By Michele Day
For about two weeks in October, ghosts, witches and jack-o'-lanterns make eerie additions to a decorative outdoor display.
But after Oct. 31, most people are ready for the ghosts to disappear and the witches to fly back into the dark shadows of the basement. As for those mushy carved pumpkins, they're destined for the trash.
Suddenly, the seasonal theme changes from haunted house to harvest home. Wouldn't it be nice if the seasonal change could be a minor transition rather than a decorating overhaul? We asked a design team at White Oak Garden Center on Blue Rock Road to help us put together such a flexible fall display - and to offer a few tips for producing a bountiful harvest project.
Dual season materials
2 bales of straw: $4.99 each
2 potted mums: $5.99 each
2 corn stalks: $3.99 each
3 or 4 uncarved pumpkins: $5 each
7 small pumpkins for top of door frame: $1.29 each
1 bag black mulch: $3.99
15 small gourds: 3 for $1.50
Black cloth swag: $7
Fabric witch: $19.99
Black cat heads: $19.99
2 carved pumpkins: $5 each
Stretchy material for spider webs: $3.99
Ghost ornament: $29.99
Custom-made swag of silk fall-colored leaves: $50
Fall wreath: $19.99
2 Indian corn bouquets: $4.99 each
Ornamental grass plumes: Free from yard
Small gourds and additional uncarved pumpkins: $10
6 larger gourds: $4.99 each
Silk fall leaves: $5
Bittersweet, a naturally orange-colored berry: $7.99
Jayme Bender, assistant green house manager, and Jeremy Newell, assistant store manager, with the help of their boss, White Oak owner Jeff Webeler, agreed to take on the task.
Anita Comarata, who lives near the White Oak store and leads gardening seminars for the center, invited the team to use her home as their decorative canvas.
In the planning stages, the decorators chose about $65 worth of basic materials that would serve as the skeleton for both the Halloween and fall harvest themes.
They placed a bale of straw on each side of the door and added a few bright orange pumpkins in the front for color.
A thin layer of black mulch around the pumpkins made the season's favorite melon stand out even more. Next, the team placed large cornstalks on each side of the door and two potted orange mums just in front of the hay bales.
Finally, they set a row of miniature pumpkins on the molding above the door.
The dual-seasons structure complete, they were ready to add the spooky touches.
For Halloween, they limited the display's colors to black and orange, with a few white highlights for contrast.
The design team hung a black cloth swag above the doorway and added a stuffed fabric witch as a centerpiece above the door.
Then they attached black, metal cat faces to the corn stalks, covered the door with stretchy material that resembled a mass of spider webs and stuck a ghostly yard ornament next to a second cluster of pumpkins in the flower bed beside the porch.
To finish, they set two carved pumpkins on top of the hay bales, and surrounded them with small gourds.
Assembling the Halloween project took about two hours.
But transforming the display into a decor that could stay through Thanksgiving took less than half an hour.
The trick to the quick transition? Swapping out Halloween novelty items and expanding the black-and-orange color scheme to include additional fall colors, such as greens and browns, yellows and reds.
The black cat faces hanging on the corn stalks became Indian corn bouquets tied with orange bows.
"No black cats for fall," Bender said as she made the switch.
Like magic, the witch and black swag disappeared.
In their place hung a swag made of silk fall-colored leaves and greenery.
A pumpkin wreath
Bender and Newell cleared the spider webs covering the door and hung a twig and pumpkin wreath in their stead.
Newell supplemented the corn fodder with plumes of ornamental grasses clipped from Comarata's yard.
Then he and Bender filled out the display with a variety of gourds of all shapes, sizes and colors - small black acorn squash; flat, rounded, reddish orange Cinderella pumpkins (the kind the good fairy might have turned into a carriage); bumpy, football-shaped hubbard squash; jug-shaped cushaw gourds in yellow and green; a fat, green apple gourd and grapefruit-size pie pumpkins.
Mums and gourds
In addition, they interspersed silk leaves of brown, orange and yellow with the mum foliage and stuffed an array of mini gourds and pumpkins around the plant base to make the pots look fuller.
Just as Bender added the finishing touches - sprays of orange-berried bittersweet among the gourds - one of Comarata's neighbors stopped by to see what was going on.
"Wow," she said with a note of awe in her voice. "I just hung a scarecrow wreath on my door and thought I was doing good."
Outdoor fall display tips
Choose basic materials, such as gourds, pumpkins, mums and corn fodder, that will last through both the Halloween and Thanksgiving seasons.
If your door is a light color, use darker, richer colors in the wreath and decorations. If the door is dark, use bright colors that will provide contrast.
Look to the garden for materials - birdbaths, garden benches, pots, ornamental grass plumes and arbors - that you can incorporate in the display.
Make your decor more meaningful by using special decorations that you keep from year to year.
A fresh coat of mulch in the landscape will perk up the display. It's also healthy for plants as it keeps the ground a more constant temperature during the season's fluctuations in temperature.
For Halloween, use yard signs and other novelty ornaments that are nonperishable and can become seasonal traditions. For fall harvest decor, include silk wreaths, swags and items that can return every year.
Mums make great additions to outdoor fall displays. Some mum varieties are heartier than others. To increase the likelihood that mums will come back next fall, plant them in the ground as early as possible and mulch and water them well.
If kept cool, dry and whole, pumpkins will stay healthy through November.
If you're crafty and want to save money, you can make swags and wreaths from fall leaves and greenery. A custom-made swag, such as the one used in this fall display, costs $40-$50 retail.
A nice pair of urns or pots can change with the seasons from spring to summer to fall to Christmas by just changing the plant material in the pots - starting with pansies in the early spring, switching to geraniums or petunias in the summer, mums in the fall and cut greens in December.
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