At my house, we always have a foraged floral arrangement for Thanksgiving. Some years, we decorate with persimmons and bay boughs, and others with herbs and berry sprigs in juice glasses. Whatever’s outdoors is on the table too.
Here are a few easy tips for making your own zero-cost holiday centerpiece, which by the way looks prettier than anything you can buy:
Photography by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: With a free-form arrangement of branches and berries, you can make a dramatic garland that runs the length of the table, or you can confine foraged florals to centerpiece territory (and use the space at the end of the table for serving dishes).
Above: Some things never change. Every year I set the table with silverware that once belonged to my husband’s grandmother; low wine goblets (because they’re less tippy than tall stemware), and white plates. Here, the dishes are hand-glazed Organic Dinner Plates from Hudson Grace ($21 apiece), which look and feel as if they came straight from a local potter’s studio–and yet are perfectly safe in both a dishwasher and a microwave oven.
I love fancy china and crystal. But I’ve learned over the years that white dishes and unobtrusive glassware will make a beautiful backdrop to foraged florals. I want greenery and autumn colors to take center stage at the center of the table.
Above: I headed into the late-season garden to see what still looked good enough to come indoors. From a smoke bush near my front door, I clipped some branches with moody, mottled purple leaves. In the backyard, past-their-prime hydrangeas had flowers at that bruised-pink stage that looks good with everything.
Above: In autumn, shrubs sport all color of berries. Branches with green leaves and colorful berries make pretty garlands. In my Northern California neighborhood, there are lots of orange bittersweet berries, black privet berries, and purple privet berries. Other berries to look for: purple beautyberry and orange winterberry.
Above: Before arranging foraged finds, rinse them–extremely well–in the kitchen sink. Bugs are not welcome at the dinner table.
Above: I used garden twine to tie a sprig to each napkin. You can also get fancier and make a tiny bundled bouquet for each guest’s napkin. See how at Botanical Napkin Rings for Thanksgiving.
Above: I like a big napkin, preferably made of soft linen because the fabric drapes beautifully and absorbs spilled wine better than cotton.
Available in nearly two dozen colors, 22-inch-square Linen Napkins from Hudson Grace are washable and can be tumbled dry (and if you pull them out of the dryer while they’re still warm, you won’t need to iron them–they fold beautifully). Hand-dyed in San Francisco, the napkins are $18 apiece.
Above: To assemble the floral arrangement, I laid a linen runner down the center of the table. The fabric defines the boundaries of the floral arrangement (a helpful visual cue for when you don’t use a vase or other vessel).
Next, I laid a line of smoke bush branches down the middle of the table runner. Into them I tucked shorter lengths of privet, allowing the smoke bush leaves to cup clusters of privet berries. For extra drama, I tucked one hydrangea bloom into each end of the free-form garland.
Above: I placed the napkins on top of the plates to add some height to edge of the table and offset the bulk of the foraged floral arrangement. This prevents the table from looking like it has a big, impenetrable hedge in the middle of it.
Above: I wanted the table to contradict itself, to look glamorous and casual at the same time. So I skipped the tablecloth this year and instead relied on the runner to create a painterly frame around the florals.
The Day After
Above: After you disassemble the tabletop arrangement, turn the water pitcher into a vase with a sprig of long-lasting berries.
We’re feeling thankful. See: