My best indoor decoration is the great outdoors

'What's the color scheme for your house?" a friend asked when I said I was getting married.

I gulped. My husband-to-be had described the cottage in which we'd live in Africa: thatched, rough stone walls, gray marble shelves. It hardly sounded the sort of place for coordinated trimmings.

But I did have two blue towels, fluffy luxurious things I'd bought once in an unexpected fit of domesticity in the Galeries Lafayette.

"Blue," I answered hopefully. And so I received lots of blue towels as wedding presents.

I'd never bothered about home furnishings before. In Paris, where I'd lived and worked, there were lots of furniture shops - pristine places filled with cream sofas and Scandinavian woods.

I'd spent all my money on books. And spent most of my last two weeks in Paris lugging sacks of books to the post office in Montmartre, for delivery to my parents' home in England.

My father, who taught me at age 3 never to go into a living room without a story book, had to build a new attic over his garage to house them temporarily.

My books are my dowry, I told my fiancé.

Married and in Zimbabwe, I found myself facing new and unexpected longings. Perhaps it came with finally settling down with Mr. Right, but suddenly I wanted my home to be nice.

There were two problems. Unlike Paris, Harare's furniture shops can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. And, because I'd given up my salaried Paris position, I had no money.

OK, it wasn't as though we had nothing. We had a bed, a table and chairs, and a chest of drawers, all hand-me-downs. We had blue towels.

We had two armchairs that had belonged to my husband's grandfather. They were raspberry-pink velvet, a far cry from the pale Parisian chaise longue I might have dreamed of. "Chairs are chairs," I told myself sternly, as I dragged them into the center of the living room.

Little by little, I've had to learn that beautiful "home" things don't always have to be bought. They're there for the looking.

When I step out of my door - and I only have one door - there's beauty all around.

Across the lawn is a frangipani tree. A bunch of waxy-white, star-shaped frangipani flowers perfumes our living room for days.

Stuffed into an old silver jug and placed in a nook in the wall, their pure blooms make my rough stone surfaces look as though they were designed that way.

Then there are the bougainvillea bushes with their great swaths of fluorescent pink, orange, and red flowers. I've got a bunch of pink ones now in a black clay pot that sits squat in the middle of my (junk-shop) coffee table.

They make the raspberry-velvet chairs look as if they were intentional.

In the evenings, as we eat dinner by candlelight, I see the fat green leaves of the elephant ear plant brushing my window pane. Beyond them is my very own lemon tree.

Lemons take weeks to ripen, it appears. My tree's got little green baby lemons on it these days. Because of the drought currently hitting Zimbabwe, I'm helping them along with daily splashes of used washing-up water.

When I look out of my kitchen window in the morning, tiny sunbirds twitter just centimeters from the glass. They're blue, yellow, and green, bright flashes of color that gladden my heart.

Now who needs framed prints and expensive home ornaments when you've got the real thing - nature - on your doorstep?

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