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Autumn decorating material is free for the taking, no fortune needed

Autumn decorating material is free for the taking, no fortune needed

Posted: Tuesday, October 7, 2008 9:59 pm
By: By JIMMY WILLIAMS Special to The Messenger

There are those among us who dote on decorating (actually redecorating), both indoors and out, every time the moon goes full.
For instance, we have friends that re-do their house, or parts of it, with regularity. When avocado green is “in,” there they go again. New fridge, new range et al, until the fad passes. Then it is on to the next thing “they” (whoever “they” are) are doing.
We’re not in that camp. If the appliance and furniture dealers had to depend on us for business, the stock market would be even worse off than it is.
All that to say this: There’s a lot you can do to spruce up your home sweet home, short of spending your children’s inheritance.
Other than Christmas, the autumn season offers just about the best opportunity for an adventuresome and practically free decorating clinic that can challenge the professionals who do it for a living, and definitely not free.
The roadsides and fields — and your garden — are rife with ingredients that will spice up doorways, porches, decks, dining tables, etc.
We have hanging on an inside corner of our deck a quarter-round feeding trough of iron that supposedly came from a stall at Churchill Downs in Louisville. At least that is what the shyster — er, I mean the dealer of antiques — told my assistant when she bought it.
We filled it with an assortment of dried hydrangeas the fall after we obtained it. No pre-drying, no hanging them upside-down in preparation, no soaking them in those crystals used to supposedly extend the life of dried arrangements. No nothing. Just poked them in, big bunches. They’re still there, with only an occasional replacement of a few that have escaped during gales. All for free.
Well, except for the years spent in growing the hydrangeas in the first place.
Ears of corn, common as they are, still make attractive and meaningful door decorations. A half dozen ears of yellow corn with the shucks peeled back and all of them tied into a tight bunch, then enriched with a bright orange ribbon, symbolize the bounty of the harvest. After Thanksgiving they come down, are fed to the birds, and are replaced with the Christmas wreath.
Heads of sorghum seem to be made for decorating. Their makeup, with long spires of round russet grain, are perfect for fitting into arrangements of fall flowers and other dried ingredients. Most often, these days, the sorghum is milo, grown solely for the grain and not for rendering molasses from the stalks.
In some areas, ornamental grain sorghums of several varieties are grown commercially for decorating. Some have white seedheads, some black and green, others pinkish, and still others an amber red shade.
Seeds for some of them are available in packets for growing on a small scale, but if you know a friendly farmer who is growing milo you might beg for a few heads before the combine moves in.
Early fall berries come into the equation as well. While holly, nandina and most other berried plants don’t fully ripen and color their fruit until later, pyracantha, with orange berries in abundance, is good for October decorating. Pyracantha doesn’t hold its color as long as some other berries, however.
Hickory nuts, acorns and walnuts are plentiful this year, as are crabapples, haws, persimmons and numerous other wild fall fruits. All make uncommonly fine decorating material. Watch out with the acorns, though. One year I brought in some of the largest swamp white oak acorns I had ever seen. Most were pink and brown, and beautiful.
My assistant put them in a walnut bowl on the dining table, where they looked rather grand, if I do say so. A couple of weeks later, as we were eating at that table, the acorns seemed to be moving. When I investigated I found a bowl working alive with big white grubs — maggots, really — that had come from inside the acorns. Not too appetizing.
Speaking of persimmons: After wishing for years for an Asian persimmon tree, I finally got one last year, a tiny sapling a foot tall. It managed to live through the drought this summer, and reached some three feet or so. A few weeks ago, I noticed a crop — two! — of persimmons. They are much larger than our native persimmons, and turn the same rusty orange color as they ripen.
Some Asian persimmons are not astringent and can be eaten like an apple as soon as they turn color. Others must be allowed to soften. Most reach silver dollar size, and some much larger. After leaf fall they are highly ornamental on the tree, where deer don’t browse them off.
• • •
From Poor Willie’s Almanack — Don’t turn up your nose at free.
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Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.
Published in The Messenger 10.7.08

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