University of Illinois Extension

Fall Decorations from the Garden

Certain colors, fragrances and images remind us of specific times of the year, said Martha Smith, a U of I Extension horticulturist educator.

“Autumn brings its own personality,” said Smith. “Autumnal colors are found in our gardens as plants change in response to shorter days and cooler temperatures. Just look at the maples – glorious shades of red and gold and orange. Although many decorations can be purchased ready to be displayed, making your own can be a fun family activity. Flowers can be collected and dried or preserved. Seed pods can be saved. There are also certain decorations we associate with fall – straw or grapevine wreathes, garlands, dried flower arrangements and cornucopias.”

The cornucopia, the symbol of a bountiful harvest providing plenty to eat over the coming winter, is easy to create. You’ll need the traditional horn-shaped basket (available at most craft stores), and you can either use it as is or paint and/or shellac it to give a rich glossy color. Allow plenty of time to air dry before filling. You can fill with fruits and vegetables from your own back yard, dried flowers, ornamental grass plumes, harvested nuts and seed pods and fresh flowers using small water vials called florist tubes. You may need to refresh if keeping on display for a while. In December re-use the cornucopia replacing fall items with more seasonal greens, berries and various pine cones.

“Dry or preserve flowers all season long to use as decorations,” she said. “Harvest at the right time for best color and display. For most flowers this will be just after opening and before setting pollen. Some flowers can be collected at different stages of growth.”

Roses are often collected in the bud stage as well as full flower. Hang your collections upside down from the rafters in a shed or garage. You may want to spray with a clear shellac to prevent them from shattering. Globe amaranth, straw flowers and sunflowers are great to dry and use. Decorate straw or grapevine wreathes with your dried treasures in the fall.

“Garlands can be strung from vines, evergreen boughs or dried flowers,” she said. “Dried hydrangea blooms can be secured to a cord using florist wire. Or wire shafts of wheat, trimming stems so all pieces are about the same length. How about adding ribbons for color, weaving them through as you build your garland?”

“If growing your own pumpkins and gourds, when picking them wipe them down first with a household disinfectant (or a weak bleach solution) to kill any surface organisms that might cause rot,” said Smith. “Then allow them to dry for a few days to several weeks. Once dried you can use as is or try painting them. For a more natural look, use a paste wax and buff them for a shiny surface.”