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More Than a Centerpiece

A floral centerpiece is a fitting focal point for a festive table, but the possibilities are endless if you think beyond simple flower arrangements. How about making more than just a centerpiece, with a living design that mingles plants with knickknacks to create a personalized scene to fit any occasion? The beauty of this is in the combination of living plant material and everyday objects, all very nice separately but incredible together. Cut flower arrangements are at their peak for only a few days, while plants will last for months, even years, with the proper care and selection.

When creating your tabletop display, first keep in mind the size of the table. Additionally, the table still needs to function as a table, so leave space for drinks, books, keys, etc. Plants and objects should be layered according to size, with tall items placed to the back or middle, the bulkiest towards the middle, and short on the outside. The design should follow a curved line, giving the arrangement movement and flow. Use risers, upside-down pots or boxes, or even blocks of Styrofoam to raise plants to different levels so the design doesn’t appear to be flat. If the display is on the dinning room table and people are going to be eating here, keep in mind the plant material should be low enough so as to not impede conversation or obstruct views. Always use plant saucers to protect the table’s finish and avoid watermarks. Finish up by using sheet moss to hide risers, saucers, and growing pots.

The following are some great plants to use for a tabletop display:

  • Tropical ferns – Maidenhair ferns, button ferns, birdnest ferns, rabbitfoot ferns
  • Flowering plants – Poinsettias, cyclamen, holiday cactus, amarylis, orchids, small azaleas, floret mums, African violet
  • Leafy green plants – Ivy, small ficus trees, rosemary, peperomia, parlor palm, nerve plant/fittonia, strawberry begonia, aluminum plant, bromeliads
  • Cacti and Succulents – Haworthia, aloe, agave, jade, snakeplants, kalanchoe

Houseplants, excluding cacti and succulents, need a bit of added humidity over the winter, so be sure to mist them. Also, select plants that are smaller in stature than regular houseplants as the plant size determines the size of the rest of the display.

Here are some possible display themes to get you started:

  • Thanksgiving – Pick a couple of plants that have a chartreuse leaf and keep the rest in the dark green leaf color. Use flowers in the orange, red, and yellow color palette and fill spaces with leaves, acorns, and small gourds.
  • Winter – Use dark green and blue leaves, flowering plants in white, silver and white balls, a stuffed snowman, and maybe a sled or two.
  • Valentine’s Day – Of course, look for red, pink, and white flowering plants, and variegated ivy, filling in the gaps with green foliage. For accessories you could include glass hearts, vases filled with ribbon, and framed photos of your Valentine.
  • Succulents and Cacti with Sea Shells – Put the plants in terracotta pots, use a dark purple or dark blue table cloth and then use a mix of big to small sea shells as the accents. The colors all complement or contrast each other nicely, plus the plants don’t need that much care.

The plants and knickknacks can be changed seasonally, per holiday, or for any special occasion. This project is all about creating a visual scene by combining textures, heights, colors and materials. Think about the whole look. What do the plates and napkins look like? What is the function? Are you hosting a family reunion, a birthday party, Thanksgiving dinner, or a romantic evening for two?

Add a bow of colorful ribbon to the chairs or use chair covers. A tablecloth and napkins in complementary colors are pleasing to the eye, but how about the shock of contrasting colors for big impact? Think broadly as these displays can be created on any table-like surface: coffee tables, dining room tables, even the kitchen island. All you need is a flat, open space and a little inspiration.

Barbara Arnold is green corps coordinator at Franklin Park Conservatory.

Winter Holiday Photo Credit: Carly Gerdeman, Franklin Park Conservatory