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Economic, eco-friendly holiday decorating

Written by Lynn Kirk; used with permission from the Richmond Times-Dispatch

Wonder why our dedication to eco-friendly products wanes during the holidays? You don’t have to look far to see artificial wreaths, mass-produced plastic bows, inflatable lawn decorations and energy-sapping lights—all demonstrating eco-indifference. Perhaps it’s time to apply horticulture’s three R’s of sustainability – reduce, recycle and reuse – in our holiday decorating as well.

“Use what you have, and if you don’t have enough, then branch out,” suggests David Pippin, adjunct professor of horticulture at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. “Bring out old decorations and make new combinations. Mix it up.

”During a “Christmas Decor for the Home” class held in partnership with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Pippin inspired students to visit their attics as well as thrift stores and consignment shops before starting their holiday decorating. “Whether it’s your old stuff or someone else’s, use it,” he said. Pippin turns sentimental into environmental as he regularly recycles old wreaths, leftover ribbons, antique ornaments and the like in his own personal decorating. Even for floral arrangements, Pippin encourages use of non-traditional holders, such as a casserole dish, loaf pan or ordinary kitchen container. “It just needs to be watertight if you’re using fresh greenery. And if it’s not the right color, spray [paint] it.

”Eco-savvy decorators also know to turn to nature for DIY holiday crafting. Pippin demonstrated how fresh-cut greenery, flowers and berry sprigs can be enhanced by juxtaposing nature’s “found” treasures, such as seed pods, pine cones, moss wispy sticks and small, lichen-covered branches. Preserved botanicals, which are are another eco-smart decorating option, are especially meaningful if earlier harvested and dried from one’s spring or summer garden.

“After the holidays, just recycle the greenery and flowers to the compost pile, and don’t forget to save the rest for next year.”

A holiday decorating class, instructed by David Pippin, president of David Pippin Inc., used natural and recycled objects to craft these eco-friendly mantle arrangements. The photos demonstrate how decorators using the same elements can create totally different looks by varying the design shapes and styles.


Holiday Decorating Tips from David Pippin

Pippin is Adjunct Horticulture Professor at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College and President of David Pippin, Inc.

  • Always protect your table or mantel with a trivet, coaster or plastic cut-to-size when decorating with fresh berries, cut flowers and greenery. Hide the underlay with greenery, cloth or accompanying accents along the base.
  • Take a garden walk to gather nature’s elements – or prune your small bushes and trees – as an eco-savvy source for holiday decorations.
  • Locate unique containers, recyclable ornaments and holiday decorations in your attic or at thrift stores and consignment shops.
  • Interesting object, but wrong color? Use spray paint!
  • Not the best bow maker? Take ribbon and make one loop, then secure and attach the loop to a florist pick. Add to the arrangement either as a single accent or clustered together to resemble an actual bow.
  • If using real fruit, vertically run a florist pick through the core when possible to lengthen the fruit’s life.
  • If real fruit looks too perfect and unrealistic, a light splatter of brown paint or resin will give it a naturally speckled look.
  • To make real fruit look shiny, coat it with a household spray wax and allow to fully dry before using.
  • After the holidays, add the greenery and spent flowers to your compost pile and save the rest for reuse next year.
  • Show your personality when you decorate your front door. “Anyone can do a green wreath with a red bow. Add creative flair and make the neighbors talk!