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In the summer it's all about the outside. We live in our yards, decks and front porches, and only reluctantly retreat back within four walls at day's end. When fall arrives we close the blinds on our cooling, darkening yards.

But with a little imagination and a good pair of pruners, we can borrow from the natural landscape and bring it inside. And we can do it for practically nothing, says Ellyn Pelikan, a master gardener, former florist and professional decorator who specializes in creating seasonal and holiday-themed decor for clients who may not have the time or inclination to do it themselves.

Pelikan maintains that not only is it fun to decorate for fall but it's practically foolproof. Mother Nature is bestowingfree goodies and unlike Christmas, which requires a little bling and fantasy figures, autumn decor is natural and real.

Think of it as a seasonal going-away party, celebrating the harvest and nature's gifts as the landscape slowly settles down for its winter's nap.

"It's a festive time of year and it's also a dark time of the year. It's comforting to have something from the outside, inside the house," said Pelikan, who teaches classes in natural decorating and crafts both at her small Pelikan Spring Farm and gardens in west Sebastopol and through the Sonoma County Master Gardeners.

You can cover your mantles and tabletops with candle holders, wreaths, potpourris and clever little arrangements, says Pelikan.

Leaves, nuts, seed pods, acorns, gourds, pumpkins and wispy lichen become beautiful focal points when arranged together, particularly with inexpensive candles or battery operated mini-lights or candles to add mood and drama.

More ideas

The ideas are virtually limitless, but Pelikan offered a few from her classes to provide inspiration.

Stuffed Peppers: Hollow out a bell pepper as if you were going to bake it. Choose red, green or orange, whatever suits your fancy. Just look for a large one that will stand upright.

Insert a piece of dampened floral foam inside, cut to fit with a knife. Now you have a natural little vase that you can fill with fall flowers and small branches with leaves.

You can do the same thing with squashes, gourds, pumpkins and melons.

Create an easy tabletop display or centerpiece by building up pedestals with things from your china cabinet.

A colorful or fun plate with an upside-down wine glass set in the middle and another plate on top of that makes for a fun display piece.

Spread around the flowers, fruits, nuts and mossy branches as well as fall leaves that you collect, dry and press for several days in a book.

Potpourri: It's easy, says Pelikan, to make your own. Create simmering potpourris on the stove to infuse your home with delicious aromas.

Mix a few tablespoons of whole nutmegs, cinnamon sticks, cloves, a little eucalyptus, orange and lemon peels in two cups of water and simmer on the stove.

Dried potpourris look rich and warm in earthy bowls of wood or ceramic. Fill with nature's goodies, along with a little essential oil.

"Find things that are interesting to you," Pelikan says. "I have a gorgeous rhubarb leaf that I pressed. It's red and yellow and has beautiful brown veins. I also have some birch bark I found on a walk, another leaf that is half yellow and half green that is dried.

"I have a piece of a hornet's nest and some rocks from a walk at the ocean and some acorns. And they're all in a big bowl that's blond with streaks of brown that I bought for $6 at Ikea."

Decorated Gourd: Buy a fresh gourd (or pumpkin) at a produce stand. The ease of this project is that you are just going to decorate the surface, without opening it up.

With a glue gun, affix either dried leaves you've found or leaves that have been preserved in glycerin, available in bags at places like Sequoia Floral in Santa Rosa.

You can also preserve your own leaves in glycerin; instructions can easily be found online.

Start by gluing down the leaves and then add acorns, dried flowers available at floral supplies with short stems and little pine cones or other natural elements.

You can easily make one in a half-hour and they can be placed anywhere, from a bathroom to the center of a table.

Candleholder Wreath: Buy a small round wire base at a floral supply or craft store, or make your own from a stretched-out coat hanger sized to whatever diameter you want.

Pelikan likes six-inch round wreaths for candleholders. You'll also need a pair of wirecutters and small hand pruners for trimming, as well as a role of paddle wire No. 22 for wreathmaking.

Create little bundles of eucalyptus and other fall leaves and then "bunch them down onto the frame with the thumb and forefinger of your left hand and take the wire and wrap it around the bunch and make it tight," Pelikan advises.

Attach bunches until you have the whole frame filled in. You can add with a glue gun whatever treasure you find outside, from pods and herbs to flowers, dried hydrangeas and rose hips.

Add light to the centers and they make good centerpieces. Pelikan likes the new battery-po

wered candles for ease and safety. You can change the color of your candle glow with velum paper sold at crafts stores.

Simply wrap the candle in the color you want and you've got instant purple, red, orange or gold.

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@ pressdemocrat.com or 521-5204.