Sharyn Altman, a master gardener, is probably this area's answer to Martha Stewart, except she's much prettier and a heck of a lot nicer.
So, when I heard that she recently gave a program about decorating for the holiday by using what's in the backyard, I thought surely I'm not the only one whose idea of a Thanksgiving Day centerpiece is a huge bouquet of flowers that has to be moved to the china cabinet because no one at the table can see over the thing at dinner.
There's an answer to that, Sharyn said, setting her elbow down on the table in an arm-wrestling position. You never use a centerpiece that is higher than the length of your elbow to fingertips. Smart, eh?
Creating a centerpiece or wreath for the holidays looked easy when Sharyn did it recently. There are some basics to start with and then you have to rely on your senses. If it looks good to you, it's perfect. When something seems off, go ahead and try something different, she advises.
Start a day ahead by going outside with your pruners and selecting three sources of greenery. You should probably get more than you think you will use. Pick greenery with different textures and hues, she said. You will want to soak the sprigs overnight. A preservative isn't necessary for greenery, but you can use it, and you should use it for flowers.
"Everyone needs a magnolia," Sharyn said, which may have been the subconscious reason I picked out a teddy bear magnolia at a McCorkle Nurseries sale last weekend. (Well, that and because it was taller than me and cost only $7.)
Magnolia branches are great in arrangements and they will last at least a couple of weeks. You can even dress up a generic candleholder on the mantel or side table by infusing sprigs of magnolia.
Another favorite of Sharyn's is the gold mop cypress. The soft texture plays off the gloss of the magnolia leaves beautifully. A third addition that makes a statement is pittosporum (Google it like I did if you don't recognize the name). A sprig has a leaf pattern almost like the petals of a rose. The leaves are a soft green edged in white.
For wreaths, Sharyn likes to use the grapevine variety. They are easy to work with and will hold springs of greenery without wiring. Start by sticking in one type of greenery then change it up with another and another. You might need to play around with placement to find what you like. Don't neglect to fill in the back; it will create depth.
You can use floral picks to add color with ribbons. If you're bow-making challenged, you can use a single loop. It looks good, too.
Nuts will add a nice touch to an arrangement. Sharyn uses a hot-glue gun to bind nuts with a piece of coat hanger wire that she has wrapped in floral tape. You also can spray paint the nuts to add color to an arrangement. Think of using berries from the yard, but if you don't have any, there are some great berry decorations out there. For Christmas you can really amp up the festive colors by using small Christmas tree bulbs in arrangements. Group them together by running a wire through the hook holders.
The same principles apply to creating a runner for your table. Sharyn uses a green wire to bind sprigs together. The wire disappears in the arrangement, holds the springs together and enables you to pick the arrangement up all at once. Flameless candles are a great addition to the arrangements. Another fun natural decoration for the table is scattered, dried fall leaves.
Want to dress up a plain vase for the holiday? Glue magnolia leaves to it. If you are using glass vases with floral greenery arrangements, you need to cover the view of a bunch of stems. Fill the vase with something, such as cranberries, or use a large, flat leaf to wrap around the inside of the vase. Cast iron plant leaves are great for this. If you go the berry route, you should use a container inside a container or otherwise when you add water the berries are going to float to the top.
The point is, you don't have to spend a fortune to create a holiday feel. Keep an eye open for bargain additions that might add a festive touch eventually, even if you're not sure exactly what it will be while standing in the isle of the Dollar Store.
Sharyn advises to keep all your supplies in one spot (basket, etc.) to save time and frustration when you sit down to create an arrangement. In addition to tools, floral picks and tape, and paper covered wire, Sharyn's supply bin also contains a color wheel because, "They already figured out what looks good together -- why reinvent the wheel?"