Thursday, December 12, 2013

Create Your Own Winter Holiday Table

By Erika Zambello

Consider giving your home a natural and creative decoration this year with your own unique table arrangement. You can collect from your yard or grow plants that inspire in preparation for next year’s arrangements. Your distinctive creation will “harken back to what people have done for centuries, finding the seasonal beauty in their own back yards,” says Jan Little, Duke Gardens’ director of education and public programs.

Crafting your own table arrangement is also a great way to connect with your natural environment. Instead of buying the usual poinsettia, head off into the yard or garden to harvest the perfect design elements for a holiday display in four simple steps.

The first and perhaps most important step is to take a moment before beginning your design. Make sure to think about the size and height that will match both your chosen container and what you envision. If the table arrangement is meant for the center of a dining room, don’t create an arrangement so high that it’s impossible to see your holiday guests on the other side! Multiple smaller decorations between place settings are also an excellent way to be creative this holiday season.

The second step is to choose colors that will perfect your overall vision. Color and texture are important elements in the overall design, according to Little and Harry Jenkins, the Gardens’ superintendent of horticulture. Christmas colors of red and green are easy to implement, but so are the red, green, and black of Kwanzaa, or the blue and white of Hanukkah.

Green elements will provide a fitting base for any arrangement. White pine, holly, cypress (chamaecyparis), nandina, boxwood and spruce branches are especially beautiful and fragrant. Holly and other red berries bring the perfect Christmas and Kwanzaa red, while juniper berries provide the signature blue of Hanukkah. The cones of white pine trees often present a “frosted” look and can add the white accent of Hanukkah or a wintery look to any table arrangement.

“Don’t be afraid to combine natural plants with holiday ornaments,” Little adds, and ribbons or ornaments can add colorful touches. Seed pods, twigs and even cattails can be painted and added to just the right spot to bring the design to life.

Once you have chosen materials with an eye to color, the third step is to choose accents with texture in mind. Though man-made elements can create a beautiful design, “use as much real stuff as you can,” Jenkins suggests. The possibilities are endless: lilies, ornamental grasses, magnolias, and even okra – yes, okra – provide beautiful seed pods that bring fun shapes and texture to the arrangement.

The key to a homemade decoration is not only choosing natural materials but displaying and interweaving them together. To this end, check out Oasis, a foam-like material used by professionals to hold their stems in place for as long as the arrangement lasts.

Finally, though experimenting with as many eye-catching natural materials as possible is a good thing, there are some materials to avoid. Birds’ nests are pretty, but by this time of year they have been sitting for several months and can often bring insects into the house. Give branches a brief shake and check over twigs and other materials to avoid carrying in any unwanted guests.

We hope you’ll discover the pleasure of constructing your own one-of-a-kind table arrangement! 

Sarah P. Duke Gardens creates and nurtures an environment in the heart of Duke University for learning, inspiration and enjoyment through excellence in horticulture. The Gardens receives roughly half of its operating budget from Duke University. The rest comes from people like you, who value all that this public botanic garden has to offer. Duke Gardens is at 420 Anderson St. 

Columnist Erika Zambello is a graduate student studying Ecosystem Science and Conservation at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment.   

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