Giving thanks to the leftovers
The abundant still-life objects that nature creates each fall never fails to excite. It’s hard not to love the towering bunches of dried cornstalks; misshapen gourds, squashes and pumpkins stacked on top of each other; lacy ornamental cabbages that look good enough to eat; and even those run-of-the-mill chrysanthemums burst into rich, jewel-toned colors, helping make the dreaded transition from summer to winter something to look forward to.
Combined together, these seasonal elements are so simpatico, it’s hard to imagine them ever apart. Thankfully, the cooling temperatures of late fall should keep these seasonal motifs alive in time for November’s big holiday, Thanksgiving. However, using pumpkins, squashes, and gourds indoors may require a second trip to the grocer or nursery if you bought them early in the season, as rot can occur from heat.
Fall’s bounty of fruits and vegetables in table designs have been a celebratory, holiday staple since the original cornucopia was created centuries ago in Greece— not by the Pilgrims, as many believe. However, settlers brought a lot of attention to the cornucopia, where it has remained an American symbol of thankfulness for the bounty of nature.
While it’s a good time to start planning your menu for later in the month, why not start planning your centerpiece as well? Creating the perfect cornucopia, floral arrangement, or tablescape has become as popular as the meal, thanks to social media, where you can find an overwhelming selection of ideas. If you’re feeling confused by too many choices, why not turn to the outdoors, which includes the desert, forest, and garden? Store-bought flowers can be wonderful, but think of your guests’ reactions when you create something you cut and created from nature all by yourself, for free. Now there is something to be thankful for.
Santa Fe’s landscapemay be best known for its endless pinyons, junipers, and cholla cactus, but there is much more hiding underneath these plants than meets the eye. Dried sages, grasses, cholla that has become petrified, oakbrush, sumac leaves, sagebrush, saltbrush, silverberry, serviceberry, wolfberry, manzanita branches, and dried yucca pods all make wonderful additions to arrangements and can be gathered easily without harming the environment.
If you haven’t had a chance to clean up your driveway or deadhead your garden, start collecting those purple robe or honey locust pods now before they get moldy and fall apart. Their long, mahogany brown, curly shapes are perfect for a fall harvest table. If your flower beds have dried flower stalks from Echinacea, sunflowers, thistles, Lunaria (silver dollar plant), Datura (be careful of the spikes), and poppies, these unusual shapes can add texture and create a real statement.
Having enough room for the food and the centerpiece can be tricky, but if you have a long, large table with sufficient room, try adding branches like salt cedar, red dogwood, aspen, birch, willow, or even dried vines from Boston ivy, Virginia creeper (both invasive non-natives), grapevine, and trumpet vine. These accents make your design come alive with movement and organic shape.
Berries from shrubs such as Nandina bush, Oregon grape holly, and pyracantha are stunning in centerpieces, as are hawthorn, mountain ash, and fruit tree berries. Just be careful with children, as some of these can be poisonous.
So, instead of opting for the storebought centerpiece of mini pumpkins, orange carnations, yellow mums, and dyed oak leaves, try your hand at creating your own masterpiece with the things Mother Nature left behind this summer. Having your organic menu match your organic centerpiece seems like the perfect way you and your loved ones can give thanks to where it all began — the garden.
Carole has been in the floriculture industry, from international wholesale and retail sales to event planning, for over 20 years. She has floral studios in Santa Fe and Baltimore, was a Santa Fe Master Gardener, and supports local/national flower farms and beautification projects. She is available for demonstrations and lectures. Contact her at email@example.com or visit www. flowerspy.com.