Nature's Bounty for Samhain / Hallowe'en Decorations

Dried Autumn seed head. Image 87209216, 123RF stock photo.







 Iseult Catherine O'Brien

Montessori Teacher & Supervisor   |   Volunteer Tutor 




No matter where you live, Nature is all around you.


Discover what's in your neighbourhood, maybe on vacant and overgrown spaces, or in your garden.  During your walks with the child(ren) these days, suggest everyone keeps an eye out for seed heads, poppy heads, grass heads, thistles of all shapes and sizes, very tall, punky, teasel heads (be careful – the stems of thistles and teasels are very prickly). 


Scope all pieces of wasteland, big or small.  These are the places you could find ten foot-plus spikes of teasel flowerheads, with their pale mauve blossoms long withered and blown away.  Everyone can search for poppy seed heads, thistle heads of all sizes and shapes, and watch for any branches fallen in the wind, plus dried out twisted branches and twigs, and any interesting looking examples of vegetation.



It's never too soon to start planning and identifying natural  material, close to your home, to use in your Samhain / Hallowe'en decorations and celebrations. 


Examine everything you come across, bearing in mind what it might look like with paint on it.  If you are considering making decorations for your front door, or for the dining table, or wall or window hangings to celebrate Samhain / Hallowe’en, carry a palette of black, silver,  gold,  red,  orange, and yellow in your head.



Hallowe’en is the Christianised name for the Pagan Festival of Samhain (pronounced ‘sow-un’), “Summer’s End”. 


Samhain celebrates a time of easy communication and passage between this world and the spirit world, when the deceased can revisit the mortal world and are feasted by their families; when they hear the news of what has happened with their families and neighbours since their deaths, or last visits.  The crops would have been harvested, and the turf saved: this is the end of the season of growth, and entering the period of the Dark. 


The Samhain celebrations carried on over three days and nights, and was a period of family and neighbour reunions, marriage arrangements, and celebrations, and when fires were lit to mark the end of the period of growth and to herald the New Year.



Consider how a 2-4 foot long, twisted branch, if painted black and let dry might look, with a few added very fine lines of highlighting with silver or gold on the very edge of some of the smaller branches, and touches of bright red,  orange, and yellow  on the tops of the twiglets, to signify the fires of Samhain. 


It could be a very dramatic piece, which might be hung up by the stem with painted string, ribbon, raffia, or whatever strikes you as right – hanging in a window or from the ceiling, swaying and twirling in the air.


Have all possibilities to the forefront of your mind as you look at what might seem to be a pretty ordinary branch.  Let your imagination soar as you search the vegetation all around you.


Before a walk, have a good look through your family book of local flora and fauna, examine the photographs and drawings, to become aware of what could be around you when you get out to investigate.  There may be a few seed heads on the verges of paving, or growing against hoarding – poppies and cotoneaster can thrive in the tiniest of cracks. 


Cotoneaster horizontalis proliferates in walls, between bricks, and in cracks in paving slabs.  Birds are very fond of its bright-red berries and spread its seed indiscriminately.  As with buddleia, it has become a garden escapee, happily seeding all over city centres.  Boughs of cotoneaster make excellent substitutes for holly boughs, and are a lovely green and red addition to decorating at home.  Equally, the skimmia shrub offers high gloss leaves and large bright red berries which keep very well when cut. 


 Take a note of all the interesting looking material, and try to get back as soon as possible to gather it up.


If you have a garden, you can take your fair share of Nature's bounty, save seeds for sharing, and make Samhain decorations to give to family and friends.



Keith O'Hara of Dodder Park Medical gave me this lovely idea for children to make their own Hallowe'en Apple Lanterns.   


Using the biggest soft flesh or cooking apples available, the parent removes most of the core and opens the top of the apple, and each child scoops out the fruit from his or her own apple with a teaspoon, leaving sufficient to keep the rigid structure.


Depending on dexterity / fine motor skills, the child or parent cuts out the two eyes and a mouth, and a little tealight goes inside. 


It would be a great experience for youngsters to make their own, personal, Samhain Lantern, and a tea light could be put in it and lit, once the best place for it in the kitchen, living room or hall, has been decided by its maker. 

Remember to count how many Samhain Laterns are made and where they are placed so that you blow them all out before bed.


When we were children, we made lanterns out of turnips which was hard work.  This was before pumpkins became widely available in Ireland.


In ancient times the light was carried in turnips to be shared as part of the New Year Light ritual.





Having discovered your bounty sites, prepare yourselves for the gathering, at the appropriate time of year.  Adults and children should go on the hunt, adults armed with a sharp kitchen scissors, and / or secateurs, with at least one adult wearing heavy duty gardening-type gloves. 


One of the advantages of a mix of adults, youngsters, and children, is that they will all be searching at different height levels!   


Everyone searches for poppy seed heads, which can be quite small or as big as a pullet's egg. 


Teasel, which grows as tall as ten foot, and more, and has very, very, prickly stems, should only be handled with the heavy duty gloves.  If you have a wheelie-type shopping bag, you would be able to put the long teasel heads and stems head down into refuse sacks and put them in your wheelie shopper. 


The poppy seed heads you find should be cut with as long a stem as possible, and put head down in separate paper sacks or bags.  These could go in a backpack.  You may find when you get home the poppy bags have many tiny seeds in the bottom. 


Tie the stems with kitchen twine enclosed in the paper bags, leaving a loop of twine for hanging them someplace airy and dry and many more seeds will fall out. Paper bags are best as they breathe, and the contents won't go mouldy, as might happen in a plastic bag.


These poppy seeds can be collected and scattered on waste ground in your neighbourhood or amongst your garden borders.  Just scratch the soil with a stick, scatter the seeds, scuff the soil again, and hope for rain that night to settle the seeds into the earth.


Poppy seeds stay viable in the soil for over forty years!


You might also like to add the seeds to the top of any bread or scones you are baking.


You may wish to make a mix of various poppy seeds you have collected, gather them up in colourful paper tied tight with ribbon, and given as a present to any gardening friends or family.


You may see chestnuts still attached to small branches fallen on the ground, or some grasses with long fronds.  Take the free bounty of Nature that has fallen from a tree, or that which is seen as unwanted weeds. 


When you have brought everything home,  spread newspaper on the floor or on the kitchen table, and wipe the stems and heads gently (except for the teasel) with dry kitchen scrubbies / sponges to remove dust and loose matter, and shake the grasses over the newspaper to dislodge debris and to spread the fronds. 


All your material should be allowed to dry as with the poppy heads above.


To make the teasel easy to manage, you have to decide first if you want to keep them as long as possible to make a very dramatic arrangement.  If you decide 'yes', you need to bring each stem to where the newspaper's spread out, and wearing heavy duty gloves, run a sharp vegetable knife downwards from the flower head, scraping off all the prickles or spurs.   


You'll need to go around the stem, and from top to bottom, so make sure you have some good music playing for this job!


The actual stem under all the prickles or spurs is not very sturdy, so please be careful not to break it.  Having said that, if you do have some breakages, when the stems are painted, you could fix a broken one by wrapping it in matching or contrasting coloured string, ribbon, or twine.  


Please wrap up the newspaper immediately you have finished with all the stems you plan to strip to avoid accidental cuts or scratches, and put it in the compost bin directly, depending on the rules in force in your neighbourhood or those of your waste disposal company.


  You have been collecting natural materials for your Samhain / Hallowe'en decorations, and perhaps for your Christmas Wreath and festoons as well.




My Christmas wreath. I felt we needed some popping colour to cheer us all up!




The first thing to do is to check what you have already by way of poster and acrylic paints, brushes, old sponges and rags; plastic tubs from small yoghurts up to the half litre cartons - any containers that would work for holding paint for those using fine brushes, medium brushes, and pieces of sponge; old plates and saucers for resting the paint brushes and sponges on while working; hairy garden twine, string, ribbons and raffia. 


Save up any tissue or wrapping paper and all types of ribbon from now on - as yet, you may have no idea what you need!


You will need bits of old sponge for applying paint, rags for wiping brush handles, paint brushes from very small to medium sizes, cotton buds, and a selection of poster / acrylic paints - stick to approximately four to five bright colours, along with black, plus silver and gold for your basic colour themes.  You may need white spirits to soak and clean some of your paint brushes.  You'll need lots of newspaper.


Please keep any brushes you have soaking in white spirits out of the house, either on a step, or on a window sill, firmly attached by twine.  The fumes of white spirits can cause  bad headaches and are generally to be avoided.  Rinse the brushes off in warm water as soon as possible, until the water is clear.


If you have some oil based paint you used for painting the front door, or wherever, please resist using it as the fumes in the house will cause bad headaches, and can cause nausea.


If you think you may decide to work on decorations for Hallowe'en / Samhain and Christmas / The New Year  perhaps you could buy some medium sized pots of black,  vivid red,  yellow, orange, and green paints - depending on what you have already, and only get tiny pots of the silver and gold paint, which can be quite expensive.


Try to make sure you don't spent too much money, on too much paint, because it will have become rock solid in its jars or bottles by the time you go looking for paint to work on Easter eggs!



With examples of Nature as regal as tall teasel stems and beautifully shaped, naked flower heads, little is required to make a statuesque statement.


They lend themselves to drama.  I would paint the possibly  ten foot long stems black, and let them dry.  A great deal of paint might soak in,  and a second coat may be required to give a strong, dark, even, colour. 


