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Holiday decorating for the fumble-fingered Tips: Even if you don't have a designer's touch, simple arrangements of evergreen cuttings, winter-blooming plants or ornaments in a basket of greens can create a Christmas spirit at home.


For many people, half the joy of Christmas is decorating their homes. They bustle around happily, making wreaths of evergreen boughs adorned with berries or birds or cookies and fabulous bows. They relish concocting elaborate arrangements of magnolia and fastening homemade ornaments to them. Some wrap smilax around their banisters and attach even more Christmas doodads or lights. No holiday humbug for them.

Some of us, however, consider the prospect of decorating for Christmas in the same category as a root canal. It's psychically painful because it reveals us, in a time where decorating standards have been set by Martha Stewart, as fumble-fingered fTC failures. We are all thumbs securing things with wires, and glue guns ter-rify us. We are the same people who, as children, couldn't draw and dreaded crafts. We don't sew if we can help it, either.

Nevertheless, Christmas is almost here, and if we manually challenged are to hold up our heads, we must deck the halls as acceptably if not magnificently as we can.

Claire Stewart, who is head of the flower-arranging business Upsy Daisy, suggests that we keep our decorations simple. Even we can cut bits of evergreen and holly if we have access to them and plunk them on the mantel with some brightly colored candles or a purchased Nativity scene or interesting artificial fruit, such as bronzed artichoke hearts.

Douglas and Fraser fir, white pine and boxwood hold up the longest, while holly gets tired-looking fastest and hemlock sheds its needles quickly. A spray product, available in garden centers, makes the cuttings stay fresh-looking longer. Or we can make a simple arrangement of evergreens in a vase of water. (Change the water every day or two and snip the stems to help them absorb water).

The more courageous among us can stick a candle into a cage (available at garden centers) containing dampened floral foam, into which we jam evergreens, artificial berries, eucalyptus or whatever our imagination dictates.

Stewart suggests that we involve the kids in decorating. (This does not mean that when an effort of yours turns out badly you can say, "Little 6-year-old Nancy did it, isn't it sweet?") She adds that it's a fun (and pressureless) holiday tradition to collect things - Santa Clauses, angels, reindeer, snowmen and so forth. Buy them individually over the years, and put them in the same place in the house, building up some family traditions.

Improved artificial ornaments and greens as well as seasonal plants are the salvation of the fumble-fingered. Poinsettias come in many a hue and variegation, and cyclamen are colorful and long-lasting winter plants that bloom only during the short winter day, ideally in a cold but sunny spot, away from heat sources. They like to be watered from the bottom.

Jerusalem cherry plants are handsome, and Christmas cactus come in a wide variety of colors and will bloom again next year.

Amaryllis can be grown for fun and color, and paper-white narcissus, grown in pebbles and water, are pretty and fragrant. While they come in both white and yellow, I've found that the white ones produce more flowers. They can get a little leggy and might flop over, so you would be wise to plant the bulbs in a dish deep enough to keep the flowers from listing.

And, if you brought them in this fall, cut red geraniums in a glass, china or silver vase look elegant and - with perhaps a sprig of yew - Christmasy. Baskets of lady apples or even tree ornaments on a bed of evergreen are pretty and klutz-proof.

Next thing you know, it's over; you can soon start forcing forsythia and cherry and buying primroses. We fumble-fingered can stop fretting for another year.

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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