With a house as simple and unassuming as our 1880s row house, I really like to add something special each year to jazz up our exterior for the Christmas season. And in a historic town like Old Town Alexandria, inflatables and thousands of twinkle lights set to club Christmas rave music just won't cut it (as much as Alex would like to convince me otherwise). So where does this leave me? This year my answer is festive decor, made with fresh greens and a little something extra.

In the title of this post I hinted that we're going green this year. What do I mean exactly? Well, if you're thinking green as in sustainable or eco friendly, you're partially correct. And going green is also a nod to my color palette of choice. 

In terms of the environment, my holiday decorations are made from scrap wood leftover from other projects, as well as yard clippings from a generous friend and neighbor. This, combined with my beautiful celadon ribbon and sparkly festive floral picks from a local craft store that can be reused again in future years, make me feel like I'm being eco conscious this year. 

In my recent post about creating a holiday table scape with a modern flare, I talked about how varying your color palette from the traditional cranberry red and forest green can introduce a more modern look to your holiday decor. Initially this year I set out to use natural greens, accented by a pop of turquoise, in a nod to our new front door color. But sadly this didn't work out as planned. (More on that in a minute.)

So where did I start? Given the architecture of our home I knew the locations for fun and interesting house flare would be beneath each of the three windows, on the two new french doors, and something special in our cast iron urns. I had the idea to create "floral swags", for lack of a better term, along each window sill and hanging vertically down each french door. 

The process started when we bought our Christmas tree last week at Lowes. While the guy helping us was nicely tying up our tree, I asked if he wouldn't mind me taking home a few of the discarded branches from the ground. He didn't mind at all -- they were trash. Trash to some but treasure to me (I do have a dumpster diving addiction after all) so I grabbed an armload full and loaded them into the back of our mustang.

Continuing on in this vein of castoff collection for Christmas decorations, I boldly asked a neighbor (who has an amazingly huge house and gorgeous garden) if she minded if I cut a few clippings from the greens in her yard. I held my breath hoping I didn't overstep with my question, but was absolutely delighted when she enthusiastically agreed. Not only did she offer up her boxwoods, but she told me I would be doing her a favor! Apparently this time each year boxwoods need to be pruned a bit in the middle to help reduce the likelihood of breakage under the weight of a heavy snow fall. And on top of that, her gardeners were coming by in the next day or two to trim her magnolia tree and she offered to save the cuttings for me! (Plus I'd be putting them to use for the holidays, instead of them being put right in the trash.) Score!

With greenery in hand, I asked my dear husband if he could wrestle up some scrap wood in the basement, cutting five pieces for me -- three for the windows and two for the doors to act as backers for the greens. He agreed, and just a short time later I had my wood backers. While waiting for him to make the cuts, I decided to tackle the first step of mission decoration: the urns. With the addition of a layer of magnolia, frasier fir and boxwood, our slowly withering warm weather plantings went from this:

To this:

Given that it took less than 10 minutes and cost absolutely nothing, I'd say it qualifies as a Christmas miracle.

Returning back inside to find my wood pieces cut, with the addition of a drop cloth to corral the needles and mess, our trusty staple gun, floral wire, ribbon, and craft store accessories, I was on my way. (More on the staple gun I used here.) 

I started by arranging single magnolia leaves along the piece of wood, fanning them out in either direction of the center point, and stapling them securely in place.

After the layer of magnolia leaves was complete, I added a layer of the cut frasier fir branches.

And finally I added a sprig of boxwood on each side, as well as a turquoise bow and faux berries and acorns from Michael's. The result? Decidedly underwhelming. Even Lulu seemed unimpressed.

First of all, the scale of the bow was way off, and the fact that it wasn't wired ribbon left the bow lifeless and limp, kind of like a...well, you get the picture. And the berries? Also way too small in scale, in fact hardly noticeable from a distance. I wanted so badly to have decor that matched the front door that I ignored the little voice in my head at the store that told me the ribbon wouldn't work, and the floral picks I rummaged up form the already scavenged available selection was a no go. I should have listened to that inner voice.

To say I was dejected is an understatement. I actually contemplated throwing the whole thing in the trash, stomping around, throwing a temper tantrum, rolling around on the floor a little bit, yelling "I hate uncle Jamie," and declaring it a Christmas opportunity stolen by the Grinch, but that wouldn't be very green of me, and it is the holidays after all, so it was time for my heart to grow three sizes. So the next day I hopped back in the car and braved the ridiculous shopping crowds once again and ventured out to Michaels.

After scouring the store for anything that might work a bit better I found one lonely roll of bright green satin ribbon, which happened to be wired. I also found a selection of large bright green and slightly -- dare I say -- tacky floral picks that might just be crazy enough to work with my new theme of green. With supplies in hand and a long checkout line ahead I decided to give it another go. 

The result? This time, Wendilocks (yep, that's me) declared it juuust right. 

