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Autumn decorations right from your garden

Autumn is often associated with traditional Vermont decorations, including cornucopias, garlands, straw or grapevine wreaths, and dried flower arrangements. Although many decorations can be bought ready-made, making your own can be a fun family activity for a fall afternoon. For the cornucopia, which signifies a bountiful harvest with plenty to eat, you'll need the traditional horn-shaped basket (available at most craft or basket shops); shellac or paint; real, dried, or artificial fruit and vegetables; pine cones; and plant materials. Paint or shellac the basket before you begin, allowing plenty of time to dry, before you fill with your choice of items. Enjoy your centerpiece, then in December turn it into a holiday decoration by spray painting the cornucopia with gold or silver paint. Then stuff it with greens, berries, and pine cones of all sizes. A simple variation is a clear bowl filled with apples, walnuts, chestnuts, or other fruits of the season. Another decoration appropriate for the fall season is a straw or grapevine wreath. Hop vines work great too. Again, supplies are available at craft shops. Wrap the wreath with colorful ribbon, covering the entire surface, or loosely wrap it, leaving sections exposed. Then add the finishing touches a colorful bow, a few sprigs of wheat, or a cluster of fruit. Or, cover the wreath with a variety of dried flowers and leaves. Strawflowers and other everlastings are ideal for this. Cut blooms and leaves into five- or six-inch lengths. Work with your largest flowers first, spacing them in a random pattern around the wreath. Then fill in with smaller flowers, pushing the ends in firmly. For a fuller effect, face the flowers in all different directions. If you dried flowers from your home garden this year, or have bought some, group these in bouquets with pods, cones, and candles for attractive table arrangements. Or buy fresh flowers, such as chrysanthemums, carnations, lilies, alstroemeria (Peruvian lily), and roses for your table in the traditional fall colors of yellow, orange, bronze, and maroon. For a festive harvest touch, decorate your mantle or door entrance with a garland of dried roses or other large blooms. You will need heavy quilting thread, a tapestry needle, dried flowers, and beads or bows. Use a double thread and string the flowers together from bloom to stem. You may want to intersperse colored beads with the blooms, or alternate with tiny bows. Or you could just add a tassel or huge matching bow at the ends of the garland. Dried hydrangea blooms also make a nice garland. Use florist's wire to tie them securely to a cord, such as the type used to tie back draperies. Add ribbons or colored Christmas balls. Or wire together shafts of wheat, trimming stems so all pieces are about the same length. Add oranges or clusters of dried flowers for a harvest look. This garland is particularly suited for an outdoor decoration. Of course you could also go with the more traditional fall decorationspumpkins and gourds, for example, or bunches of colorful Indian corn tied with a bow and hung on the front door. But whatever you do, adding your own personal touches will make the end product a work of art that's truly yours. Dr. Leonard Perry is an Extension Professor with the University of Vermont.

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