This article was originally published on Patch on Dec. 22, 2010, but it was just too great not to share again for this year's holiday season:
I'm perennially behind. I never finished my fall clean-up this year and I haven't decorated the outside of the house for Christmas yet. The good news is that I can combine neatening up the yard with creating natural Christmas decorations with one trip to my backyard. It's cheap, it's green, and I don't have to travel far or fight crowds. My favorite reason to go to the garden for décor is that natural holiday arrangements bring the outdoors in, keeping me close to my garden even when it's very cold outside.
This past Saturday I had my family over to celebrate Christmas early. Did I have enough décor? Certainly not. So my "mum" and I combed our sleeping perennial beds for materials and created the large centerpiece (see photos). Gathering the goods took the least amount of time. Agreeing on the arrangement took a little longer.
Go Beyond Holly and Pinecones
Wall-flowers don't just exist at high school dances. There are many pretty evergreen plants ignored for holiday bouquets such as Azaleas, Rhododendrons and Yuccas. Yucca Golden Sword is my favorite because it is green, with bold gold stripes.
Get creative this year. If you fell behind during fall clean-up like I did, use it to your advantage now. Still standing Black-Eyed Susan , Coneflower, Sedum, Milkweed or Allium seed heads make perfect arrangement enhancers. The plumes of dried Sea Grasses work well as fluffy angel wings or bring softness to a bouquet. The brown balls of frost-crisped Hydrangea blossoms look amazing tucked between Christmas tree branches. Lavender sprigs still smell nice even though they have faded to gray. Russian Sage branches glow white and add a snowy effect to greenery.
Play Picasso and Paint
A dash of spray paint can transform all these garden leftovers into ornaments. Purple is my favorite color to use, but cranberry, silver and gold work well too. Simply lay the items on the lawn, where you don't mind multi-colored grass, and spray away. A peony ring works well to hold taller items upright for easy access and better coverage. Try to paint when the temperature is above freezing. Wear old clothes and remember you might ruin your manicure (I always have purple fingertips for a day or two.) Add glitter to the plants while the paint is wet if you want sparkle and drama. Craft stores sell spray paint and spray glitter specifically for dried flowers, as well as a fixative that keeps the ornaments strong year after year.
Some prefer not to paint and keep things real. Your yard will surprise you with many materials for natural displays. Pretty green lichen or moss often decorates slices of bark that storms have left on the lawn. These lend lovely texture and structure to holiday arrangements. Roses you forgot to cut back may don gorgeous red rose hips and even still have green leafy branches (cut off the thorns first.)
Go for the Gold… and the Red and Green
Many people have gold-colored evergreens planted in front of the house. These species, called Gold False Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa), add contrast and color next to their green counterparts just as they do in the garden. Cut some deciduous branches as well. Red Twig Dogwoods have just that – red twigs. They look spectacular in arrangements and swags, particularly when paired with golden evergreens. Even the "almost evergreen" branches of Lavender plants still hold their green/silver leaf color this time of year.
Alternatively, skip the green and red all together and spray garden gems blue and silver to create beautiful Chanukah decorations. Gold and purple pair well in winter arrangements. One easy everlasting combination is Sea Grass plumes painted gold, Sedum or Allium painted purple and Milkweed pods dusted with glitter. These artful creations can decorate your house beyond the holidays and hold you over until fresh flowers appear for cutting in spring.