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Gourdian Angels, Living Wreaths, and More Decorating from the Garden

by Nel Newman

Fall can be a bittersweet time of year for gardeners. Young trees slow their summer growth, vegetables and fruits ripen as the days shorten, and flowers go directly to seed. Maybe that’s why people love to bring a bit of the fall garden indoors for decorating from now through the holidays. Take our ideas and let them be grist for the mill of your imagination.

Gourds. Those gourds the kids grew on the old swing-set this summer can be used fresh or dry. If birdhouse or turk’s turban is just now ripe in your garden, put a new face on them for Halloween. Painting instead of carving lasts longer, and the gourds make a colorful centerpiece for weeks. Use acrylic paint and spray on a clear topcoat.

To dry gourds for use as birdhouses and other decorations, cut (don’t pull) gourds off the vine before the first frost. Cured slowly without shellac or wax, gourds develop hard shells that last virtually forever. Each one needs air circulation, so stand or hang in a warm, dry place, and turn them weekly to prevent mold where the gourd touches any surface. After about a month, or when the gourd begins to lose its natural waxiness, you can add metal wings and a halo. Voila! a ‘gourdian angel’; I’ve heard these described as ‘kitchen witches for the garden’, a good luck symbol every garden can use. Once the gourds are completely dried, you can cut holes to make a birdhouse, hollow out a dipper, or paint Santa on a bushel gourd and elves on smaller ones.

Dried Wreaths. An autumn harvest of nuts makes a super wreath and it begins with a simple flat styrofoam circle. Choose small ones to encircle candles and larger ones (up to 10" [25.4 cm]) to hang on doors and walls. Pick or purchase a variety of nuts and spray them with a clear topcoat. Tear pieces of a brown grocery bag and cover the styrofoam to make a natural brown background. Next attach a thin gold ribbon to the back of the ring. You’ll use this to wind and wrap among the nuts as you hot glue them on to the ring and the brown paper collar. A clever design uses big, curved brazil nuts flanked by smaller filberts and colorful almonds in a pattern on each side.

Living Wreaths. Make one of those popular living wreaths now for a dramatic traffic stopper all winter long. The simplest of these starts with a tubular circle of oasis, also called floral foam. Soak the foam and cover it with at least 1" (2.54 cm) of wet sphagnum moss pressed into shape for growing small ivy plants all around. Use a pencil to poke planting holes in the wreath. The smaller the rooted cuttings, the easier they’ll be to plant. Use a spray bottle and tap water to keep it moist between weekly soakings in a half strength fertilizer bath. Once covered in its green glory, a living ivy wreath can really soar when you add ribbons, balls, even beads and feathers in holiday colors.

Dish Gardens. Bring back dish gardens with a twist using a heavy plastic patio pot as the base. Don’t remove the plug from the pot’s drainhole and fill it with small, clean, colorful aquarium gravel. Nestle tiny 2" (5.08 cm) clay pots in the gravel; succulents and cacti are naturals for this project. Leave just enough room for a 4" (10.16 cm) pot in the center and put in a chrysanthemum now, a poinsettia later.

Dried flowers can be left to turn their natural colors. Ornamental grasses, golden raintree seedpods, and even thistles and okra make beautiful seasonal arrangements. But if you’d like to add some pizzazz, grab a can of gold spray paint. Dry hydrangea by burning the stem ends of freshly cut flowerheads, then submerging the whole head in water for an hour. Then let the flowers dry naturally in a vase with no water. Once they’ve browned, hold the stem in one hand and the gold paint in the other. Don’t try to cover the whole flower surface, just spray in light sweeps to color the flowers and stiffen them.

Kids Decorations. Gather pine cones with the kids and let them make Thanksgiving turkeys. All you’ll need: white glue, construction paper, scissors. Trace the child’s hand on construction paper and cut it out to form the turkey’s feathers. Then fold a beak and cut eyes, feet, etc. and glue them on. Put a flock together and rest them on a bed of candy corn for the children’s table on Thanksgiving.

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