Some plants are even more beautiful when brought inside as decorations than they are outside in their natural environment.

For starters, when you bring flowers, a branch, fruit or other plant parts inside they stand by themselves without the surrounding garden competing for attention. Also, if you provide a background of contrasting colors, the plant material stands out that much more.

From spring until first frost, people bring flowers inside, but decorations during the holiday season depend more on bare branches, evergreen foliage, berries, seeds, pods and so on.

A typical Christmas decoration is a wreath made with needled evergreens such as balsam fir. They are easy to make by wiring branches to a wreath form you can buy at most garden centers.

If you want a more organic, sustainable wreath without ties to a specific holiday, skip the form and cut stems from flexible plants such as willow or dogwood. Twist the branches around each other while forming a circle, adding more by forcing the thicker ends of the branches into the circle and wrapping them around the rest. Keep adding branches until it is the desired thickness.

Decorations can include viburnum berries, holly, greens, leaves, grasses or cones.

My wife, Nancy, does most of the decorating at our house because she is good at it. She is a flower show judge certified by the National Garden Club. To get that title, she had to enter dozens of design competitions and win a few of them. I would no more arrange flowers at home than I would cook a meal for David Turin or pinch hit for David Ortiz.

In our kitchen stand some 5-foot-tall curly willow stems with many side branches, painted a glossy black, stuck in a pin holder, a common device for flower arranging (see box). Nancy decorated the branches with strings of LED purple lights and put a few tall dried grasses, white cimicifuga blooms and orange, yellow, bronze and maroon chrysanthemums at the base. It looks more like a sculpture than a typical flower arrangement, and it is eye-catching.

Spray paint is a big help in creating designs. Nancy regularly paints allium blossoms to create decorations. But you can paint anything you bring inside – branches, leaves, blossoms, cones, thistles, seeds and nuts. She keeps cans of spray paint in a box in the cellar. Frequently, she zips into the cellar, and I hear the spray can and smell the paint. A few days later, something weird comes out of the cellar and ends up as a house decoration.

Don’t forget flower blossoms – even though they are past their prime. Blossoms from hydrangeas, especially the Paniculata grandiflora, keep much of their color, even this late in the season. Other blossoms, such as astilbe, maintain their shape but are mostly brown. They can be added to many arrangements – but may benefit from a bit of spray paint.

One of the reasons bittersweet is an invasive and has become such a problem is that people used to create outdoor wreaths and other decorations with it in the fall, displaying its bright orange berries. Those berries contain the seeds that spread the plant – so don’t use them. Don’t even put them into your compost bins: the squirrels and birds will eat things from your compost bin and spread them around the neighborhood.

Other berries can be used, however. The native winterberry – a deciduous holly that sometimes grows in slightly soggy roadside ditches – has bright red berries that can be added to wreaths, used in stand-up flower designs or just by themselves. The traditional evergreen holly, which is not native, can be used in wreaths, arrangements, swags and many other kinds of decorations. It might be trite, but it is trite because it works.

In the spring, viburnums are a great shrub for their flowers and architectural branching. Many also produce berries in the fall that, depending on the variety, can be red, black, yellow or pink. The berries are softer than holly berries but still work well in many sorts of winter arrangements.

Ornamental grasses look good outside all winter, and we never cut them down until the snow melts in spring. But if you need plant material, head outside, cut some and bring it in. They serve nicely as greenery to go with flowers you buy in bunches at a supermarket or florist.

You see cones from evergreens on wreaths all the time, but they also look good in an attractive basket, bucket or bowl. Picture a fruit bowl with pine cones instead of fruit. That is so easy to put together that I might do it without any help from Nancy.

Speaking of fruit bowls, use them to display fruit or vegetables. Did you buy or grow apples, winter squash, colored onions or potatoes? Set them in a fruit bowl on a table in the kitchen to show off the bounty of your garden. If you want to cook with them, you won’t have to head down to the root cellar.

For Thanksgiving, arrange your produce in a bowl or low basket and use it as a centerpiece. You might add a few flowers by sticking them in small water-filled containers; empty brown pill bottles work well for this.

I always recommend that people walk around their yard, even when temperatures are cold. It’s good exercise, provides fresh air and gives you a chance to look at something other than the four walls of your house. While you’re out, look at your plants. If something looks attractive, snip off a bit and see how you can use it inside. It’s a chance to show off the too-often hidden artistic part of your being.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at 767-2297 or at: [email protected]

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