Even though the frosts and an early snow have robbed me of my flowers, I still find plenty of inspiration in the berries, rose hips, seed pods, leaves, and harvested fruit to create wonderful autumnal centerpieces and bouquets. For me, these type of concoctions are traditional in my November — especially Thanksgiving — decorations. If I use flowers from the market they are still mixed with elements found in my garden or along country roads. Back in Missouri, every fall I went off with my grandmother searching for long whips of bittersweet, rose hips, and viburnum berries. She always planted multicolored gourds and pumpkins and there were varieties of apples and pears with which to fill bowls and baskets. I love the mix of interesting textures-something I learned to incorporate with my flowers when I worked in the flower shop in Paris. The French were so far ahead of us in the creative juxtaposition of plant material. Now we have caught up, but when I first published A Passion for Flowers in 1996 that was not the case. It seems hard to imagine from our present perspective that most florists still at that time used mostly baby’ s breath, leather fern, wax flower, and statice. There were exceptions of course, but they were not the rule. What seems ubiquitous now was not so then. I suppose because of my grandmother’s interest in design and the fact that we lived in the country (where just traveling down a dirt road gave one armloads of material for decoration), this mixing of elements has been a part of my “ arranging” from a very early age.
So my advice is don’t over look anything when thinking about your autumn flower arranging! Chokecherry, peppercorns, viburnum, seeded eucalyptus, hypericum, rose hips, bittersweet, flower pods such as poppy and echinacea, wisteria, colored branches such as redwing, red willow,and white birch, and of course beautiful leaves and grasses are just a few of your options for a wonderful addition to flowers. The autumn harvest of fruits and vegetables provide quince, persimmons, apples, pears, and concord grapes. Also the odd things like chestnuts, buckeye, walnuts, and all sorts of crabapples bring beautiful texture and color to arrangements. So have fun, be creative, and remember that just because something is not in full bloom does not negate its potential interest in an arrangement or creative decoration.
Everyone has favorites and after hundreds of autumnal tables I have created over the last 40 years ( yikes!) this is still one of mine. In fact, as this was table was done years ago I feel like redoing it for this Thanksgiving (hope I can find the old iron urns). They are simple to make: select a pair of containers, fill with oasis, and then cut branches of small crab apples to stick into the oasis. Next, build a mound of pomegranates (held in place by putting a floral skewer in the fruit and then sticking them into the oasis), then drape clusters of a larger variety of crabapples around, being sure to cover all of the oasis.
What I love about this table is the way the colors of the fruit blend so beautifully with the antique Scottish paisley that I used as a tablecloth. The centerpieces are dramatic with the tall branches, but one can see still see through them. Thus, you can have drama without blocking your neighbor across the table.
You cannot easily see in this photo, but the colors of the paisley shawl and the centerpieces are picked up in the early 19th century English ironstone plates. Make a theme by relating colors from one table element to the next.
Everything in this bouquet ( pictured above and below) is from the flower market, but because of the mix of fall colors one has a ” sense ” of them having come out of the garden. On this point: even if I do not have plant material from my garden, using seasonal colors gives a sense that the flowers are a product of the garden at that moment. For instance, I would not use baby pink in November in any of my homes because at this time of the year in the northern hemisphere it is not a color that one finds in nature. (Now if you are doing a shower for a baby girl you could and probably would use that color, but that is an exception.) I prefer to follow a seasonal logic that at least appears authentic and in tune with nature.
Rich russets, oranges, and the deep mahogany of the ripe hypericum speak of autumn to me. I like their warm colors against the velveteen chocolate walls of my New York apartment, but also like these colors juxtaposed against the cool blue and putty 18th c. ormolu mounted pots from China. Sometimes one complements a color palette, and at other times one uses contrasting elements to create an exciting tableau.
In doing events where there will be a lot of people milling around, scale and drama are important. When I did one of my book parties in the elegant gallery of Carlton Hobbs I needed impact to compete with the beautiful objects and the grandeur of the rooms. Strong color, such these wonderful shades of red, and the height of the beautiful ilex was perfect.
I often use juxtapositions of size to create interest, especially when the the plant material is in the same color. By having the large velvety amaryllis nestled against against the tiny berries of the ilex, one weaves a rich tapestry of textures. Another design element is surface finish: the berries are shiny and the petals of the flowers are matte, creating further contrast and interest. One must think of all these things in design regardless of the medium.
The same type of bouquet in an even larger scale– I love that this bouquet works equally well in polished silver and this beautiful rich mahogany urn from Carlton.
I always liked this arrangement because of the unusual colors. For another Thanksgiving in Paris I decide to use a set of French 19th c. transferware that I bought there years ago. In a fabulous discount fabric place in Montmartre I found 10 meters of a brown and white cotton that married so well with my dinner service — and thus became the tablecloth for that Thanksgiving . I was thrilled when I found chestnuts in their shell as they added such wonderful texture. I combined them with musky concord grapes, miniature rose hips, small yellow crabapples, and small bronze pears. All of that seasonal bounty rested on a frame of deep red leaves.
When mounding fruits and vegetables I use a sticky floral clay called Cling so the elements do not end up rolling across the table.
I like to have bittersweet “wander” around an arrangement —notice the baby pumpkin (right side of large one) echoes the big bouquet.. these babies were scattered around in front of the place settings.
I love colored glass and use it throughout the year. This combination of amethyst and amber was inspired by the antique mustard shawl I bough years ago in India. I selected different varieties of pears and some wild berry from Africa that I found at the flower market (sorry I can’t remember the name–it was in the exotic section where you find protea and such). The colors are muted and unusual, and the sparkling glass popped like gemstones off the table.
Although the nasturtiums were long gone from the garden, I had also planted some in terra cotta pots and they continued to bloom after I took them to the greenhouse. I love how they mix with the rose hips, one of my favorite fall decorating textures. All three bouquets are simple but I admire how they look in the 19th c. Scottish oak and silver vessels.
The red French boutis I bought in Provence years ago inspired this table, with a quick bouquet of red Japanese maple leaves, red dahlias, and red viburnum. I surrounded this large bouquet with plates and compote dishes of apples from the orchard.
I enjoy doing tables as vignettes where elements such as this old painted screen are part of the tableau. Notice how the colors of the screen are picked up ( intentionally) by the combination of flowers and textural elements in the bouquet.
The red is a constant from the screen, to the print on the chairs, to the cranberry glass, even to the flowers in the needlepoint carpet.
Yellow crabapples wander down and through out the parade of pumpkins and gourds on the country table. The amber hurricane is decorated with a crown of bittersweet and the glassware and service are a mix of autumn yellows and ocher.
Here is a last ode to texture for autumn decoration (you will see this photo again in the next post about food for Thanksgiving). Normally I detest dyed flowers — my feeling is that mother nature is the best artist and does not need us to be dyeing carnations blue (ick!) — but, occasionally, there is an exception to all rules. I found this seeded eucalyptus that had been dyed an unusual red-violet and I liked it mixed with the natural green eucalyptus, hypericum, and roses in reds, oranges, and golden yellows. To bring out the orange and to give volume to the bouquet I placed clementines throughout the arrangement. These were mounted on floral skewers and stuck in to oasis that held the entire bouquet together. I love the richness of all of the patterns, from the antique paisley shawl that I used as the table cloth, to the patterns on the dinner service, to the textural variety of the plant material in the centerpiece.
So happy autumn decorating! I hope these images have given you some food for your creative thoughts.-cr