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Have a merry Christmas, naturally!
Decorations inspired by Mother Nature are a gift to the environment
A garland of magnolia leaves frames the entrance to a house on Dixon Drive in Gainesville. The garland was constructed by using 2-by-6-inch pieces of wood for the frame. It was then spray painted and magnolia leaves were attached. - photo by Tom Reed

Cranberry Garland

1 thin sewing needle
Strong cord or waxed dental floss
One to two 12-ounce bags fresh cranberries
Fresh popped popcorn, acorns, whole cinnamon sticks, pinecones, etc. (optional)
Drill (optional)
Very fine drill bit just wide enough to make a hole for the wire (optional)
Pliers (optional)

Start with a long length of thread and a thin needle. Knot one end of the string and add fresh cranberries one at a time by piercing through the center with the needle. Continue to make desired length; secure end with a large knot. To make stringing cranberries easier, use waxed dental floss or try waxing the needle and thread with beeswax.

If desired, alternate cranberries with other items like popcorn, whole cinnamon sticks or wooden beads. For popcorn, simply thread through the center of the kernel. Cinnamon sticks can be threaded through their natural opening in the center of the stick. (For pinecones or acorns: use a power drill and a very fine bit that will drill a hole just big enough for the wire. Place paper towels on the work surface to catch acorn debris. Use pliers to hold the acorn securely at a slight angle - the top blade on the cap, and the lower blade on the bottom. Rest the pliers against the paper towels temporarily so the drill can bite into the acorn just under the cap. Then raise the pliers from the work surface so the drill can get through the acorn.)

Dispose of garland after a day or two, before berries get soft. To prolong the life of the garland, try spraying shellac on the cranberries after stringing them. To avoid staining, do not place the garland directly on lightly-painted surfaces or linens.

Caution: For the safety of wildlife and birds, do not use shellac if you plan to hang strings outdoors.

Ocean Spray

Recycle your Christmas tree

Each year, Keep Georgia Beautiful works with private sponsors to organize Bring One to the Chipper on Jan. 3. If you drop off your Christmas tree at Hall County compactor sites on Jan. 3, Hall County natural resources coordinator Rick Foote said you will receive a seedling from the state.

After trees are brought to the chipper, mulch is made and can be picked up for free in mid-January.

"We will load residents with the mulch free during operating hours 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday," Foote said. "It's best if residents give us a call before coming for mulch to make sure we have it and just in case our skid loader is down for repairs."

Don't feel left out if you are a City of Gainesville resident - you also can take your tree to the county compactor site.

For the environment, the Christmas season isn't all about joy and hope - the holiday probably makes Mother Nature very nervous.

Just take a peek out the window on Christmas Day at the piles of cardboard boxes, foil wrapping paper and tape that heads to the end of driveway and eventually the landfill.

But there are ways to celebrate a green Christmas and give Mother Earth a present of good tidings.

It doesn't take too much time to create something environmentally friendly for the Christmas season like a cranberry garland, boughs made from extra Christmas tree limbs or, like Derik and Shannon Pannek, a magnolia garland that is placed beautifully at the front of their Gainesville home.

"Basically it's just using 2-by-6s and then what you're gonna do is bracket them together," said Derik, who constructed the magnolia garland. "We had magnolia leaves in the backyard; so you just have to trim off magnolia leaves."

Derik then painted the wood form and layered the leaves onto it.

"You want to paint the wood so it doesn't show through once you put on the magnolia leaves," he said. "You just layer the magnolia leaves over the boards ... kind of like shingles."

While placing the leaves, Derik recommended starting at the top and attaching the leaves to the board with staples.

"The only way you can mount it on the wood is with the staples; there's no other way," he said. "The magnolia leaves are too heavy."

Even though the project took eight hours to complete, Derik said he doesn't mind.

"We're not big on icicle lights and all that kind of stuff; we kind of just like the natural stuff," he said, adding that the leaves should stay pretty and green through Christmas, as long as the weather stays cool.

Jennifer Ceska, a Gainesville resident who is a conservation coordinator at the State Botanical Gardens in Athens, also incorporates natural elements into her holiday decorating.

"You can take vines and make a ball out of them and put lights around them," she said. "You can do it with grape vines, but smilax is that catbriar vine with the thorns and you can just cut it so you don't have to kill the plant. The thorns actually grab nicely when forming the ball and then you wrap twinkle lights around it and hang the ball from your porch like giant ornaments."

And with energy-efficient LED Christmas lights now available, you can also be green and still have pretty, sparkly lights.

"We have started buying them (LED Christmas lights) because we actually at our home keep twinkle lights up most of the year," Ceska said. "We got them two Christmases ago and they were so expensive. ... Now they are much less expensive, and they last forever."

Another easy craft for a green Christmas is the traditional cranberry garland. The cranberries are available at the local grocery store this time of year and can be easily strung for your Christmas tree, rather than using a tinsel garland.

Rick Foote, the natural resources coordinator for the Hall County Resource Recovery office, said he would string popcorn as a child for his tree and when Christmas was over there was another use for the garland.

"After Christmas, we'd remove everything except the popcorn and leave the tree outside and let the birds eat the popcorn off the tree," he said. "Around the recycling center, we once made or own garland for our office tree by similarly stringing foam peanuts used in packaging to make garland."