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Green Acre #33: Holiday Dreckorating*

For this traditional mantel look, ivy is tucked into floral wire. Gilded pinecones and a handful of odds and ends add interest. Note the gilded pears atop the picture frame. / On the front: A grapevine wreath is prettier and easier to work with than a wire form. Add bow and fairy lights, and done. / Photos by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

THERE IS LITTLE one can’t accomplish in the way of holiday decorating given a spool of floral wire and a batch of scavenged greens, and I say this as one who is exceptionally craft-challenged.

To quote myself from last week’s column, if you’re feeling really impoverished, or creative (you’re allowed to be both), you can build a free tree from the scraps of fir and spruce and pine at Christmas tree lots. There’s almost always a mountain of clippings somewhere, heaped in a corner and destined for the dump. Bat your eyelashes and ask nicely and you can probably haul away as much as you’ll need for window and flower boxes, railings, the mantel and whatever else needs greening.

Fancy this up with some lengths of ivy. I always have an abundance of ivy about—it long ago took over the front yard and grows up the garden walls. Branches of anything evergreen will do, actually: magnolia leaves (should you be so lucky),

sprigs of holly, twigs of pyracantha (another shrub with multitudes of red berries, also known as firethorn). Should your garden not be so blessed, I would personally case the neighborhood for possibilities and head out with clippers in the predawn light and snip-snip—subtly, from the underside please.

You might also walk the dog in a park with pine trees. Pine cones are always a nice, slightly rustic touch.

So far we’ve spent approximately $4.98 plus tax, the cost of 150 yards of floral wire, which should pretty much last the rest of your life.

Add a few bucks and you can pick up gold or silver spray paint for the pine cones, some glitter spray paint—or glitter hairspray, should you have some left over from Halloween—a smattering of small ornaments and a bunch or two of baby’s breath, which is great for snowy explosions most anywhere. A whole tree can be decorated with billows of white flowers;  just add lights.

While listing 10 tips for everything from a better sex life to cleaning the bathtub seems to have become de rigueur, I break with the pack and offer five dreckorating ideas, since I can’t think of any more.

1. Stair banisters. Twine floral wire up the staircase rail and tuck in branches from bottom to top. You might also wire the stems together to make garlands and tie them to the railings. Add lots of bows and bells and bits of glitz—I clip on a collection of feathered and glittered birds. Nice big bows are a welcome touch. But if you, like me, lack both patience and dexterity, wire-edged and metallic-mesh ribbons are wonderful add-ons: They twist and drape and make beautiful bows, and can be reused pretty much forever. Note! If your hip is killing you, as mine is at the moment, and you find you actually need to hold on to the rail or risk death, or worse, leave some gaps for handholds.

Along the banister, tree branch clippings are tied up with metallic mesh ribbon and dotted with glittery birds. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

2. The mantel. Hammer a little nail at either end of the mantel and string floral wire tightly between them. Shove branches here and there, using the wire to hold the branches firmly in place. Add bits of baby’s breath or berried branches and a few gilded pinecones. Done.

3. Make a tree. Scavenged branches are easily arranged in a vase. Add water, stand the branches upright and string them with beads, small balls, fairy lights and what-have-you. Or just mound them in a vase and call it a day. This makes a jolly accent for a guest room, foyer or wherever, and is so much more attractive than those pathetically spindly Charlie Brown trees Safeway is peddling for $29.95.

4. Ceiling fixtures. Wire a few branches from the chain or post of a ceiling fixture, inside or on the porch, and tie it at the top with a big bow.

5. Pseudo-wreath. Particularly handy if you have thieves in the neighborhood: They seem to prefer traditional round wreaths with big red bows to sweetly gift to, presumably, their mothers. Gather a bunch of branches and tie with a ribbon at the top, leaving the ends long and curling. String this from a nail or hook at the top of the door.  Or, a tip from Baby: Pick up a grapevine wreath for a few bucks at Trader Joe’s, add tree clippings and “whatever borderline-tacky glitter-

A bucket of raw materials, fresh from the tree lot. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

drenched dreck you have lying around . . . and fairy lights!” She does take after me, sigh.

None of this needs watering, by the way. Your arrangements should stay reasonably fresh-looking from now until after New Year’s Day. However, if you’re using a vase you might as well fill it.

Tip! When in doubt, always overdo. Generally, I find excess hides many flaws, which are plentiful since I’m more inclined to hot-glue my fingers together than to execute an artful assemblage. And so, if whatever it is you’ve created looks awkward, keep piling on the glitz until every eye is thoroughly distracted.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

*Dreckorate. ˈdrek-ko-rāte: Nonexistent though essential verb. To excessively adorn, ornament or embellish with a magpie sensibility.

Next week LittleBird Stephanie gives equal time to Hanukah with her recipe for latkes, since potatoes are plants, not that she grows them. 

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