The bright armful of greenery augmented by faux berries and ribbons shown in our illustrations is easy to re-create in our wonderful north Idaho outdoors. Fir, pine and cedar trees toss their largess in easily-gathered clumps during the brisk winds of autumn, and with accompanying cones (sometimes thankfully attached) provide the wherewithal for a great dual-purpose creation.
My long-gone but dearly remembered Gordon setter “Prince” was well and truly named — for he was a prince of a dog. He did not aspire to be a “house-dog” and was uncomfortable when invited in, though it was only me and the myriad cats (whom he loved and who loved him in return) who occupied my big log house on the mountain-top.
He had a good dog-house on my spacious front porch but rarely used it — until one cold winter I came by a sheepskin which I installed on a soft bed of fragrant White fir branches within the sturdy kennel. He loved it and the sweet Balsam (we called white fir Balsam back then) made him smell so sweet I was delighted, too. The house languished in the other three seasons, but when winter came and I shook out the sheepskin and replaced the batten of fragrant fir, Prince was ready for the change.
That’s what gave me the idea to “decorate” his house along with mine during the holidays. While I had great swags of Ponderosa and swathes of Cedar tied together with big red bows here and there along the long porch, he had his own perky red bow above the kennel entryway — and I do believe he was pleased by it.
Too, at the end of my lane — a fair distance to the road leading to Wrenco Loop — there stood an old black mailbox on a still-sturdy post, obviously not used for many years. The lid hung down broken, but it was strangely picturesque to me, so each winter, I decorated it too, with a swag of greenery and a bow. My last year there, when I went out to do just that, I heard a sound and saw there was a bird’s nest inside, and a pair of Chickadees within, taking cover from the wind. After placing the swag atop the box and tying it down with the bow ends, I hurried home for a net bag of suet, added some various seeds, took it back and added it to the swag. I was so pleased about this that I have done it ever since in myriad ways depending on circumstance.
If you don’t have a pet-house to decorate, or even an old mail box, make do with whatever’s at hand to please both your visitors and the creatures that share your surroundings. A yard or porch-light — an unused watering can or bucket that can be filled with a pretty combination of greenery, bows and food items for the birds, squirrels - from the big grey (imported) fellas to the feisty little Pine-Jimmies and smaller-still Chipmunks (not to mention an occasional visiting raccoon or other opportunistic forager).
If you have a string of lights stretched across your front porch, why not suspend some suet or peanut-butter-filled pinecones between the bulbs? There are many ways to combine beauty and kindness to the birds — and as so often mentioned before in this column — empty wheelbarrows, birdbaths, even shovels and other implements, can be utilized to become a work of art-and-mercy to illustrate the true meaning of the holiday season. Why not decorate a tree or shrub on your property — using foil or other weatherproof ornaments and seed-covered balls of suet, orange halves, apples and such, including threaded cranberries, popcorn and peanuts in the shell? What fun for a family project. Even the naked red branches of dogwood are beautified by such embellishment — as well as most any other small tree/bush.
Did you hang out hummingbird feeders this past summer? Why not use those sites for a “kissing ball” of suet surrounded by Oregon grape’s holly-like leaves? And the now-empty planters and/or potagers could contain a lovely bouquet similar to our illustrations but concealing treats of seeds, corncobs, peanuts and peanut-butter pinecone or bark treats. Larger arrangements like these provide protection during blizzards as well.
Many people begin their home-decorating right after Thanksgiving, so now’s the time to put a plan together, check out your possibilities (or create them!) and make your landscape welcoming not only to your pets, friends and passers-by, but the visiting furred and feathered creatures that bless you with their presence. Happy holidays!
Valle Novak writes the Country Chef and Weekend Gardener columns for the Daily Bee. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 208-265-4688.