Decorating from nature doesn’t require lists of instructions or rules; in fact, some of the simplest materials and compositions yield the most beautiful results. Children often make simple ornaments in school from natural objects such as walnut shells or dried seedpods. Years ago as a third-grade room mother, I helped children construct Christmas arrangements for their mothers using cut greenery, stalks of seeds, grass plumes and other similar materials. They loved the collecting, assembling and having the joy of giving as well as receiving.
Ornaments (left to right) are a seed-covered ball and dried berry, okra pod and orange slice.
A walk in nearly any garden or in the woods will yield so much material that can be put to use in creating holiday decorations. With a few weeks of preplanning, many materials can be dried specifically for this purpose. The sliced, dried oranges shown on the tree retain color and are beautiful hanging singularly or strung together. Lemon, grapefruit and limes can be handled the same way. With a dehydrator, apple slices will retain their near-white color and make good ornaments as well. Choose red apples, leave the peel on and slice crosswise to expose the interesting core and seed formation. Osage oranges are also very interesting dried and strung.
So many flowers, shrubs and trees have interesting seedpods that dry well and can be used as ornaments or part of decorative arrangements. Philippine lilies make large, candelabra-shaped seed heads that are fantastic on arrangements. Few seedpods are more beautiful than those of the Southern magnolia, furry brown and bursting with brilliant red seeds. They are beautiful alone, secured with a matching red ribbon.
Acorns, especially the huge bur oak seeds, can be painted gold, red or shiny clear. Smaller pinecones and the cones from other conifers are also excellent choices either left natural colors or decorated in any way desirable. Even leaves and twigs with interesting shapes can be bound with ribbon and suspended from the tree. Gold painted magnolia leaves have infinite uses either as ornaments, to create wreaths or mixed into evergreen or dried arrangements.
Table and mantle sprays, vase arrangements and wreaths can be made fresh every year using only mixed evergreens from the garden, some berries and ribbon. Candles, dried material or even fresh fruits or nuts can be added to enrich the composition. I make wreaths with a grapevine base, inserting a mixture of blue, gold and dark green conifers, a bright ribbon bow and sometimes nandina berries. The smell is wonderful and when the season is over, I just discard the trimmings and store the bare grapevine forms for another season.
Materials needed to bring nature into your Christmas are very few. A very full tool kit might include large needles for stringing, dental floss or strong thread for the same purpose, tacky glue or a hot glue gun, floral tape and wire, paint in any desired colors of metallics, clear spray paint for fixing items that might shatter, ribbons or raffia ties and a healthy imagination. The possibilities are as endless, the process is fun and the result is both beautiful and inexpensive.
Some suggestions for natural material:
Seed pods – beans and peas, catalpa, okra, redbud, popcorn tree, poppy, Philippine lily, Confederate rose, conifer cones (especially hemlock and pine), magnolia, star anise (Illicium) , Siberian iris, false indigo (Baptisia), Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), goldenrain tree, clematis vines, milkweed, lotus and sweet gum tree
Dried flowers – baby’s breath, goldenrod, hydrangea, astilbe, roses, African marigold, anise, hyssop, yarrow, statice, scabiosa, lavender, larkspur, globe thistle, cornflowers, strawflowers, lion’s mane and many grasses
Dried leaves – ginkgo, holly, Southern magnolia, cornshuck and aspidistra
From State-by-State Gardening November/December 2006. Photos by Anita Stamper.