Gather armfuls of vivid leaves and berries from the garden before the snow gets them. Ordinary chrysanthemums can look stiff when arranged on their own. But nestled in a fountain of red winterberry, burning bush, and purple beauty-berry, they are dramatic and unexpected.
Ceramic shagreen vase, $165, globaltable.com.
During the last months of the gardening year, the color palette is more limited than in spring and summer, so texture becomes key. In this tall display, impressive on a buffet or a drinks table, Kevin Sharkey paired feathery heads of rust-red amaranth with pale-green protea, a more muscular tropical flower. Both stand out among lanky millet grasses, and lady’s mantle fills in any gaps like a wispy green cloud.
Cut the stems of a typical bouquet of late dahlias and mums from a farmers’ market or corner florist, and mix the flowers with foraged crabapples and orange winterberry. Divide them among three small water glasses. The short arrangements are the ideal height for lining the center of a dinner table.
"I love that this arrangement has the feel of a wild, late-season meadow and is made with items that cost very little or can be found in the yard,” says Martha Stewart Living's Kevin Sharkey. For a low profile that encourages dinner conversation, he set a block of floral foam into a shallow pewter dish and created a dome of sedum flowers, filling in the spaces with purple Queen Anne’s lace, mauve hydrangeas, round star scabiosa, fuzzy foxtail grass, and spiked sea holly.
Pointy green-and-russet sweet gum leaves star in this earthy arrangement, with support from the vegetable garden. Add contrasting shapes and textures with prickly deep-purple artichokes and smooth green (unripe) persimmons. This would work well on a coffee table where people are hovering over a cheese board. "A loose arrangement like this looks great from above," says Kevin Sharkey.
In late fall, nature's shapes become stark and geometric. Highlight plants that may be overlooked outdoors by placing a few stems of one or two types in their own eclectic vases.
From left: Black-leaf millet grass, snowberry, dusty miller with spider mums, bayberry, and ivy berries.
Candlesticks, in Satin Silver Finish, from $156 each, and Egg vase, in White With Bisque Exterior and Glazed Interior, $259; by Ted Muehling; erbutler.com.
Birds' castoff plumage can add interest (and a shot of fall color) to an arrangement -- or make one all on their own. The striking graphic patterns on this collection got us thinking about new ways to use a bell jar. "Feathers are beautiful when presented in a modern way, and they’re so underutilized in decor," says Kevin Sharkey. Stand them up in a little vase, and add a few acorns. Another easy fall combo to display under a dome: a bird's nest and some dried oak leaves.
A Thanksgiving table demands a feast for the eyes with all the trimmings. But bear in mind that well-mannered centerpieces should never block guests' views of one another. A low container is just what's needed, leaving room for lavish helpings of pomegranates, red viburnum berries, tulips, roses, and ranunculus served up with a bronzy-green magnolia-leaf wreath.
Take this trio of topiary treats -- a lesson in the power of repetition plus a few simple tricks. Dress up three cones of floral foam with sunflowers and button chrysanthemums above "cuffs" of fuzzy kangaroo paws (Anigozanthos). Their harvest golds will glow like lanterns above the black urns.
Shifting a garden container into the house befits a post-Labor Day existence. High-quality fiberglass garden vessels, like this urn, make the haul from the porch easier: They simulate the handsome patina of stone, metal, or terra-cotta but are not as heavy. Such a solid vessel is just the right counterpoint to a riot of amaranths, snowberries, crab apples, and blue viburnum berries -- all loosely woven into a taste of windswept fall days to come.
Let long stems arch out of a trumpet vase for an ethereal arrangement. Flower stems naturally follow the shape of this vase: They reach up and out, and the result is delicate and light. Choose flowers with graceful stems, such as this crocosmia, for the most pleasing look. Shorter cuttings of maidenhair fern float beneath the blooms. Echo the idea with smaller vessels -- parfait glasses work perfectly -- holding just a few stems.
A white pumpkin is transformed into a homemade vase. Select a pumpkin about eight inches in diameter; cut off the top, and scoop out pulp and seeds. Place a small container, such as a highball glass, inside the pumpkin. Trim flowers to fit (we used twelve dahlias, but two dozen carnations would also work), and arrange in the glass.
A floral arrangement becomes positively frightening when covered in creepy cobwebs. To make the webs, cut a 5-inch section from inexpensive or damaged white panty hose, and pull apart until it becomes wispy and resembles cobwebs. Stretch the material over a cluster of dark blooms (we used crimson roses and dahlias, as well as some fiddlehead ferns). Set on a sideboard, or on a dining table as a centerpiece.
In the first weeks of fall, brisk air and frequent showers invigorate late-blooming chrysanthemums. Here, lush golden 'Revert' and chartreuse 'Yoko Ono' mums are supported by fig branches; zinnias, spearmint, and celosia are accents. A vintage pudding mold gives the elegant display fresh appeal.
Mums are versatile blooms, as charming in casual arrangements as in considered ones. Pale-yellow 'Ginger' and orange 'Gold Strike' mums are made livelier by crimson dahlias; clusters of ruby-red rose hips gleam like jewels between the flowers. As a centerpiece, the display sets a cheerful tone for a weekend brunch.
This cast-iron urn with a weatherworn painted finish has just the right scale, palette, and presence for a riot of velvet-red kangaroo paws. A collar of chrysanthemums in the same autumnal tone provides a tidy transition between the container and the native Australian blooms, which can be ordered year-round from a florist.
"I love Japanese baskets, and the rich mahogany-reddish shade of this old container looks fabulous with a dusky arrangement of purple hazel leaves, sprays of broom corn, reddish ornamental grass, blackish dahlias, and purple artichokes," says Martha about this fall arrangement.
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