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Real decorations: Governor's Mansion's holiday theme inspired by nature

Getting ready to decorate your mantel for the holidays? You may have to look no farther than your back yard - and perhaps the produce aisle at the grocery store.

Natural ingredients add a simple, traditional touch during the holiday season.

The S.C. Governor's Mansion is decorated each year by the Columbia Garden Club, which uses lots of natural ingredients to deck out the 153-year-old home for the holidays.

We asked Yvonne Russell, a club member who helps with the mansion display, to explain how last year's mantel was decorated.

Her first advice is to think about protecting the mantel. At the Governor's Mansion, the mantels were first covered with a layer of plastic so they wouldn't be harmed by any leaks.

At the mansion, Oasis floral foam is placed in low trays on the mantel. (Russell said rectangular casserole dishes are perfect to use.) Anything can be used that keeps the floral foam stable, so the ingredients don't fall off. Most of the greenery used on the man-tel is anchored into the foam.

"You have to let gravity tell you what you can and can't do and work with that," she said.

Curly willow was used for height on each end of the mantel. From there, "your imagination can just go wild," she said.

A mixture of magnolia, cryptomeria, kiwi vine and kiwi fruit, persimmon, pine cones and other greenery was used, along with nandina berries hanging over the sides.

She suggested working with the heaviest materials first, put-ting those in place before moving to the lighter, more decorative items.

Russell especially loves decorating during the holidays with persimmons. (The ones used in the mansion display came from her former home in Spring Valley.)

Persimmons have a leathery skin and don't break down, so you don't have to worry about them harming the surface of a table or shelf. Other greens will last in the floral foam through the season. Cryptomeria is a long-lasting green, and magnolia leaves dry beautifully, she said.

"People have this in their yard. Everybody's got magnolia leaves in Columbia," Russell said. "Any of this is doable. You can use oranges instead of persimmon. You can buy kiwi; they're three for a dollar. Apples would be beautiful in there, too.

"And I don't think there's anything on earth nicer than a pine cone," she said. "It's always wonderful to use things you have in your own surroundings."

IF YOU GOGovernor's Mansion Holiday Open House

WHAT: The Governor's Mansion and the Lace House, decorated for the holidays, will be open to visitors

WHEN: 4-7 p.m. Dec. 4

ADMISSION: Free; no reservations needed

LOCATION: 800 Richland St.

DECOR: The Governor's Mansion is decorated for the holidays by the Columbia Garden Club with a natural theme. The Lace House is decorated with a children's theme.

DON'T MISS: The Sanford children have decorated their own tree in the Charleston garden in-side the mansion. Throughout the year, they have collected old light bulbs at the mansion and have recycled the bulbs into painted or-naments that will hang on the tree. Also, the mansion's new executive chef, Geoffrey D. Sandifer, has made a gingerbread replica of the S.C. State House that will be on display.

SHOPPING: The mansion gift shop, located in the basement of the Caldwell-Boylston House on the mansion grounds, will be open during the tour.

MORE TOURS: The mansion will be open for tours by appointment through the holidays. Contact Nancy Bunch at (803) 737-1710 for availability.

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