Nov 30th, 2018

Recycle, Redesign, Reveal Your Holiday Decor

Volunteers reuse plastic milk jugs to make flowers.

Hand-crafted milk-jug flowers add vibrant color to the holiday landscape at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.  [PHOTO BY DON WILLIAMSON]

Time to recycle! Old becomes new when renewables are fashioned into holiday decor. DIY-remakes start with the hunt. With an eagle eye, browse consignment shops, attics and workshops in search of retro nick knacks, retired holiday memorabilia and scrap materials. Upcycling these into holiday decorations not only saves cash. It’s eco-friendly and fun. During the final reveal, the results can be crazy creative, too!

Al Thompson, the 2016 national winner of The Great Christmas Light Fight, is a local authority on handcrafted holiday decor. Using mostly scrap plywood, he has made 1,414 decorations for annual display at his Henrico County home.

Recycle & Reuse

“Ninety percent of my plyboard is recycled,” he said. “I get it free from the cutting stations at Lowes and Home Depot.

“I also go to Lewis Ginter early January for ideas. While everyone else is admiring, I’m looking behind the decorations asking, ‘How’d they do that?’” He takes photos of Dominion GardenFest of Lights for reference and keeps a pad and pen handy to jot down ideas. Year round, he also keeps a lookout for leftover holiday goodies and giveaways with potential for his future displays.

Following are easy-to-create decorations that rejuvenate or recycle used items. The first three can be seen at Thompson’s holiday show. The remaining ideas stem from volunteers and staff at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden.

  • Plywood scraps: Visit home-improvement stores and ask for leftover plywood to recycle. Paint the sheets black so the backdrop disappears at night. Attach white lights to outline holiday shapes and words. Or, cut the plywood into holiday symbols and characters and paint them. In addition to these, Thompson paints themed trivia questions on groupings of plywood signs (with answers elsewhere) to encourage visitor interaction.
  • Colored lights: No need to buy new lights when changing color schemes. Pull out old light strings and paint each bulb the desired color.
  • Plastic milk jugs: To recycle, cut off the bottom, remove the cap and turn the jug upside down. Make vertical cuts downward from the cut edge to about two inches from the base. Bend the newly formed slats downward and outward from the center to form flower petals. Paint the petals bold colors, if desired. String lights through the center hole and watch it glow at night.
  • Tomato cages: Turn a cage upside down as an instant holiday-tree form. Paint the framework green, weave light strands through the wire (making sure the plug is near the base) and hang mini ornaments. For a more traditional look, attach leftover garland to the frame before decorating.
  • Liter-size soda bottles: Lay a plastic bottle on its side and paint the cap to resemble a snout. Insert a wire tail and legs. Hot glue pipe-cleaner whiskers, ears and recycled accessories to create a cute holiday critter.
  • Old books, sheet music or newspapers: Separate pages and fold into three-dimensional ornaments, such as origami birds, which can be strung as garlands. Vary colors, textures and designs for interest.
  • Retired glass ornaments: Gently wash the ornament to remove its paint and glitter. Decoupage with distinctive papers or swirl-paint the inside of the glass.
  • White plastic bags: Cut solid-white bags into equal-sized strips. Tie them onto a wire wreath so the ends form tails. Trim the tails with pinking shears for a fluffy white wreath.
  • Natural items and dried flower petals: String items collected from the woods onto jute cord as a garland. Glue on cinnamon sticks, small pieces of birch, recycled ribbons, wooden stars, etc. Or, use acrylic glue and sealer (such as Mod Podge) to layer dried flower petals on retired ornaments.
  • Saved holiday cards: Repurpose greeting-card images as gift tags using a hole-punch, decorative-edge scissors and scraps of colorful cord.
  • Forgotten wagon, sled or wheelbarrow: Stack natural items on them, such as birch sticks, small logs or pinecones. Drape light strings and adorn with recycled ornaments or holiday toys.
  • Old picture frames: Remove the glass and backing, leaving only the frame. Buy cutouts of wooden stars or holiday words from a craft store and stain or paint them. Use fishing line to hang the decoratives from the top of the frame. Hot-glue plastic holly or silk poinsettias at the corners. Lean the upcycled frame against the front-porch wall, above the kitchen cabinets or atop the fireplace mantle.
  • Slatted window shutters: Paint a snowman on a reclaimed, louvered shutter. Glue on extra-large buttons for the eyes and down the front of the coat. Lightly edge the shutter’s edges with spray-on snow. Group painted shutters of different heights to create a snow family.
  •  Clear glass florist vases: Fill vases with colorful ornaments, glitter-sprayed pinecones, silk poinsettia blossoms or foil-wrapped candies. Or, fill them with fluffy artificial snow to create an outdoor scene and embellish with miniatures.
  • Holiday gift paper and bows: Get ready for the next holiday! Save leftover wrapping materials to make unique New Year’s Eve party hats.

This article first appeared in the Richmond Times-Dispatch in November 2018.

About Lynn Kirk

Lynn Kirk, a freelance writer and marketing consultant, has collaborated with Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden since 2002. She considers it a joy and privilege to write newspaper articles and member newsletters for such a top-rated (and utterly gorgeous!) public garden.

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