August Articles

The August eNewsletter is coming soon...


July Articles





Speedy, Nifty (and Thrifty) Fall Decorating
by Karen Atkins - October 2012

Are you ready to get your fall on? A lot of you must be. In fact, last year, Americans spent $13.4 billion dollars on decorations for the holidays. I get it. In years past, I have joyfully tossed all manner of decorations in my cart without a thought for the planet, my time or my checkbook. This year, I decided I was going to reduce, reuse and recycle and decorate fast. I had about an hour while the kids were in their tennis lesson to get the house ready for the season. Necessity, as you well know, is the mother of invention. And since Mother Nature is the mother of all mothers, it only makes sense to loot from her.

Corn stalks with faux fruits recycled from last year’s decorations adorn the mailbox.

Corn stalks, ears of corn and a spaniel greet guests from Labor Day through Thanksgiving.

Corn Stalks

Three huge “bouquets” of cornstalks (usually containing spiders) fit into the standard Mini Clubman.

Ears of corn are tied to chairs with strips of inexpensive burlap.

Dried beans, peas and corn celebrate the season for a song.

Gourds, at a dollar a pound, help even the simplest and most rustic containers say “Welcome!

The hardest part is getting them into your car. For one thing, they are deceivingly tall. But they do bend without breaking, and I managed to get three whole “bouquets” into my Mini Clubman. Every single year on the ride home, some spider manages to climb out of the cornstalks and right above my head. I then have to wonder if he is going to drop onto my head or into my lap, or just stay there. It’s an agonizing cliff hanger. Why do I persist? These beauties stand high above all other decorations, from Labor Day until Thanksgiving, without any further effort. I don’t know what more you can ask for $4 dollars.


Burlap is in. When it started trending, my local feed mill jumped unapologetically on the bandwagon and began selling their bags — which used to be free — for $5 dollars. This fiber is now so in fashion in home decorating that you can buy very pricey trims and tassels made of it, and yards in any color of the rainbow. Now I think the whole point of burlap is that it is a utilitarian brown. I don’t believe in dyed burlap and I won’t pay more than $3 dollars a yard for it. Those trims and tassels do tempt me though.

Dried Ears of Corn

Use them anywhere you might hang a wreath. Hang them on doors, from the backs of dining chairs, or even take two sets and drape them over your six-armed chandelier. These are $4 dollars each and go up in an instant. Since the market takes the time to tie them together — all you have to do is hook them anywhere you want.   

Dried Beans, Peas and Corn     

Walk down the aisle in the grocery store and you won’t believe the fall colors in the dried legume section. Just layering them in clear containers brings the bounty of fall into focus. A bag of dried beans is around $2 dollars.  

Pumpkins and Gourds     

One year, when my kids were toddlers, they saw me adorning our mantle with gourds from the store. The next thing I knew, they were at the bottom of my steps giggling over a wheelbarrow they filled with even better ones from our compost pile. That was one time I didn’t have to pay a dollar a pound. I do like large groups of the striped orange and green ones, but sometimes, all it takes is a perfect white pumpkin.     

Since we are honoring an age-old tradition of giving thanks for our harvest, the very hallmark of fall decoration is abundance. Just when you think that you have added enough, take a deep breath and stuff in more. I always start with the mailbox. I tied corn stalks to the post using a strip of burlap. Then I stuffed in some faux berries and apples, and hung a pot with some live mums from the front. For the front door, you guessed it, two corn stalks. Just tucking a few fruits into the ribbon I made for them of burlap made a difference, and then I hung some ears of corn on the door. It took me 10 minutes. For the dining room, the burlap ribbon was perfect for lashing ears of corn to each chair. I pulled an old basket from under my sink in the kitchen, filled it with four jelly glasses of water and cut some hydrangeas and sedum from the garden. Dried beans, layered with the peas and dried corn prettily anchored the candles in our hurricanes. After less than an hour, things were looking surprisingly festive. For a finishing touch, on my way back out I filled the basket on my front gate with gourds.

From State-by-State Gardening October 2012. Photos courtesy of Karen Atkins.


Karen Atkins is the owner of Proper Gardens ( She designed the Victorian gardens for the Merrick Art Gallery and the Pioneer Entrance Garden for Pittsburgh Botanic Garden. Her private clients have won the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s “Great Gardens” contest the last three years running. She writes for Historic Gardens Review and Pennsylvania Gardener magazine.


You might also like:
Stories from our eNewsletter archives