Garden Variety: Natural touches for your fall decor

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There is something about fall, with its cooler temperatures and changing leaves, that seems to lure even the most minimalist of decorators into setting pumpkins on the porch. Perhaps the cheery orange color is hard to resist, or there is something appealing about seeing the fruits of the growing season. Whatever the case, a charming fall porch display is easy to create with items from the garden and from local farms.

If you grew your own fall decor, selecting items for display will be easy. Otherwise, consider visiting a local farmers market, an on-farm store or the upcoming farm tour.

Traditional orange pumpkins are a standby of fall porch and entryway decor, with sizes ranging from miniature to beach ball or larger. White and cream-colored pumpkins add a nice contrast to orange and are also fun to paint as an alternative to carving jack-o-lanterns. Heirloom pumpkins offer a variety of red, orange, gold and green hues. They sometimes have stripes, deep ribs and textured skin for additional interest.

Pumpkins offer the most interest when a variety of sizes and colors are placed together for a display or when they are paired with other fall farm and garden items.

Gourds are often grouped with (and are closely related to) pumpkins. You can also throw in dried cornstalks, arrangements of flint corn, hay bales and pots of mums and other fall flowers.

Gourds come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes and textures. Small ones pair well with miniature pumpkins, and they are often sold together. Larger gourds can stand alone like traditional pumpkins or be mixed. Select fruit with deep green, yellow, gold, striped or blotchy colors and textured skin. Some gourds, known as bottle or birdhouse gourds, may be used in a display but can also be dried and turned into birdhouses or painted for interior decor in later seasons.

Dried cornstalks may sound less exciting to Midwesterners who are used to seeing corn fields, but they are incredible for a vertical accent and are plentiful here. Bundle a group of stalks and lean them by the door or tie them to porch posts.

Flint corn is also known as Indian corn or calico corn. The kernels of these corn varieties have a hard outer layer that gives them a longer shelf life than sweet and field corn. Kernels are often vibrant colors rather than the white or yellow of other corns or may be a mix of colors. Peel back the shucks to display the kernels on the ears and tie them together in bundles or arrays. A display of flint corn ears can be hung on a door like a wreath or on a nearby wall. Bundles of ears can be placed next to pumpkins, gourds and other ground items.

Flint corn can be ground into flour when the fall decorating season has passed. Popcorn still on the cob may also be decorative and can be popped when the season is over.

Hay and straw bales are also popular to add height or different levels to the display. Place pumpkins, gourds, flint corn and other items on the bales. If using more than one bale, consider setting one on its end to add another tier.

Containers with fall flowers and plants are also popular. Mums and asters are the traditional choices, but kale, cabbage, celosia, ornamental grasses, pansies, swiss chard and other cool-weather plants also add color and contrast to the display.

Hedge apples, acorns, pinecones, sweetgum balls, honeylocust pods and other fallen items from trees can also be used as decor. They may seem commonplace or like a nuisance if you have one of the trees, but they’re a little more favorable when used this way than when lying on the ground. Place them in a pretty basket or large clear container for display. Pinecones and sweetgum balls can be wired together to make wreaths.

If squirrels are problematic in your neighborhood, remember that they may think miniature pumpkins, flint corn, hedge apples, acorns, pinecones, and other items are for them. Be prepared to share.

— Jennifer Smith works in regulatory horticulture and has worked as a horticulturist for various government entities. She has experience in landscape design and maintenance and as an educator.


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