In fact, I love it. I was worried the green glitter would be too much, but when surrounded by the subtle natural greens, it all seems to balance out. 

So I got to work on finishing the two other window sprays, as well as the two vertical swags for the french doors. One everything was in place I wrapped a bit of floral wire around the back of each item I created so that we would be able to hang them from the window sills.

Once the swags were ready to go, Alex hung each of them using the floral wire and 3M Command strips and hooks.

If you look closely at the original windows in our bedroom, you'll see they're in dire need of a restoration as well as the addition of custom storm windows. Maybe I'll ask Santa for that for Christmas...but back to the task at hand.

The final result of my 2011 exterior Christmas decorating...drumroll please...looks something like this: 

And for good measure, here's a close up of the swags on the french doors. You may notice that they're slightly different. I could claim that this was done to add visual interest, but in fact it was a happy accident, born from the fact I couldn't find two matching large floral picks at Michael's. 

So there you have it. I went green for the holidays this year, and all told, spent only about $25 for the finished product. (That's not counting the turquoise ribbon and floral picks as they've now been earmarked as wrapping accoutrements.) Not too shabby.

What are your plans to spruce up your home for the holidays? Anyone run into temper-tantrum induced decorating dilemmas that you'd like to share so I don't feel quite so ashamed of my own? Are you using non-traditional colors for your home? All I want for Christmas is to hear all about it...oh and maybe some restored windows too. 

Want to see what else we're up to this holiday season? Check out our steps to quick and easy mantel decor, our annual Christmas tree traditions, our 2011 list for Santa, and the details of our first annual DIY gingerbread challenge.

Comments 54


12/6/2011 at 9:53 AM
Seeing your not-restored-yet window makes me feel better about our 10 not-restored-yet windows! Haha.

I very much like your outdoor decorations! I spent way more on mine, and it doesn't look nearly as good!
Thanks Ashley. And it should make you feel even better that I only showed a picture of one window. Our total number of windows in need of some TLC more closely resembles your number. :-)
Sheryl Boggs
11/14/2018 at 1:24 PM

May I ask the exterior colors used on the house?

12/6/2011 at 11:10 AM
Looks fabulous, Wendilocks!
Thanks Jen!
12/6/2011 at 4:28 PM
I just love how you did this. how long do you think the magnolia leaves will stay green? i created a jabot similiar to what you created for over a double window (doing a Colonial Williamsburg theme). love your house. i love old towne A. t
Thanks Trudy! I used magnolia leaves one other year as holiday decorations, and if they're freshly cut (which mine were), they lasted the entire month of December until I was ready to take them down. They'll stiffen up a bit over time but will retain their green color.
12/6/2011 at 9:06 PM
Just commenting to say that you're amazing, as usual. I love fresh greenery, and I especially like how elegant they look. The ones on the doors really look nice, too.
Aww, shucks. ;-) Thanks JC!
12/6/2011 at 10:05 PM
It looks amazing!! Was there a grand total? Free is always a great price, of course :) I think the swags are my favourite!
Thanks Whitney! All told it cost us about $25 for the ribbon and faux floral. Not too bad!
12/7/2011 at 12:46 AM
Beautiful design and use of color. I'm a big fan of green.
12/10/2011 at 6:21 AM
Wow...talk about great curb appeal!! Your decorations are fabulous! You did a fabulous job with your greens!
12/12/2011 at 8:08 AM
Your home looks simply elegant! I love what you did. Great tute, too. Thanks so much. I am getting so bored with the wreath on my door - this- like to said is very modern and chic.

I hope you have a happy holiday season.

My best-Diane
Thanks Diane! Happy holidays to you too!
12/12/2011 at 11:57 AM
I just came over from Centsational Girl. These are amazing and totally worth foraging for. I love the entire concept.

Mr. Goodwill Hunting
12/12/2011 at 3:38 PM
I love it and you are right... so chic! Thx for the inspiration.

12/12/2011 at 3:59 PM
Your home looks gorgeous! You did a wonderful job on those swags! Great ideas! Off to look around.
12/12/2011 at 10:25 PM
Wow! Really stunning!
12/13/2011 at 10:11 AM
Love it! I have a friend with some Magnolia trees, I might have to pay her a visit! Thanks for sharing!!
12/14/2011 at 7:04 AM
You have such a beautiful home and the way you've decorated the outside of it is perfect!
12/14/2011 at 8:26 PM
wow, this is so beautiful! And I cant believe that you only spent $25, this is amazing! thanks for sharing, merry christmas
12/14/2011 at 8:58 PM
12/14/2011 at 9:01 PM
Beautiful job, Your urn and swags turned out fabulous. Your home is gorgeous, love the black and gray.
Michelle @Sweet Something Designs
12/14/2011 at 9:06 PM
Oh, I love this!! What a great job!! It looks really fantastic, Merry Christmas :)
12/14/2011 at 10:44 PM
I absolutely love the magnolia leaves...we have a HUGE magnolia tree in front of our house so this would be super cheap and easy! Great ideas and very beautiful! I pinned you!

