I’m pretty sure the Pilgrims were too busy trying to stay alive to think much about centerpieces. In fact, flowers on a dining table didn’t come into vogue until Victorian times. The empty tabletops had to be filled with something when elaborate platters of food began being offered to guests individually by servants (known as service a la russe), rather than placed on the table for guests to serve themselves. And while centerpieces add a festive air to a table, flowers are a lovely welcoming touch all over the house, especially when you’ve got company coming.
I like the simplest, most natural flowers, and I especially like finding outdoor plants which can be cut and enjoyed inside. Here are six ways to use flowers around the house for Thanksgiving, from the simplest contemporary design to a traditional candle-and-flowers centerpiece. I bought the Osage oranges at the farmer’s market, but I’ve seen them growing (and dropping their fruit) all over Georgetown. Their brilliant green tone and slightly-creepy surface looks a lot like what you might imagine Frankenstein’s brain to look like, and they’re such a strong visual element on their own that they don’t need adornment. Osage oranges are thought to be a spider repellant, and people sometimes place them in the corners of their garages or basements for that purpose. I don’t know if that works, but I like the sculptural look of them.
The more traditional centerpiece is composed of only two things: gorgeous rosehips, Rosa rugosa, and bronze-and-yellow football mums. The rosehips are full of vitamin C and E, and can be found on any healthy rose bush: they are the fruit of the rose. These are simply stuck into a block of oasis, which rests on a clear plastic tray.
I couldn’t let the end of the harvest season pass without using wheat in some way. It’s a ripening shade of green, and is so beautiful gathered in a simple shock and tied with a ribbon – a nice arrangement for a side table or bureau.
And then there’s sweetgum – a tree whose leaves look much like maple leaves, though they also bear a green nubbly fruit that makes it a little special. I arranged a few big branches of the sweetgum, liquidambar styraciflua, into an old ceramic vase. This could be a good arrangement on an entryhall or buffet table.
I’ve also included a bouquet from flowers purchased at the grocery store – just mums, goldenrod and sweet potato leaves (the sweet potatoes came from my garden). This was a nine dollar arrangement, arranged simply in a Staffordshire creamware pitcher – proof, once again, that you don’t have to spend a lot of money on flowers.
Finally, it would not be fall without bittersweet. It’s like pumpkins, Indian corn, and corn shocks – the season doesn’t feel complete without it. I’ve included an arrangement that shows this lovely vine at its twining best – and after the holidays, pieces of bittersweet tossed into the fire cause it to crackle and pop invitingly.