When you are certain the stem is completely dry, you can look to the flower heads.  There are so many choices! 


One could choose a very strong, vivid, red, orange, and yellow palette, and just brush a head lightly with a sponge, leaving the tips only of the spikes painted with startling colour.   Or, one could paint every spike of a flower head in bright yellow using a very fine brush or cotton buds.  A second flower head, also painted fully with yellow, could be left to dry, and as above, and using a sponge again, give it a dash of bright red or orange to the tips of the spikes only.


You wouldn't have to paint every single spike of the flower head, you could paint fully the bottom three layers and the top three layers, and add paint randomly to the layers in between.


When one has gone through the various permutations, sticking to a very few vivid colours for the flower heads, to reflect the fires of Samhain, and when all the paint is thoroughly dry, one can arrange the stems.   

By catching the stems approximately two-fifths  from the base of the flower heads, and using black velvet ribbon, or hairy garden twine painted black or any colour, or raffia, or whatever takes your fancy, tie loosely the stems together, and then spread the base of each of them in a wigwam-type circle, so that the arrangement is self-supporting.  You may need to move the tie up or down a little, and tighten or loosen it, to get just the right splay of the heads and support for the whole piece from the spread of the stems. 


You may need to trim the ends of the stems to make the arrangement as stable as possible.


These tall standing pieces could be located in corners and on turns of the stairs, to surprize and delight, at varying heights, depending on the size of the viewer.


Large and smaller thistle heads and stems could be given the same wigwam treatment as the teasel suggestions.  These would make great table centrepieces and mantlepiece decorations.  They could be secured to your front door knocker or doorknob.  


Look around your house, and choose where would make the most impact if used as a site for your decorations and artwork.  Would a turn on the stairs, where a guest comes around and then across a hanging decoration, add a moment of suspense to the Hallowe'en / Samhain atmosphere?


 That would be my idea of a

Samhain Statement!


For ideas on how to paint poppy heads, slight skeletons of cow parsley, and various grasses, you might like to look at the photograph of my Christmas wreath, above.  You could use the long dark red stems of cornus alba / dogwood to make your wreath, as they are very flexible and easy to tie into circles.


Given a broad range of ages from maybe two-year-olds up to teenagers and adults working, perfection isn't the aim. 


Having fun, everyone's pieces of work on show, and having lots of encouragement to take chances, to the very edge, would make for utterly unique artwork.


Samhain is all about the edge - the edge between the mortal world and the spirit world.  'Safe' is the antithesis of Samhain!


Very young children working with sponges and rags, can make spectacular decorations patting paint gently onto the tops of dried cow parsley and other spreading flower heads and dried grass heads.  What looks ordinary suddenly becomes amazing.  To get the strongest effect, it's best to stick to one colour for each spreading flowerhead. 


The youngest children could also use their sponges and rags to paint the stalks and stems of the poppies and any of the stems and twigs you have gathered.  The stems may need more than one coat of paint depending on how absorbent and dried its structure.  


Go for lots of colour black, orange, bronze, gold, - the vegetation will soak in a certain amount - strong colours always work best.  Then, you can go for contrasting mixes of colour for the seedheads  - Nature never clashes!


Equally, you could make wigwams of your arrangements, tie them so that they are self-supporting, and then trim the base of the stems so that they support steadily a home-made,  painted, bouquet of of Nature's glory and the family's imagination. 


These could be table centre-pieces, for the mantlepiece, or as presents to grandparents and family friends for the hall table, visible to children calling at Hallowe'en - to do their party piece and collect their fruit and nuts.



Hairy garden twine painted a bright colour using a sponge or rag, can become a beautiful piece of material for tying together a mix of painted flower heads, painted twiglets and stems, in a variety of strong, vivid, colours, drawn together at the base of the stems, and spreading out the vegetation and heads, upside down. (This is why you will have stored all your seedheads up-side-down, so that you have gathered all the seed, and no more shall fall out of your decorations - or maybe just a few")  


Use the twine to wrap up the stems, tied off and ending in a a loop to hang the decoration up-side-down on a door handle, door knocker, or on a picture hook which can be made available for the Season.


 These hanging sprays make lovely presents for grandparents, babysitters, and all family friends.  People really do prefer handmade presents, made with love.



Dried, blue, globe thistle heads, in Autumn. Image13048350, 123RF stock photograph.


Enjoy Yourselves!

Regards, Iseult

Iseult Catherine O'Brien


If you see any errors, typographical or factual, or if you disagree with any of my ideas, I should be very glad to hear from you.   If I have left something out you think should have been included, please let me know.


All shades of opinion are very welcome, please let me know what you think of my ideas.



One of my Christmas wreaths, with material gathered entirely from the garden.

Dried teasel heads in Autumn sunlight. Image 91696726, 123RF stock photos.


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