Harvest decor Home: Bringing autumn's colors and aromas indoors is as easy and natural as taking a walk in the woods.

November 16, 1997|By Nancy Taylor Robson | Nancy Taylor Robson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Heap high the farmer's wintry hoard! Heap high the golden corn! No richer gift has Autumn poured from out her lavish horn!

The poet John Greenleaf Whittier must have been decorating his house when he wrote those words in the 19th century. Or maybe it was Mrs. Whittier, and he watched. Either way, he knew what bounty autumn offers to the discerning eye. Half-opened heart nuts, clusters of bright-red rose hips, burnished hydrangea blooms dried to perfection on the stalk, the sculpted bronze seed pods of Rose of Sharon -- all these and more are found in abundance now.

Bringing autumn's lushness indoors to decorate our homes is a time-honored response to the darkening days at the end of harvest, a way to retain and enjoy what will soon be blanketed with snow. Natural decorations add more than beauty. They permeate a home with the heady scents of the season -- rich, piney juniper, chrysanthemum, the earthy perfume of drying leaves. Additionally, collecting these treasures is a pleasure in itself, an excuse to explore the woods, take long, leisurely walks and celebrate the fact that you aren't pulling weeds anymore.

What to use

The choice in materials is defined only by your imagination and taste.

"I take whatever is artistically growing with interesting shapes," says Chris Psoras of Flowers by Chris in Harborplace. "I love white birch," which bends with the same slim-fingered beauty of a Vogue model. She also uses fruit -- strawberries, pears, apples, bananas and more -- which she preserves in a dip of beeswax, honey and sugar.

For Thanksgiving, Psoras uses gourds and pumpkins in conjunction with grapevine, white birch and a variety of candles interspersed among the natural elements. Pumpkins and gourds require no preparation.

"A pumpkin lasts about a month," Psoras says. "Then pick it up, gingerly, and throw it out. Right now, we're doing centerpieces in terra cotta pots with mossed saucers. We've built fall colors with lilies, roses -- yellows and golds and peaches and creams -- and placed a mini-pumpkin and gourd in each one. It's so festive looking."

Included in her exotic arrangements of natural materials are clusters of candles of all shapes and sizes in seasonal colors.

Doris Taylor and Mary Ann O'Neill, owners of Larkspur Cottage fTC Florals, combine dried and fresh materials -- dried white tallow berries, ivy yanked from its attempt to penetrate the aluminum siding, gourds from the grocery store and grapevine clipped from a woodsy grove.

"We use pieces of bark, moss growing on the ground, branches, rocks, pebbles and acorns," says Taylor, reeling off a partial inventory.

Doreen Lynch and her partner Mary Meyers take a similar approach to the wreaths they make to sell in their Reisterstown shop, Now and Then Antiques.

They incorporate whatever materials catch their eye in their free-spirited decorations. "Dried gourd, pine cones, hornet's nest. There's one with a birdhouse. We try to make them unique," Lynch adds.

Collecting materials

Taylor and O'Neill glean natural materials from gardens and from long walks in the woods.

"Fall's a great time," says Taylor. "[There are] pods, wild grapevine, white tallow berries, winter berries and bittersweet."

Celastrus, or bittersweet, is a woody vine whose orangy-red berries are collared by a small, half-opened yellow husk, creating a mosaic of color and form. It trails from both deciduous and pine trees, cascading down, ripe for the clipping, and it lasts for months.

Knowing how to look, or perhaps how to see, is as important as knowing where to look for materials. Anything can be used, provided it interests the finder. Abandoned lots, that thicket you meant to weed, and the edge of your child's soccer field can all yield decorating materials. One of the nicest things about natural decorations is what they convey about the personality of their creator.

"Our things tend to be wild, trailing," Lynch says, laughing. "I'm not a compact kind of person."

There are several cautions in collecting materials. First, be careful that you don't take all of what's available in a given area; leave something for regeneration. Second, don't take away any essentials like praying mantis chrysalises, which look like tiny wasp nests clinging to small branches and wild rose canes. Praying mantises are a natural pest control. Also, learn to identify plants and pods -- poison ivy leaves are gorgeous this time of year, a glorious red tinged with gold, but unless you and everyone you know is immune, leave them on the tree or the ground. Also, Lynch cautions, watch out for snakes and beehives. Bees, though slow this time of year, tend to be cranky.

Making your own

Making natural decorations can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish. Taylor and O'Neill, who hold classes on the subject, try to use a lot of materials you can get at the market.

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