Most of the leaves are off the trees now, gardens are all but put to bed, and we’re starting to hunker down for the longest season; a time for spending indoors, but not without enjoying some of the beauty of the outdoors. One of the easiest and most fun ways to do this is to make a beautiful display for the center of the Thanksgiving table out of the remains of summer.
There are many different ways to create a beautiful fall or Thanksgiving centerpiece out of found objects and natural stems. If all dry material is used, a pretty vase or basket is all that’s needed to provide a container. Marbles or pebbles in the bottom will keep stems where they are placed, and the arrangement can last for months. Dry floral foam or Styrofoam can also hold things in place, but once stems are inserted they should not be moved. Grass and flower seed heads, small cattails, twigs with interesting shapes and bark textures, and various cones are all good components for a centerpiece. Just make sure nothing is going to fall off of it into the gravy!
Fresh-cut components such as needled evergreen boughs, holly stems, and berries can be used as well, and will last for a few weeks. To keep them fresh, wet floral foam (Oasis) should be used. Make sure whatever container you are doing the arrangement in does not leak! Using a variety of greens makes for an interesting and unique arrangement. Balsam Fir or Hemlock boughs will form a beautiful base, and spruce and pine will add texture and softness. Holly, whether evergreen or winterberry, adds brightness and another shape and texture to the arrangement.
Direct from the garden can come seed heads from coneflowers and black-eyed susans, daylily and iris seed pods, and dry flowerheads from sedum. Hydrangea blooms, all papery now, add a soft element, as do grasses. Ornamental grass plumes and the grasses themselves are excellent for filler and variety. Some people like a spritz of gold or silver spray paint to coat the dried elements. A matte spray paint will add a little bit of sparkle without being gaudy.
In all arrangements, taller stems and bolder elements look best towards the center of the display. This helps anchor the arrangement both visually and physically. Evergreen boughs and fresh berry stems should be cut at an angle and inserted firmly into wet floral foam so they stay hydrated and healthy till the big day. Make sure there is enough variety of elements, but do not try to cram absolutely every different kind of branch, berry, and flower into the same arrangement, or it will look far too busy.
Don’t neglect pine and spruce cones either. As long as they are clean and free of sap, they can be stuck on wires and inserted into the arrangement, or scattered around the base. (To remove sticky sap, bake them on a foil-lined pan at 220 degrees for 20-30 minutes. This will melt the majority of it off without burning the cones themselves.) Some of the smaller cones, from trees like White Spruce, are delightful in small clusters.
Cut flowers are a way to add a little something extra to a fall centerpiece too. Roses and mums in shades of yellow, orange, and burgundy shout “fall”, and are easy to snip and tuck into a wet-foam arrangement. If they are kept cool, they will last for several days, and bring a fresh breath of color to the more subdued natural tones of your garden treasures.