One of the most beloved holiday traditions in my family is foraging together for beautiful elements from nature to decorate our table. Bringing the season indoors just feeds our souls, and there is nothing more beautiful to us at this time of year than natural offerings of gourds or garnet-colored native corn or tendrils of curly willow or grapevine.
We believe in using whatever is at hand–to save money, to allow serendipity to happen, and just for fun–to tweak our creativity. Here are a few of our latest ideas that you can use as a jumping-off place for your own creative spirit:
1. On one of my morning walks, I found a pile of cuttings from some wonderfully twiggy plant, tied with rough twine, that a neighbor had thrown away. We brought the twigs in, plunked them in a big terra cotta urn that had held chrysanthemums throughout the early autumn, and placed tiny pumpkins and autumn leaves among the branches. A friend had recently given me some battery-operated tea-lights that I wrapped in oak-leaf-colored tissue and scattered here and there in the arrangement: they made the most enchanting flickering light. And, unlike real candles, these were safe! A few more leaves and small pumpkins scattered at the foot of the urn and we had a super-dramatic and beautiful centerpiece.
2. We love the colors and textures of wood. One year we collected all the wooden salad bowls, antique boxes, and dough troughs that are scattered all over the house and piled them with nuts in the shell, apples, gourds, and miniature ears of native corn. We arranged them down the center of the table, interspersed with beeswax candles.
3. It’s fun to collect grapevine and twist it into a big wreath for the center of the table. Inside it, we heap pumpkins and gourds and beeswax tapers.
4. One year we went for a Zen-like simplicity: We simply gathered a few long branches with brightly-colored leaves still attached and placed them in a rustic earthenware pitcher.
5. A pretty pumpkin, hollowed out, makes a great vase for autumn arrangements. We recently used the tassels from our by-the-door corn shocks, interspersed with chrysanthemums, curly willow, and assorted interesting-looking seedpods found by the roadside.
Other simple ideas: We placed a small heap of autumn leaves down the center of the table, then evenly placed several perfect pears in a line on top. You could also use apples or pomegranates or miniature pumpkins.
For more ideas, see Thanksgiving Decorating with Nature.
By Cait Johnson, co-author of Celebrating the Great Mother (Inner Traditions, 1995).