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At the little house on a big hill, the first weekend in December is Operation Christmas. The garland goes up, the tree comes in, lights go on and I get serious about Christmas.

I have this internal rule about not mixing the seasons. Although I leave gourds and mums in place until Thanksgiving, soon after I have tossed the pumpkins over the hill for the deer and other wildlife to enjoy and given the outside a day or two to be neutral before I bring out the lights.

The tree is fun, really fun, to decorate with carols playing and yummy snacks nearby. But my favorite is the time I spend with my window boxes and outdoor planters. I love that I can start with a pile of sticks and leaves and end with something that makes me smile when I come home.

For the window boxes, I begin with a layer of pine branches. These usually come from the base of my Christmas tree. When the guys on the lot make a fresh cut I gather up all of the “scraps” and hopefully a few more branches. I like them long and full. This creates height and a solid foundation for all the extras I will add to the design.

Awww, magnolia leaves. Glossy green on the top and a coppery earthy color on the bottom. I have seen them spray-painted silver or gold, but for me, there is no need to mess with their natural beauty. Again, I love the branches with long stems. The extra length gives me plenty of branch to anchor into the soil and still have the height to complement the pine. No worries if the underneath sides show, the variance of color will add interest to the stems.

Now that we have created a grand background, it’s time for the sparkle and bling. I use oversized Christmas ornaments. Pick your favorite colors. Hot pink and turquoise? Red and green? All white or silver and gold? This is all about what makes you happy.

I secure the ornaments by wiring them to the branches that have already been placed in the containers. Here you could add anything you want: reindeer, stars, presents, candy canes, really the possibilities are endless. Maybe you pick a theme. Who says you can’t have a sports-themed window? Or maybe Disney is your thing. Be creative and bold.

I generally stick to a traditional look, so after my ornaments are in place, I add pine cones and branches with berries that I have gathered from the yard. I love the texture of the different greens, so I trim a few pieces of different evergreens around the house to add as filler.

Looking at my finished display, it is tall — maybe as much as 2 to 3 feet tall — and very full and festive. For the final touch, I add a big bow to the center, just as I would finish a gift-wrapped package.

I keep telling myself next year I will mix it up and use several potted holiday trees in each box. I often see the trees at garden centers and they are pretty, and one day I will use them to create a minimalist display.

A note about my evergreen boxes. Once the holidays are over, I remove the gold and glitz and leave the greenery in place through late February. The wintery mix of greens keeps the boxes from being bare and helps me feel like I am gardening in the midst of winter.

My other favorite add-in is fruit, and I often add it to my wreaths. Just like in the window displays, I like the greenery to have variety and texture. Highlighted with fruit, a few colorful berries and finished with a beautiful bow — it is the perfect wreath.

As you can tell, boxes under the tree are not the only boxes I love at Christmas. Creating bold and beautiful outdoor arrangements makes me happy. They welcome me home as I pull into the driveway and they say “Happy Holidays from the Little House on a Big Hill” to others who drive through the neighborhood.

Jane Powell is a longtime West Virginia University Extension Service master gardener through the Kanawha County chapter. She is the communications director for a community foundation and a volunteer with several nonprofits in the community. Find her blog, “Gardening in Pearls,” at gardeninginpearls.com. You can contact her at janeellenpowell@aol.com.