Making centrepieces for holiday feasts is a great reason to explore trails or to visit friends with great gardens. Stop in with some homemade jams, pickled beets, or holiday cookies. Mentioning that you were thinking about making a centrepiece may inspire them to join you (and let you take a look at what they have hanging around in their gardens). Spending time with friends and family, sharing and giving, isn’t this what the holidays are all about?
When gathering materials for your centrepieces, look for colours. Red osier dogwood (Cornus stolonifera) has brilliant red stems. A native shrub that is commonly found along rivers, this shrub is also sold at nurseries and is a very popular garden plant. They benefit from hard pruning so don’t be shy about taking cuttings. Many willows have red, golden, or black stems which can add height to centerpieces, and also don’t mind hard prunings. Rose hips, especially the native roses, make a great addition. Young stems of our native, deciduous mountain holly (Ilex mucronata, formerly Nemopanthus mucronatus) are purple and are commonly found in our forests and fields.
Also look for materials that will add structural interest. Dried thistles add sharp edges and cones add a festive feel. The cones of larch, sometimes called tamarack (Larix laricina), are great additions since they stay attached to the stems. Pine cones make a great addition as well, and can be tied onto branches. Alder (Alnus crispa) also have cone like structures and are readily available. Kalmia (Kalmia angustifolia) and other evergreen shrubs can be found around the edges of ponds and in bogs, easily accessible from trails. Holly, ivy, balsam fir, juniper, and pine branches make great bases and fillers. Snips of rosemary branches can be used as well. Even the tops of Japanese knotweed have elaborate twists and shapes which can add character, and are a nice contrast to the straight willows and dogwood. Keep your eyes open for dried plants sticking up out of the snow. There are many garden plants that can easily be added.
There are plenty of things inside the home that can be used: cinnamon sticks tied in a bundle; left over ornaments; bows; dried or fresh flowers; oranges with whole cloves; ribbons. Don’t be afraid to be creative and add a personal touch to your centrepiece.
There are some things to avoid. Dogberries look great, but often times fall off the branches when brought inside. Cattails turn to fluffy seeds when brought inside, but can be preserved with hairspray. Avoid using spruce, since branches quickly dry out, and may have an unpleasant odour.
Floral foams are great bases for centre pieces since they can be watered. Lay them on a small plate, shallow bowl, or vases. Use several small wide mouthed mason jars and scatter smaller centrepieces across the table. Pebbles and sand look better as a base, but are harder to work with. Garden scissors and fishing line are useful tools.
Once you have everything gathered, lay it all out and start layering with your base materials. Start filling in the centrepiece with bigger branches and then decorate using the rest of the materials. You want to keep the height of the centrepiece low enough so that guests sitting at the table can see each other. The overall size or your centrepiece will depend on the size of your table, or the size of your ambition. Working with odd numbers (such as using three thistles, or five cinnamon sticks tied together) and at varying heights is more pleasing to the eye. Allow colours to drift and to lead your eyes, but avoid having straight lines. Symmetry is nice, but everyone has their own preferences. Traditionally, a candle is placed in the middle, but remember that centre pieces are flammable. A flameless (battery powered) candle is a great substitute. Or, add a small potted plant, such as rosemary or the mint cuttings you brought in for the winter.
Whatever you decide to do, don’t forget to have fun with it. It is a busy time of year and this project will let you be productive while still enjoying time with friends and family.