Dressed for holidays

The Baltimore Sun

This year inexpensive, natural decorations are popular, as people turn to more traditional baubles to decorate their homes for Christmas.

With boughs of holly, fresh fruit, fresh greens, pine cones, wired ribbon and brown paper bags, a family can decorate their entire home for little or no expense, said Patti Pearce, owner of Flowers by Design, a floral shop on Main Street in Bel Air.

For years, Pearce has decorated homes and storefront windows in the county.

Although total sales have decreased, she said she has seen more customers this year. Last year she had a handful of business customers who spent $150 to $200, and this year she had about 20 customers, who spent about $75, she said.

"We really wanted to make Main Street look beautiful this year, so I gave businesses decorations at wholesale," she said. "I got a lot of customers, but they aren't spending a lot of money."

When she decorates homes, she gives people hints on how to save money, she said.

She has about a half-dozen homes that she decorates inside and out. Although the customers might spend between $500 and $1,500 for decorations, many of them choose to use the decorations in their home for multiple years after she decorates the first time, she said.

The first suggestion is to plan ahead.

When Pearce purchased her home, she planted a winterberry bush and a Magnolia tree in her yard, she said.

"Winterberry is very expensive to buy, even for a florist," she said. "But since I have it in my yard, I can go out and clip some off and use it for holiday decorations. I don't suggest that people go steal greens from their neighbors' yards, but that they use what they have available."

Pearce uses the greens in window boxes and on wreaths, centerpieces, swags and trees, she said.

"Many people put their window boxes away in the fall," she said. "Leave them up and clip fresh greens and put them over the dirt. Then put a bow on the box, and it looks beautiful."

Or gather fresh pine cones and spray paint them gold and put them in a bucket on the front porch, she said.

One tip that she gives people is to use wired ribbon. The initial cost is more, but it can be used four or five years, she said.

She also suggests using artificial garlands inside the home, and a fresh green wreath on the front door.

"You can keep artificial garland and just change the bows or adornments," she said. "Put a fresh wreath on the door because when people come in they smell the evergreen scent. It sets the mood for the decorations inside. Then light an evergreen-scented candle inside, and people won't know if your decorations are fresh or not."

Another idea is to use brown grocery bags for wrapping paper, she said.

"Brown bags are very natural looking," she said. "You wrap them inside out, and then put a big tartan plaid or something like it on the present. When Christmas is over, the bows can be saved and used again."

Fresh fruit, artichokes and pomegranates are also popular this year, she said.

"You can take a bunch of pine cones and apples and place them in a bucket on the porch," she said. "It costs virtually nothing, and looks great. Then you can feed the apples to the squirrels after Christmas."

Whether they are buying new or using what they have, people are using traditional decorations, she said.

In previous years, purple, gold, pink and other flashy colored decorations have been popular, but this year, people are going back to red, she said.

"This year people are keeping it simple and traditional," she said. "They are putting simple white lights around the windows and candles in the windows, instead of a wreath in every window."

Elaine Sell also has noticed people tightening their belts in recent years. As the co-owner of Christmas Magic, a shop in Havre de Grace that opened in 2000, Sell has heard a lot of feedback from customers about decorations, she said.

"Most people are going traditional again," said Sell, who is closing the shop after the Christmas season this year. "And some people are just tightening their belts and not buying. They want to hang onto their money until the economy gets better."

But the temptation is too great for some people who feel they have to have some new decorations.

Vicki Arnold of Street decorated her home with 30 Christmas trees, seven of which she bought in the past two weeks, she said.

Although she uses some of the same trees, she changes the decorating theme of the trees each year, she said.

Last year, she decorated a fluorescent green tree with Mardi Gras decorations and this year she decorated the tree with a Grinch theme, she said.

Although she mixes her old decorations with the new, she didn't cut back this year.

"I'm fueling the economy," she said. "Someone has to. I always go over the top when I decorate. I'm very whimsical in my decorating."

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