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Fall lessons When it comes to decorating, don't be afraid to pump it up

September may feel more like summer, but before long the mums, corn husks and pumpkins will be landing in gardens and on porches everywhere.

And, for many, the Halloween decorations will go up beside them (if they're not up already).

While there is a simple beauty in a pair of pumpkins flanking the front door, it has become quite easy to upgrade your presentation -- inside and out.

Harvest decor is readily available at craft stores, florists, farmers' markets, supermarkets and fall festivals.

And do-it-yourselfers have many resources available for putting together an artful display and enhancing the ordinary.

This year, for example, you may want to explore the unique, ornamental gourds you find around town. Urban Roots Community Garden Center on Rhode Island Street is just one place to check out for unusual gourds, squash and pumpkins this season.

Or, even if you stick with the more common variety, why not spruce up your tabletop display a bit?

For example:

"You could put little gourds, miniature pumpkins, green apples and pomegranates in a bowl. You also could buy preserved oak leaves and put them in there or add some hay to the bottom of the container," suggested Dave Whelan, owner of Floral Explorations, 1448 Hertel Ave.

As for the type of container, Whelan prefers something low -- perhaps a charger plate in gold -- that can then be used straight through the holidays (with artichokes, more pomegranates and some glitter or ribbon perhaps).

The pomegranates, with their initial burgundy reddish color, last a long time, he added.

For dinner, "you could use votive candles around it for low lighting or tall tapers for more formal dining," he said.

Or go with green hydrangea mixed with sunflowers or Gerbera daisies for something a little different.

Another favorite of his: magnolia leaves.

"They dry out nicely. I've had mine in a vase on my mantel since last Christmas," Whelan said.

Here are some other ways to raise up your fall decorating a notch or two:

>Instead of putting a plastic pot of mums on the front porch, you could:

*Get them off the ground. Experiment with containers of various heights and mix high with low.

*Use mums to replace your spent summer plants in window boxes. Keep any healthy foliage and fill in with the mums, winter pansies or other frost-tolerant plants. You can probably even keep them right in their pots.

*Go for an eye-catching fall planter -- one already planted up at a greenhouse or nursery or one you do yourself. It's all in the mix.

"Ornamental grasses are a big deal and look great in the fall," said Mark Yadon, of Mischler's Florist and Greenhouses, 118 S. Forest Road, Williamsville.

In one large container, grasses are used along with mums, Heuchera, Sedum, Lamium and ornamental kale, for example.

>Instead of setting out a pumpkin or two on your stoop, you could:

*Simply tie some strands of raffia around the stem for a finishing touch or embellish the tops with preserved or faux autumn leaves.

*Place a pumpkin on a bed of straw using an urn or container as a base.

*Dress up your outdoor furniture -- wood benches, wrought-iron tables -- with a display of pumpkins.

Note: You can even try stacking pumpkins topiary-style, say in sets of three. Pumpkins have been shown this way for several years now in books and magazines.

For some, the look is achieved by drilling the pumpkins and inserting a rod (after being drilled, pumpkins will only last four or five days this way).

Another option: Choose squatty, flat-bottomed pumpkins in graduated sizes that stack easily, suggests national gardening expert/author P. Allen Smith in his book "Living in the Garden Home: Connecting the Seasons with Containers, Crafts and Celebrations" (Potter, $32.50).

Remove the stems from all but the top; stabilize the tower by applying a heavy-duty adhesive such as Liquid Nails between them, he writes.

Other designers and stylists add moss between the pumpkins to finish off the look.

>You could scatter a few faux leaves on your mantelpiece, or you could:

*Hang a garland of them around your door, up your railing or even around your chandelier.

*Find leafy branches and stems of fall berries and stick them in a collection of jugs, vases and creamers, suggests Better Homes and Gardens, in its October issue.

Put the tallest branches in back and use decorative boxes, stacks of books, etc., to vary the height on a tabletop, the editors suggest.

*Go all out -- and we mean all out -- by decorating an artificial evergreen tree -- tabletop or ceiling height -- with faux fall leaves, berries, birdhouses, Chinese lanterns, bittersweet branches and copper-colored ferns. (We saw this done on an 8-foot tree inside Mischler's).

>Next month, closer to Halloween, you could carve your pumpkin in the traditional jack-o'-lantern style, or you could:

*Carve a face that resembles your dog. That's right. The Better Homes and Gardens Web site offers free downloadable pumpkin stencils for 13 top dog breeds. Go to bhg.com/dogstencils and follow the instructions.

*Instead of carving a face, carve a word -- like "Boo!" -- for a change. Or check out the stack of three faux pumpkins that spell out "Trick" "Or" "Treat" from the Martha Stewart collection at grandinroad.com

Or consider carving your house number in your pumpkin. Nice for a party.

*Paint the pumpkin. One idea from Rust-Oleum: Paint with specialty chalkboard spray paint and then write on the pumpkin with white chalk.

See paintideas.com for all the how-to information.

e-mail: smartin@buffnews.com

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