Create indoor arrangements using outdoor materials

Even though temperatures are dropping, many outdoor items still can be used to create fresh floral arrangements for fall and winter.

David Pippin, a Richmond floral designer, shared some fresh ideas for using items from your garden or yard in festive arrangements.

Above all, he said, have fun with floral arrangements, and think outside the box.

“There are a lot of photos of arrangements online. Find something you like, and try to copy it,” Pippin suggested. “Experiment with a few sprigs in small containers to get started, put it on a windowsill and enjoy it!”

He emphasized the importance of keeping arrangements in water-tight containers and to mix things up by using interesting containers. He suggested anything from a bucket or pitcher to a basket or vase.

His other primary advice: Change the water regularly, at least once a week or when it starts to smell. Always keep the foliage above the water, or fresh items will break down faster. “Also, if your arrangement is not in a water-holding container or foam, it will dry up immediately,” Pippin noted.

For fall décor, Pippin suggested using any last-minute flowers in the garden, as well as ornamental grasses and fall foliage.

Aucuba makes a wonderful addition to a fall arrangement, especially the variegated varieties. Evergreen clippings and broadleaf trees such as magnolia or camellia work great and will hold up a long time, Pippin said.

Fall produce also can be added to fresh arrangements. Try cabbages, gourds, mini pumpkins, onions and potatoes. Those items also could be part of an arrangement made in a basket, Pippin explained.

When using fresh produce, use a skewer through each item to secure it in floral foam. When using apples in an arrangement, running skewers through the cores can make them last longer, Pippin said.

Many items used in fall floral arrangements also will work well for winter displays. Broad and needleleaf evergreens such as arborvitae and Leyland cypress work well and will last one to two weeks. Pines, cedars and spruces also are beautiful.

Consider adding your own decorations such as ribbon, ornaments and other materials to make your winter arrangement feel more festive, Pippin said.

When using fresh produce, use a skewer through each item to secure it in floral foam. When using apples in an arrangement, running skewers through the cores can make them last longer. (Click to Tweet)

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire—or fire pit!

“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...” These song lyrics conjure up iconic images of roasting fresh chestnuts during the holiday season.

Before you try roasting your own chestnuts, it's important to properly score them. “Scoring the chestnuts before you cook them makes sure they don’t explode in an oven or over the fire,” explained Kim Bryant of Bryant Farm and Nursery. “It also helps later, as scoring the nuts makes them easier to peel.”

To score chestnuts the traditional way, place a chestnut on a cutting board with its flat side down. With a paring knife, cut an “x” into the round top of the nut. If the nuts have a harder shell and don’t score easily that way, then try one of the following:

  • Soak them in lukewarm water for 20 minutes before scoring. Try either the classic “x” or a straight-line score across the round top of the nut, and it should open beautifully once it has been boiled or roasted.
  • The no-cut score: If you cannot or don’t want to score your chestnuts, place them flat-side-down on a cutting board. With a paring knife, stab into the top of each chestnut, then turn it 90 degrees and stab it again, creating a small, deep “x” on the top of each nut.

After washing and scoring the chestnuts, place the nuts in a roasting pan in a single layer. Place the pan over hot coals, and turn the nuts frequently until the shells split open and the insides feel soft.

Chestnut Puree

Do you enjoy snacking on roasted chestnuts? Take your nuts to the next level. Use this chestnut puree to create a tasty spread for crackers and more. Be sure to make extra to serve at your next holiday get-together.

See Recipe

Fall is in the air. Before taking the chill off by throwing a log in the fireplace or flipping the gas switch, remember to have your chimney cleaned and inspected.

The National Fire Protection Association recommends that chimneys be cleaned and inspected by a licensed, reputable service each year to help prevent home fires. Cleaning should include removal of all soot that has built up and any debris or nests that birds or animals may have built. It also should include a thorough inspection of the chimney for cracks, which can cause fire to spread from the chimney to your home.

During the heating season, keep the area around the hearth free of debris, decorations and flammable materials. Remove any branches or leaves from the roof or anywhere that could block the chimney.

Burn only seasoned, dry wood in fireplaces and wood-burning stoves, and always keep a fire extinguisher nearby.

All firewood should be stacked at least 30 feet away from the home. Do not use gasoline or other liquid fuels to start a fire, and never burn trash in a fireplace or wood stove.