One of my favorite sites all winter long is a row of windowboxes or a big urn on the front porch stuffed with greens. You can add some lights during the holidays or use white lights all winter long. Because these containers stay cold the greens usually last all winter.
For the greens, there are quite a few different textures and colors. Long, soft, white pine needles, prickly red cedar, flat aromatic white cedar (which often develops an orangish cast in winter), dark blue-green spruce and classic balsam fir are all native plants and quite common.
The berries that work the best for me are the blue berries from our native red cedar that grows in pastures and along fence lines. Winterberry, found near swamps but also used in landscape plantings, is another berry that lasts a while. Both work best if you clip off a good section of the branch where they are attached.
There are some deciduous trees and shrubs with attractive branches that make a nice addition as well, adding some contrast in texture and form. Consider red-stemmed dogwood, burningbush or corkscrew willow
Everyone loves the look of birch bark but please, do not peel it off living trees! Birches are frequently knocked down by high wind so I can usually find plenty of birch limbs on the ground. I've seen "to-from" tags made from birch bark and even ribbons made by tearing the bark into thin strips.
If you don't have woods or a yard of your own there are several places to purchase fresh greens and boughs. Check with your local garden centers, florists and greenhouses, and any place that grows Christmas trees or makes wreaths.
Amy Ivy is executive director of Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. CCE offices may be reached in Clinton County at 561-7450 and Essex County at 962-4810. More information may be found on-line at ecgardening.cce.cornell.edu or by sending an e-mail to a Master Gardener volunteer at askMG@cornell.edu.