Go for the Greenery!
Dozens of ideas for using tropical leaves, fern fronds, gnarled branches and more for gorgeous centerpieces and displays.
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Delightfully unexpected, cut foliage arrangements — whether spare and minimalist or full and lush — "grab your attention in a really dramatic way," says Max Gill, a floral designer in Berkeley, California. Even better, botanical material — tropical leaves, arching fronds, singular stems, gnarled branches, mounds of moss, expanses of green grass, twining vines, striking succulents and even veggie clippings — can be found in your own backyard and on neighborhood wanderings ("we call it Road-side-ia," jokes Sharon McGukin, a Carrollton, Ga., arranger and a spokesperson for the American Institute of Floral Designers), or snapped up for just a few bucks from your local florist or flower market. And unlike quick-fading flowers, these cuttings will look fresh for weeks or even months. Some ideas to help you go for the greenery:
- Tuck bunches of begonia, heuchera and coleus leaves into glass bowls to add autumnal red and burgundy to a holiday table, suggests Max Gill, a floral designer in Berkeley, Calif. Make the arrangement pop by mixing in chartreuse leaves, such as geranium or golden hop, for contrast.
- Set single "lady" fern or blazing "autumn" fern fronds in a trio of bud vases (we love the Urchin vases at right, from globaltable.com.
Swords and spears
- Dramatic plant swords and spears add bold vertical accents to your decor. Try filling a clear, square vessel with tightly packed variegated flax swords ("duet" or "pink striped" are good varieties to try; the one shown is from mooseyscountrygarden.com), then square off the tops so that they’re all on the same horizontal plane for a minimal, yet natural cubist display. A square stainless-steel planter sets off spiky spears, a centerpiece good for both indoor or outdoor tables.
Stems, Shoots and Stalks
- Linear and airy, papyrus is fantastic in a simple, cylindrical container that lets its dramatic rays take center stage.
Bring autumn indoors by collecting bittersweet boughs, fig branches heavy with fruit, dazzling purple plum and smokebush cuttings, or fiery Japanese maple twigs and arranging one or two in a narrow-necked bottle (like www. globaltable.com's, at right) for a serene, sculptural display. Or fan out a thick bundle in a rustic metal urn for an elegant explosion. "Three large containers holding fall branches make an incredible room divider," McGukin notes. For year-round interest, "gather Southern magnolia, camellia or lemon-leaf branches to fill a large space with a lush natural arrangement," she adds. In springtime, budding dogwood or cherry boughs herald the coming season.
- Fleshy and sculptural, a single succulent specimen (such as echeveria or sedum) in a metal or cement pot is like a piece of living art. "I like to put succulents and other foliage in industrial or rustic vessels — it’s a more textural experience," Gill explains. Artist and designer Debby Jewesson of Branching Out (www.branchingoutcreations.com) created the organic centerpiece at right using a hollow mossy stump to contain a variety of succulents adorned with a quartz crystal, a real bird's nest complete with intertwined string, sheet moss and an antler.
- Another idea: "Cluster a group of small succulents in a wide bowl and top-dress them with gravel for a Zen look," suggests Sharon McGukin.
They’re not just for salad anymore. Showcase fall’s bounty with an edible arrangement of spiky artichoke stalks (especially lovely once they’ve gone to flower). Or grace your table with a tightly packed cluster of baby cabbage or kale "rosettes" in a classic ceramic urn like the ones at right, from neimanmarcus.com — as stunning as it is surprising.
Dried Branches and Wood
For amazing architectural displays, look beyond the standard curlywillow stalks: Exotic cholla (cactus) wood has a perforated, Swiss-cheese-like appearance, while sandblasted bonsai is reminiscent of a wispy sea anemone. These — as well as gnarled grapewood, sunbleached driftwood, white Mitsumata, and moss-covered oak branches — can be purchased through wholesale florists or online retailers such as NettletonHollow.com or SchustersofTexas.com, or simply gathered on nature walks. Cluster long branches in a sturdy container or lay them horizontally on a floating wall shelf or other surface for instant, organic objets. Another suggestion: Spray paint a cluster of fine manzanita branches red to mimic the look of expensive coral, or white for a wintry accent piece.
Moss and grass
For a perfectly Zen — and utterly chic — centerpiece, plant a strip of sod or a patch of rye grass in a long, low, rectangular metal box or bowl, like the one pictured at right, or mound Irish moss in a wide bowl. A spray of Japanese blood grass in a narrow-necked vase brings seasonal color and spiky-but-soft texture indoors, and a few blades of bear or lily grass curving over the side of a simple, bent-necked vessel adds a fluid note to a blocky coffee- or side table. Or try massing a bundle of long grass, like stipa, in a tall, hourglass-shaped vase and letting the blades cascade down like a foliage fountain. The Teardrop vases shown here are from www.shopgrounded.com.
Elegant and dramatic, ornamental grass plumes erianthus, pampas grass, purple fountain grass (pictured at right, available from www.denverplants.com) and reed canary grass call to mind organic feather dusters. Mass them in a fluted vase or a large ceramic jar.
"I love two or three pandorea vines in a bud vase," Max Gill says. "They cascade down the side and twizzle and curl and turn toward the light." Experiment with trailing honeysuckle, blazing Boston ivy and delicate clematis vines, too. We like the simple shape, subtle texture, and saturated color of the Chrysalis vases at right, from hipandzen.com.
Biomorphic and otherworldly, hairy green chestnut pods, exotic lotus pods (pictured at right), sturdy lily seedpods, spiky red castor beans and poppy pods are fetchingly odd. Cluster them in long-necked bottles, or simply arrange them on a tray on your coffee table and let them air dry. Just be sure to keep them away from small children and pets.
Leah Hennen is a frequent contributor to HGTV.com. She has written for Real Simple, The New York Times and Health magazine, among others.