Fall is here! At Hilltop we have had a flurry of fall activities as the growing season comes to an end. All gardeners here and at home are harvesting the last of our crops and enjoying the good food our hard work has brought us. Soon the leaves on the trees will fall revealing the tree trunks supporting an intriguing system of branches for us to ponder. Our garden plants dry up, as do the flowers. Some we cut to the ground for a good, long rest. Some evergreens and bushes put on their fall splendor of abundant color or bright berries.
Halloween is a traditional time to enjoy corn stalks, jack o’lanterns and colorful squash from the garden. There are many types of useful skeletons in the garden. We can glean these from the garden for fall decorating. Here are just a few ideas:
Branches full of leaves may be gathered from such trees and plants as pin oak, hydrangea, laurel, copper beech and many others. Treat with a mixture of vegetable glycerin (40%) and very hot water (60%) to preserve their beauty. Vegetable glycerin can be found at craft stores usually alongside cake and cookie supplies.
The color of the leaves will become a leathery brown as the glycerin saturates the plant material. Strip off the bottom leaves. Split the branch base with a knife and smash the bottom of the branch with a hammer. Put the branches first in water for a couple hours, then discard water. Add the glycerin mixture and stand the branches in a dark place in a container with 3-4 inches of the mixture until they are soft and subtle to the touch, approximately six days or more depending on what plant is used.
The leaves can then be put in arrangements, wreaths, swags, or tabletop decorations. Expect them to keep their beauty for a month or two. Individual leaves may also be submerged and soaked in a glycerin mixture. As the water evaporates it will leave the glycerin- soaked material behind.
Using glycerin also works on evergreens. Experiment with a few that you have. Glycerin-soaked evergreens can last for years. Prepare the branches the same way as for other tree branches. The softer wood branches will need more support than hardwood branches. They are done when the evergreens leaves have grown soft and flexible. Great for making Christmas greenery displays and for use on homemade ornaments.
The beautiful reddish blossoms of sedum can be seen in many gardens this time of year. When picked at near full bloom and dried hanging upside down, they dry as nicely, if not better than yellow yarrow to be used in dried floral arrangements. Their color deepens to a pleasing brownish red. Spray dried florals (do it outside!) with some clear floral spray to help lengthen life and prevent shattering.
Another preserving method is to pop some colorful leaves into a book between two pieces of white paper. Stack some other heavy books on top of it and wait for the leaves to dry. Fresh and dried grasses can mix greens and tans, long strands, fox tails and interesting seed heads for a wonderful fall look. Some seed heads can be opened and spread out to simulate petaled flowers. Stuff a carved pumpkin with a grassy head of hair! Dried seed pods like milkweed, money plant, flower seed heads, acorns, pinecones, and other plant remnants can add interest in a dried arrangement as well. Use a little floral spray paint if you want more color.
Dried plant stalks and bare tree branches can be used in floral arrangements. Grape vines can be gathered from the woods for wreath-making. Foraging in state forests is legal if you do no harm. Check with the gatekeeper and state your intention. Check the DNR website for any restrictions.
Make your garden go a little farther this year. Enjoying plant remnants is just one more step in getting the most out of our garden’s natural goodness. Spray paint interesting forms with the colors of the season. Make skeletons into miniature trees or hang upside down like a little chandelier. A little touch of nature can help us get through the cold winter months! While the garden rests we can enjoy the sleeping world and start thinking about just what we want to do in the garden next year!