ornaments are made from things we find in our yards,” said McCarthy, a retired horticulturist formerly employed by Maxwell Air Force Base. “Leaves make beautiful angel wings. Lichen makes a delicate collar around the angel’s neck, and Spanish moss makes her hair. Her body might be a pod of okra or a pine cone.”
The group of master gardeners began volunteering at the mansion in October 2013 after McCarthy approached former first lady Dianne Bentley about proper pruning and weeding in the mansion’s gardens.
“It was a big task, but our group loved the idea of helping make our state mansion’s gardens beautiful,” McCarthy said.
Each Monday, four to six volunteers typically show up to prune, pull weeds or plant flowers.
“Our group was thrilled when we were asked to decorate a tree the first year,” McCarthy said. “Then when we came back last year, we really tried to make our ornaments special. Some of our group served as docents. People kept stopping during the tour wanting to know where to buy the ornaments on our tree.”
Some guests were disappointed when they learned the ornaments weren’t for sale.
“But I did tell them how they could make them,” McCarthy said smiling. “With some imagination, a hot glue gun, some wire and patience, they’re not that hard to make.”
This year, the group will have a larger tree in the Farley-Hill House dining room.
Sandy Rosamond of Wetumpka is a CAMGA member and mansion volunteer. Decorating a Christmas tree seen by thousands of visitors is exciting, she said.
“We have so much fun making the decorations, and everyone has different talents when it comes to making ornaments,” Rosamond said. “We’re especially excited because we’re going to make topiaries for some of the tables this year.”
In addition to decorations at the mansion and Farley-Hill House, visitors can enjoy live choir performances and sample Alabama-made goods at the gift shop. Guests also can listen to live music performed by different children’s choirs each night on the mansion staircase. Admission is free, and tickets are available at the gift shop at 30 Finley Ave. in Montgomery across the street from the mansion’s side entrance.
Mansion Tour Coordinator Nicole Owens said there will be 11 trees decorated in the mansion and eight in the Farley-Hill House. Decorating and opening the mansion each year at Christmas is a special experience, she said.
“This is the people’s home, and we want the people of Alabama to see it and enjoy it at Christmas,” Owens said. “The tour is family-oriented, festive and free. It’s a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.”