In autumn, nature rewards us with blazing foliage and fields of summer-ripened vegetables. As we gather around the table to celebrate the year’s harvest, it’s fitting to incorporate seasonal fruits and vegetables from the garden in decorative centrepieces.
To create your own, look for unique, natural “vases”: hollowed out, hard-shelled gourds such as pumpkin, or acorn or butternut squash (even zucchini makes an interesting vase). And don’t overlook less obvious choices, such as savoy cabbage or ornamental kale. Once you’ve chosen your containers, fill them with the blooms, berries and vivid leaves of autumn, such as asters, mums, dahlias, goldenrod, bittersweet (Celastrus spp.), winterberry (Ilex verticillata) and porcelain vine (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata).
Savoy cabbage vase
Select a firm, frilly savoy cabbage that’s very fresh so it won’t smell “cabbagey” once indoors. Make sure it sits flat. Remove blemished leaves and carefully curl back the outermost leaves as shown. Using an apple corer, cut into the cabbage in five or six places, removing the flesh as you go and making sure each hole is wide enough and deep enough to hold a plastic florist’s tube. The tops of the tubes must be flush with the cabbage’s surface. Fill tubes with water and add cut flowers and branches, leaving enough foliage to hide the holes. For a crisp, elegant look, we chose acid-green spider chrysanthemums, orange-berried bittersweet and a sprinkling of burgundy-red ‘Crimson King’ Norway maple leaves. Store the cabbage centrepiece in a cool spot, placing it on the table just before dinner.
Choose a small- to medium-sized pumpkin with unblemished skin and a relatively flat bottom. Cut off the top and hollow out the pumpkin as you would a Halloween jack-o’-lantern. Pour water directly in the pumpkin, which is water-tight, or place a vase or jar inside to keep the flesh clean for later use in pie or soup. Next, select flowers and berried branches that enhance the orange colour of the pumpkin rind. We chose purple dahlias, orange mums and branches of the orange-berried ‘Chrysocarpa’ winterberry.