Becky B.
Organizing Made Fun
Oh what I would give to have a huge magnolia tree in my yard! Thanks for pinning this. :-)
12/15/2011 at 4:14 PM
Wow, this looks amazing. So chic! The real foliage gives it such a richness. Great job!
12/15/2011 at 5:48 PM
Your home is BEAUTIFUL and I'll be pinning a couple of these photos for future inspiration! Merry Christmas!
12/15/2011 at 8:56 PM
I love a good twig and berry joke!! You did an amazing job. I gasped at the finished product. You could sell those. It doesn't hurt that you are an excellent writer. I'll definitely be back!
I'm so glad I'm not the only person mildly amused by my juvenile sense of humor! :-) Thank you so much for your compliments Kate and happy holidays!
12/16/2011 at 12:12 PM
Wow, just gorgeous! I love the natural elements plus the little extra bling that on its own might have been too much. Just perfect.
12/16/2011 at 7:47 PM
FAB FAB swags - GREAT job! and I totally loved the juvenile sense of humor!
12/17/2011 at 11:35 AM
This looks absolutely lovely! I would like to live on your street!
12/17/2011 at 9:59 PM
I am in love with your naturalistic decor...and the historic home on which it lives! I used to live in an historic house in Olde Towne Manassas, VA, not too far from you and am an immense advocate of such character-filled homes! Your decor reminds me so much of Williamsburg!

Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays/Hugs,
10/12/2013 at 7:44 PM
I was on Pinterest looking for some interesting Christmas Crafts and low and behold there you were putting together your floral swags. Good job!
You never know where we'll pop up. Every once in a while people tell us of the random places they've seen one of our posts mentioned.
11/27/2013 at 2:49 PM

I love this, so pretty. I think I am gonna try this on my windows. I like the idea of the board to staple the greens too.

12/3/2013 at 12:58 PM

Realizing ur post is from 2 years ago, but was curious what the exterior paint colors are of your home. Love everything about it...so classic!


Thanks, Vicki! Our paint is Sherwin Williams Anonymous and Pearly White.Alt smile

12/4/2013 at 7:52 PM

Thank you so much Wendy! Wasn't sure you would even get my email since your blog was from about two years agoAlt smile We have a brick home and were thinking about changing the brick color by having it painted. Loved the look of your painted brick & the colors as well. If ours turned out looking half as pretty as yours, we'd be pleased. Hopefully we don't chicken out & follow thru on it. Would really look nice I think. Happy Holidays and thank you again from Texas!

Vicki Galloway

11/16/2014 at 3:57 PM

Wow, great tips! I was looking for some no/low-cost decor and these are fantastic! (Looks great on your home, too!)

Alison Keithley
10/9/2015 at 12:05 PM


I have a magnolia tree in my yard and I have always known those leaves were made for something besides driving me crazy. I am definitely going to make your lovely window decorations this year. It'll be nice to not curse at those leaves for once!

PS. I hate Uncle Jamie too!

11/15/2015 at 7:55 AM

Looks amazing! I love the idea, as I just bought a HUGE box magnolia:)

9/18/2017 at 11:16 AM

We LOVE to visit Alexandria especially at Christmas. Everything is so beautiful. Your home is no exception. Just lovely.

10/25/2017 at 11:59 PM

Hi!  I’m an editor for Remodelaholic.com and am writing to request permission to use a photo from your outdoor magnolia leaf Christmas decorations post.

We hope to feature this in an upcoming round up of ours about natural Christmas decor.  We would include a backlink and clear credit to you via the name of your blog.  

Additionally, we routinely publish round-up style posts on our site and if you’re willing to allow us to use one photo from other posts you’ve done,  we would love to add you to our directory of sites to feature.  As a bonus, your site would then be on our radar for possible Facebook shares as well.  

Please let me know if this is satisfactory.  Thanks for your consideration!

Kimberly Mueller

Juanita Burnett
9/14/2018 at 11:07 AM

I love it

Juanita Burnett
9/14/2018 at 11:12 AM


Juanita Burnett
9/14/2018 at 11:12 AM


Juanita Burnett
9/14/2018 at 11:13 AM


11/17/2018 at 9:47 PM

But how did you make the door swags????

Debbie Florio
11/26/2019 at 11:11 AM

I recently moved to the south, and find myself lucky enough to have an endless supply of Magnolia leaves. In my search for natural Christmas decor using Magnolia leaves I was lucky enough to come across your post. The swags are just so elegant and beautiful, and amazingly simple. I can’t wait.!

8/18/2020 at 7:42 PM

How do you keep the natural greens from turning brown

9/13/2020 at 3:44 PM

Love this look! Any suggestions for keeping the door decks from blowing in the wind so it doesn’t scratch the window in the door.

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