When the air turns crisp and the scent of burning leaves fills the air, we prepare for the coming winter by "putting by" food, cleaning up our gardens, and decorating our homes with the bounty.
Preparing both our larders and our gardens for winter are customs that go way back in time, but the decorating of our front lawns is a relatively modern practice. After diligent research, I was unable to ﬁnd any deﬁnite timeline for the custom of using bales of straw, corn sheaves, mums, and various rural-type items in our home decorating. However, the age-old ritual of decorating the churches with baskets of harvest bounty is probably the origin of the idea. Of course, Hallowe’en is part of the season, so many folks include carved pumpkins, gourds, and squash in these charming displays.
Is this a regional thing?
In the small Southern Oregon town where I grew up, fall came and went with little fanfare, other than Hallowe’en and Thanksgiving. I do not remember the type of yard decorations we see today. Conversely, in Ohio and the Midwest, by mid-September, the farms and homes are overﬂowing with seasonal bounty and homemade decorations such as scarecrows. The garden centers and farm stands have abundant materials for decorating, and the pumpkin patches are doing a land-ofﬁce business.
I now live in Connecticut and ﬁnd that, at least along the shore, there are very few homes that have done much more than set out chrysanthemums and pumpkins. Farther north in the farming areas, the harvest decorations are beginning to appear and the garden centers now have seasonal displays.
Harvest festivals are abundant in other parts of the world such as Great Britain and Europe, but they celebrate the actual harvest with more subdued displays, mostly in churches and at harvest suppers at Michaelamus, or Sukkot at the end of Rosh Hoshana. In America, our Christian celebration of the harvest is, of course, Thanksgiving.
Charming ideas for fall displays
Have a large garden? Harvest your best pumpkins, squash, sunﬂowers, gourds, and/or Indian corn and arrange them on a bale of straw near your front door. Add a grapevine wreath intertwined with dried ﬂowers and you’ll provide a smile to everyone who drives by.
Are you really into Hallowe’en? Add carved or painted pumpkins to your fall display and set them up with corn dollies or scarecrows. Fill a vintage cart or wheelbarrow with straw for a rural accent.
Keep it simple? Several pots of mums in glorious colors grouped with a pumpkin or two. In warmer climates, add some patio pots ﬁlled with foliage plants.
Is the custom of fall decorating a regional one?
Where do you live, and when and how does your area show off for fall?
Do you remember such decorating as you were growing up?
Regardless of when the tradition began, the appearance of these autumnal symbols in our yards and gardens remind us that we have much to be thankful for.
Images from Wikimedia Commons under GNU Free Documentation License
About Toni Leland
Toni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.