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‘Forest gatherations’ ~ gorgeous centerpieces

There’s nothing more inviting than a Thanksgiving table set with heirloom china and a centerpiece which evokes the bounty of nature. This table is graced with two porcelain turkeys and set with Friendly Village transferware, glittery antique oil lamps and an old wooden dough bowl filled with dried hydrangea blossoms. Gourds of all shapes and sizes, glycerin-preserved fall leaves, pine cones teasel, a mini grapevine wreath and a feather found in the field complete the arrangement. Now, all that is needed is the feast. L. D. Bennett photo

Laura Dean Bennett
Staff Writer

With Thanksgiving already here and winter about to set in, it’s time to dress the house for the holidays.

And what is nicer than bringing a bit of the outdoors in and taking advantage of nature’s bounty, which is all around us as the seasons change. 

If you’re like me, you’ve been gathering acorns, collecting leaves, drying hydrangea stems and teasel since September.

For the rest of your – what a friend of mine calls, “forest gatherations” – take a walk in the woods to “go shopping” for everything you’ll need to fashion stunning centerpieces and arrangements handmade by nature.

There’s no end to the interesting things you can find, but start by looking for bare branches like witch hazel, beech or willow and branches with bits of fruit on them, like ornamental crabapples.

You might even want to include a set of shed antlers or a feather or two.

Add some apples, pears, a few gourds and some mini pumpkins and you have the perfect fall arrangement.

For a dramatic centerpiece, stack heirloom pumpkin varieties – those unusual blue, green and gray ones – in graduated sizes to create an earthy topiary. 

Remove the stems from all but the top pumpkin to create stable bases. 

If you’re bringing your collection of succulents in from the porch for the winter, why not incorporate them into an arrangement? 

And, if you need to augment with a few stems of faux flowers or pieces of faux fruit, go ahead. 

Probably, with all those natural elements, no one will even notice.

To enhance the natural theme, skip the standard vase and get creative when choosing a container.  

Arrange your “gatherations” in something old-fashioned and natural. Look around the house for a basket or something antique and preferably made of wood.

I like to use an old dough bowl or wooden tray. 

They make great low centerpiece foundations when filled with seasonal pumpkins, gourds, pinecones and dried flowering branches. 

But maybe you’d prefer to build your centerpiece or arrangement in something not so rustic.

Vintage pitchers are great for tall arrangements, teapots are a nice size for a medium-size arrangement and creamers and sugar bowls are just the right height for small ones. 

Hand-me-down pieces, like an antique soup tureen, are too pretty to keep sitting in the china cabinet.  

Give them a chance to shine as an eye-catching container for your fall, Thanksgiving or Christmas centerpiece. 

To protect your good china or any valuable antique container, use it as a cachepot, creating the arrangement in a smaller container that you then place within the antique.  

If you’re using a basket or a wooden container, lay a bowl inside, or line it with wax paper, a paper napkin or a piece of seasonal fabric to protect it from berry stains or sticky sap.

To make it extra special, top off an arrangement with a “talking piece” – an old tool, a handmade knick knack or a vintage family toy to give it a more personal touch. 

To change it up for Christmas and winter, you can substitute some pine and spruce boughs for the fall elements and you have the perfect festive arrangement with an irresistible evergreen fragrance. 

Pine stems are a little sappy, but you can’t beat them for instantly changing a fall arrangement to a winter theme.

And, if you tuck them into a small glass or vase of water, and place your arrangement away from direct sunlight or heat, they will last for months!

Hide the glass container down inside your arrangement and change the water every week or so.

With a seasonal bow or touch of decoration, your natural “gatherations” will maintain a fresh look  throughout the winter months to come. 

A cold wind may be blowing outside, but with a little imagination and the help of Mother Nature, you can set the table and the scene for warm and elegant gatherings indoors.

Laura Dean Bennett may be contacted at

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