The holidays are upon us, and if you’re like most, there is an almost primeval urge to decorate every nook and cranny of your home with holiday decor.
Having witnessed my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all succumb to this frenzy, I am now patently certain that it is brought on by a genetic trait of all Lowcountry women. And while this can prove to be tremendously rewarding, it also can prove to be tremendously expensive. That is all fine and well if you married a local who is well acquainted and resigned to this condition. I, however, married a Yankee who firmly believes that money is for counting and stacking. Needless to say, his peculiar attitude can wreak havoc on my holiday bliss.
Determined not to let his miserly budget dampen my enthusiasm or thwart my attempts at holiday cheer, I resorted to adorning our home with what was on hand and free, outside. Here are a few of my favorites, which are easy and attractive (and oh yes – for the most part they’re free!).
Citrus Pomander Balls
Decorate a citrus fruit with whole cloves.
 Start with a whole orange or lemon – leave the peel on.  If you wish, you can wrap and pin a thin ribbon to the fruit (creating four ‘sections’) before covering it with the cloves.  Cover the citrus entirely with cloves by pushing each clove stem into the skin.  Pile them high in an attractive container or on a serving tray. They nicely mask the smell of my burnt dinner.
Magnolia Leaf Wreath
Usually reviled for its messy behavior, this tree quickly advances to our good graces at the holidays.
 Soak a 15-inch florist foam wreath in water.  Set the florist foam on top of an empty 3-gallon nursery pot (free at most nurseries). The groove on the bottom of the form fits perfectly on the pot, which helps keep it stable.  Insert individual leaves directly into the foam so they are perpendicular to the form. No need for wire or glue. Four concentric rings of leaves will usually cover the wreath.  To hang your wreath, tie twine or fishing line to the form and loop the line over a nail or hook. Use ribbon to hide the line and nail. Finish with a festive bow.  Hang your wreath in the shade and it should last for several weeks before drying out. You can lightly mist it to extend its life. Clemson Cooperative Extension has a fact sheet for numerous methods of preserving the leaves indefinitely (HGIC 1151).
Oyster Shell Christmas Tree
The most attractive trees are made from farmed oyster shells. Just be sure to boil them before using to avoid a pluff mud aroma quelling your holiday atmosphere.
 Purchase a styrofoam tree form (3 different sizes look wonderful together)  Sort your shells by size.  Starting with the largest shells, hot glue a row of them to the bottom of the form.  Gradually decrease the size of the shells and continue to glue them in concentric circles until you’ve completely covered your form.  Add a small star fish to the top of the tree.  Glue a small fake pearl to the tip of each shell. Stand back and admire.
Yule Tide Log
 Find an attractive piece of driftwood.  Have someone drill holes to allow for tapered candles in it (usually 2 or 3 holes at most).  Collect and wire together pinecones, dried gumballs and magnolia seedpods.  Wire or hot glue your dried arrangements onto either end of your yule log.
 Spray with varnish if desired.  Insert dripless candles into the holes.  Light the candles and dazzle your company (maybe they’ll overlook the burnt dinner).
There are so many possibilities with the beautiful bounty of nature here in the Lowcountry, I hope you’ll go outside and be inspired.
Ask & Answer
DEAR GENTLE GARDENER,
I love the way Spanish moss looks in silk flower arrangements. Is it OK to gather some from the ground to use in some arrangements I’m
planning to make?
— Misty Eyed inn Moss Creek
DEAR MISTY EYED,
Using Spanish moss from the ground is fine, only if you’re planning to give the arrangement to your arch nemesis. Spanish moss on the ground is a breeding ground for chiggers, which you do not under any circumstances want to invite into your home. If you must use Spanish moss from the ground, be sure to boil it or microwave small handfuls of it for 1 to 2 minutes to kill any unwanted visitors.
Got a question for the Gentle Gardener?