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I’m one of those people, and always try and extend my gardening season as long as I can by gathering bits and pieces of it to decorate my home.
One of my favorite ways to bring the outdoors in, is with pine cones. They’re perfect for the holidays and can last for years. I love to make garlands with them to grace my door, gathering the long cones of the Sugar Pines together in neat bundles. Another one of my favorites are the pine cone ‘roses’ (which are actually broken pieces of larger pine cones) that I use to tuck in here or there.
When decorating with pine cones, however, you’ll first want to remove the sticky sap that may be on the surface or deep inside. It’s an easy enough thing to do - just bake them on a foil-lined cookie sheet in a 220-degree oven for about 20 minutes. Your house will definitely smell like pine, so if that’s a problem use your barbeque instead, using on a low and gentle flame. The melted sap creates a beautiful, glossy glaze on the pine cone and hardens within minutes.
Another favorite gift from the garden are the orange and red rose hips that form on my rose bushes at the end of the season. Rose hips are simply the seedpods of a rosebush. If you don’t prune the dead flowers off of your rosebush, you will most likely see them develop throughout the fall. They’re excellent sources of vitamin C, and many people cook with them, but I always leave most of mine on the bush for the squirrels and birds to help them make it through another cold winter.
However, I can’t resist picking a few to create ‘bouquets’ that last for weeks in the house. When picking them, I try and keep the entire hip and stem intact until they dry so they form beautiful and natural looking clusters. Rugosa and Meidiland roses tend to have the fattest and prettiest rose hips.
And don’t forget saving those glorious fall leaves! Every year I gather up new leaves from my ‘Bradford’ pear tree and ‘Roger’s Red’ grapevine and preserve them one of two ways. The old school way (and the one my daughter prefers) is to place the leaves between two layers of waxed paper. Covering the ‘leaf sandwich’ with an old towel, we gently press it with a warm iron that seals the waxed paper together with the leaf inside. My daughter then cuts the leaves out, making sure to leave a very narrow margin of waxed paper around the leaf edge.
The other way I preserve leaves is to use silica gel to dry them. Leaves that are still supple (ie: containing water within their cell structure) work best for this project. Placing a 1-inch layer of floral silica gel in the bottom of a microwave-safe dish, I place the leaves on top, making sure they don’t touch one another. Cover the leaves with another 1-inch layer of silica gel and place the dish in your microwave. Use a low setting for about 2 minutes per half pound of gel to dry your leaves. To help them last even longer you can also spray them with an acrylic sealer when completely dried.
So before you head out to the store to buy your holiday decorations head out to your garden instead! You’ll not only save money, but you’ll enjoy your garden just a little bit longer!