Northern Sea Oats are among the ornamental grasses that the Atwells use to decorate inside their home. Photo courtesy of Tom Atwell

Nancy, with a little help from me, has been cutting plant material to bring inside since the daffodils began blooming in May.

Some of the plants, such as dahlias, tithonia and gladiolus, we planted specifically for cutting the flowers, even though we enjoy looking at them outside. Others are meant mostly to look good outside, and bringing them indoors to brighten up our living space is a bonus.

We have several gardening friends who never bring flowers inside. Some worry about insects that might travel along with the plants, about flowers dropping pollen or petals on the table or about allergies. Others want to leave the blossoms to benefit pollinators and other wildlife.

With all the divisions splitting society now, I’m not going to argue about this one. Do whatever pleases you. It’s your home and your garden.

The flower-cutting season just about over. The frost has finally done in the dahlias, which bloomed until late October. The asters and a few hydrangea are the only plants still in bloom in our garden. The asters we will probably leave outside, but the hydrangeas, many of which have dried out on their own, might make it inside on their own or as part of an arrangement.

Other parts of the plants are suitable as indoor decorations. People do it all the time for Christmas, cutting down entire trees and bringing them inside.


Of course, you can take just part of the plant.

We have in our basement a branch of a Harry Lauder walking stick that lived for about 25 years on our property. The contorted hazelnut, botanical name Corylus avellana, was especially attractive in winter with snow or ice on the branches, and I was sorry it died. I have since learned that about 30 years is its life expectancy, and we have planted a replacement.

Anyway, this branch with its twisted shape comes in handy when Nancy makes some of her more unusual and creative flower designs.

Other branches that are attractive on their own include birches and stems of the redtwig dogwood, which have to be cut to the ground occasionally because it is the newer shoots that are red.

Nancy will sometimes use tree bark as part of her arrangements. The bark is especially attractive when covered with lichen. Sometimes she finds moss and brings that in.

Crabapple branches, with the tiny apples still attached, are attractive indoors in the fall. Viburnums also hold onto their fruit well into the fall and look good. Just remember to compost all of them once the fruit begins to soften and fall off. Actually, the smallest crabapples stay solid longest when brought inside.


A few decades ago, it was common for people to cut bittersweet, with its orange fruit, and create fall wreathes. Bittersweet is invasive and birds can spread the seeds even when put on display for decorations, so don’t do it.

A simple trick is to find a few perfect leaves, brightly colored and with no holes or torn spots, and spread them on a table. They are eye-catching and totally seasonal.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that we leave our grasses standing outside in the garden all winter. That does not mean, of course, that we can’t cut part of them down to bring inside for decorations.

In our dining room (if we can still call it that without having eaten a meal there since last Christmas), Nancy has created an arrangement of grasses and seed heads from ‘Black Snakeroot’ Actaea plus a craggy old apple tree branch with lichen on it.

Many of the other flowers that we leave standing in the yard will look good when brought inside. Rudbeckia and echinacea are especially attractive.

I haven’t even gotten into needled evergreens and holly, because they are more closely association with Christmas and the heart of winter.

As I often suggest, just take a walk around your yard. You will probably find something that could continue to spark your interest while inside.

And Nancy adds that, if you have house cats, be careful of grasses in containers. Cats love the grasses, pull on them and knock over the containers. Put the containers of grasses on the floor if you have cats.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at

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