It may be getting on toward winter, but backyard ornamentals are still a gold mine for holiday table decorations. All you need in order to create an eye-catching Thanksgiving centerpiece is a little ingenuity, a glue gun and a few floral supplies.
Of course, advance planning in these matters is sometimes important, but these ideas can be duplicated with a trip to the garden center or a woodland that permits scavenging.
Cora Lee, head gardener for the Jackson County Master Gardener Association craft garden at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point, says a credible arrangement of dried flowers — some grasses, lavender and possibly yarrow — can still be retrieved from the garden. Pair your dried collection with colorful pumpkins and gourds for a casual autumn display. Fresh greens can include rosemary, bay leaves and nandina, which often will be flashed with red after a frost. Add several sprays of rose hips, or even canes holding the calyx, the star-shaped base of the rose flower, and you have an arrangement.
Use garden greens with added pine cones, either purchased or wild-crafted. Attach the cones to the wire-topped floral spikes sold at craft stores. For a richer look, spray the cones with walnut or cherry stain, suggests Kristen Hedberg, floral department manager at Craft Warehouse in Medford. Set floral foam in a low bowl, then add greens and poke the pine cone picks in. Odd numbers are best.
If you want a long-lasting arrangement and are using acorns, flower heads and seed pods from the garden, make sure they are dry, says Hedberg. "It's hard to create a good finished product if you have high moisture content." On the other hand, don't worry if it's just for a specific occasion, she says.
If you like, add autumn fruit and nuts to the arrangement, with the same caveats.
"Some pears are beautiful ornamental fruit," says Lee. Pomegranates and persimmons also evoke the season. "Some people don't like to eat them, but the vivid orange and green persimmons are beautiful at the holiday," she says.
If you want the arrangement to last longer, Hedberg suggests using artificial fruit.
Silk flowers can be paired with fresh foliage to good effect, and don't forget to forage through your Christmas decorations for elements with broad seasonal appeal: berries, fruit and cones. Or go on an outdoor adventure with the kids. Hunt for acorns, bright lichens and interesting twigs. Search for a sweet gum (Liquidambar) tree, whose multicolored leaves can be gathered and pressed in a phone book.
To use, scatter the pressed leaves around the table. Using a textured container, such as a basket, insert floral foam, moss and add greens, acorns, lichen and more twigs, says Hedberg. For even more visual interest, add a candle cup and insert tapers or pillars.
Some oak trees still have leaves and, if you don't like the natural brown color, the tough leathery leaves provide a perfect surface for spray paint.
Ivy vines make an equally good canvas. Use autumn colors or metallics such as copper, bronze and gold. Don't try to cover the whole branch evenly, as if it were a bookcase. Spray the paint unevenly and use multiple colors that harmonize with your table settings or décor. Other seed heads that will take this treatment include agapanthus and Jerusalem sage — and why not try that roadside weed (also a noxious pest plant) teasel.
Adding foiled leaves, glitter or metallic spray paint will catch the light from the candles to enhance the arrangement, says Hedberg.
Ordinary shrubbery can put on party clothes and merit a place at the table. These homegrown table settings are the perfect reminder of the humble origins of this national celebration of Thanksgiving.