Think outside the blossom: In the fall, all kinds of items from your garden can make for beautiful interior decor. Shutterstock/elle1973

Bringing items that we’ve grown in our garden into our house as decoration is, for me, one of the prime benefits of growing a garden. We also bring in foraged items whenever we find anything interesting.

We have friends who don’t bring flowers, or any other plant material, inside. They say the blossoms drop their petals and are messy, and that beyond that, they are most beautiful in their natural outdoor environment. To each his or her own, but I like beauty around me at all times, and I spend much of my time indoors, especially now that the days get shorter and temperatures drop. For me, vacuuming up a few leaves, seeds or petals is a small price to pay.

Though flowers are hard to come by in the Maine garden at this time of year, other items – especially from the vegetable garden – can make up for the lack. If you did not carve all of your pumpkins into Jack-o’-lanterns, pumpkins fit the season and mood, at least until Thanksgiving. Make an array with other winter squashes, gourds, apples, nuts and maybe even garlic.

But don’t give up on the flowering plants. Many will look good well after they have produced their tender new blooms. Hydrangea blossoms naturally dry out on the limbs and add attractive colors to fall and early winter decorations. Astilbe blossoms also dry out, turning light tan to brown; they’re attractive inside.

My wife, Nancy, brought in some Actaea (formerly known as cimicifuga) blossoms that had gone to seed. With tall, strong stems and seed heads that look like little dots on the top, they’ll add a structural element to your designs.

Almost all of the ornamental grasses are at their peak attractiveness late in the season. The native switch grasses have wonderful seed heads that move gracefully in outdoor breezes and even in the minor air movement of a heat pump or the swish of a door opening or closing. Miscanthus grasses, though not native to Maine, can be huge and attractive as well. Oat grasses are shorter, but they, too, have attractive seed heads, which resemble small ferns to me, but small hands to Nancy.


Many people put leaves on their tables underneath their floral arrangements or table designs. If you do so, you’ll enjoy the same brilliant colors that thousands of tourists come to Maine to see each fall, but from the comfort of your own home. If you want to use maple or birch leaves, it takes a little work to keep them from curling and crisping as they dry; use wax paper and a low temperature iron to seal leaves between two pieces of wax paper. Nancy says she remembers doing that in Girl Scouts.

Branches are also attractive. I don’t mean the evergreens that dominate Christmas decorations. In the fall, try branches with distinct colors, like the red twig dogwoods or white birches. These look great and can stand up in the center of an arrangement to support the dried flowers, ornamental grasses or more. The twisty branches of a Harry Lauder walking stick make nice-looking anchors, too.

Bark is a nice touch for indoor designs, but be sure you find it without peeling it off a living tree. (Trees need their bark to prevent pests and infection and to regulate nutrients and moisture.) Use any found bark as a backdrop for a small arrangement of dried flowers, or on its own. Birch bark is a favorite in our house.

Berries are a wonderful choice for interior decor. My favorite is winterberry, a native that you can find and cut growing along the side of rural roads at this time of year, as long as you have permission from the owner. We have one viburnum that is producing good berries, and hollies work, too, but I think they are too closely associated with Christmas to be used this early.

Bittersweet and multiflora roses also have attractive berries, but are highly invasive, and I think it’s better not to display them. Outdoors, animals and birds can spread the seeds, thus the invasive plants. Indoors, you could safely display them if you put the remnants in the trash to be incinerated, rather than the compost. But really, the bad points of invasives far outweigh any good points, so better to just avoid them altogether, inside or out. Except for these invasive plants, though, the design rule is simple. If you find something that is attractive in your garden, it will probably look nice inside, too.

Nancy has been trying something new this year. Given the very wet year, she has found a lot of cool-looking mushrooms growing in our yard. She has harvested a number of them in the hopes of making a display. Unfortunately, some fall apart as soon as she touches them, and most won’t stand up on their own. Hopefully, a few will dry enough to be used, but even if they don’t, we have plenty of acorns to add to our table designs.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at:

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