Bedraggled and brown? No way-celebrate Thanksgiving with pods,seedheads and stems

I come from a family of organizers. Thanksgiving email invitations are issued months in advance. My sisters create spreadsheets of who’s bringing what and when. We have a chores list and timeline (also on a spreadsheet!) It’s all hands on deck affair - husbands, boyfriends, sisters, nieces, kids and anyone who can walk gets a job.

One of mine is doing centerpieces for the tables. No - I don’t have a spreadsheet for this (haha), but I probably should because the usual sunflower, mum and lily motif has worn thin. This year I wanted an alternative that would celebrate the fall season, be easy to put together and transport. Oddly enough, I didn’t need to look any farther than my own backyard.

At first I thought the whole landscape just looked bedraggled and brown. But as I slowed my pace and looked more closely, subtle forms, colors and textures leapt out at me at every turn. Here’s what I saw.

Seed pods: Berries of all kinds, rosehips, pods and seedheads are abundant in a late fall landscape - at least until the birds discover them. They provide compelling color and form. These are just a few that I have in my own yard. I could probably find a lot more on the side of the road or in the woods.

Sumac fruits and Goldenrod

Castor Bean seed pods (warning, seeds are poisonous)

I’m fond of Rosehips, whatever size and whenever I can out compete the birds. The red hips provide long lasting, vibrant color to wreathes and arrangements.

Rosehips in full tilt.

Other perennials such as Coneflower (Echinacea) or Ornamental grasses stand tall, like glorious brown staccato notes. I appreciate their shapes and textures.

Coneflower seedheads and grasses

I love the movement these long graceful Veronicastrum spires add to the fall landscape. Sometimes I spray them gold for Christmas decorations. In or out of the garden, they hold up forever.

This Bee Balm (Monarda) flashed loudly across the stage in summer, but it’s fall act is quietly demure.

Stems: Red or yellow twig dogwoods, birch and other shrubs like the Kerria Japonica (Chinese Rose) below add additional color, height and form to an arrangement.

Spent flowers and foliage: Below is an array of other things I discovered - Celosia, Gomphrena (both dry well), Milkweed and Beebalm. Keep your eyes pealed for anything that looks interesting. Grasses, shrub stems and seedheads are all worthy candidates.

Here’s my stash. I spread it all out on newspaper to dry overnight.

I composed a series of small arrangements in several small terracotta pots I rescued from my potting bench. They lent a rustic look to the dried flower theme.

I didn’t want to try to stick the stems into foam or oasis as they are brittle and break easily. I put the arrangement together in my hand and rubber banded it. I cut the ends short enough so that the whole thing would fit right into the pot. Any bare spots were filled in after I had it situated.

Tip from my friend Nellie Gardner, owner of Flower Fields: spray dried materials with water to make them easier to work with. Amen to that!

Due to the limited space at the Thanksgiving tables, my arrangements must be small. You could make one of any size in a deeper container.

Bottom left to right: Spirea, Celosia, Perovskia, Veronicastrum, Sumac, Kerria Japonica stems, Red Twig Dogwood stems, Veronicastrum,Sumac, Smokebush, Rosehip.

Bottom left to right: Castor Bean pod, Rosehip, Celosia, Panicum grass, Hyacinth Bean pod, Rosehip, Veronicastrum, Spirea stems.

Here’s a taller arrangement I made for my table. Bottom left to right: Spirea stems, Coneflower, Panicum, Amsonia foliage, Beebalm, Gomphrena, Hyacinth Bean pod.

Scrounging around for material is fun and free - there’s nothing to lose but a little time. If you decide it looks like a bunch of dead weeds, it’s no big deal to toss it or experiment with something else.

I’m sure there is much more to be discovered out there. Maybe I need that spreadsheet after all! Let’s celebrate the end of the growing season and squeeze out the last bit of wonderfulness before snow hits.


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