From pumpkins and cornucopias to elegant roses and orchids, these three centerpieces are perfect for your holiday tables.

Arrangements by Sturtz & Copeland Photos by Allison M. Fleetwood Jr. Photography, AMFJPhotography.com

By Carol O’Meara

With the season for celebrating fast approaching, making a fanciful holiday table doesn’t stop at ironing the fine linens and polishing the silver. For a spectacular centerpiece, turn to the garden and your attic for inspiration.

“People bring containers for us to use, like a china dish their grandmother had. We can get creative with them, as long as they’re waterproof,” says Emily Jackson, floral designer at Sturtz & Copeland in Boulder. “Old candy tins, cigar boxes—anything that holds water can be a vase. I’ve had an antique baby carriage, bicycles, even hatboxes used for flower arrangements.”

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A signature centerpiece is all about originality, so ditch a standard vase and go wild. Pumpkins (especially heirlooms) and gourds make whimsical containers for Halloween, and if you want them to last as long as the flowers, buy from a local farmer. The fresher they are, the longer they last. When it comes to flowers, be imaginative.

“Get creative—don’t make it all mums. Use things and colors that represent the season,” Jackson says. Grass plumes and pinecones are traditional items, while gourds, mini pumpkins and decorative corn make fall arrangements pop. Whole fresh fruits, such as apples, pears, or pomegranates, evoke Thanksgiv­ing’s bounty.

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Hard-to-keep additions, like branches with crab apples or hawthorn berries, are a headache for those who love a tidy table; the fruit soon drops from the twigs. To save your table linen, head over to the hobby shop instead for silk sprays of berries.

Mixing purchased flowers with those from the garden will give you the best results, as fall and early winter limit the choices for homegrown flowers. For the added elegance of roses, orchids and lilies, a stop at the florist is a must.

If you do glean the garden for pizzazz, Jackson urges knowing the flower before you pin your hopes on it. “Not all of our garden flowers are as long-lasting as cut flowers. You need to research them to see if they’ll last, because you don’t want a dead arrangement when you sit down to the table.”

Place snipped flowers in water immediately, because stems quickly seal when exposed to air. Carry a bucket of water with you into the garden, or if you’re purchasing your flowers, make that the last stop on your list before heading home. Making the arrangement a day before your party gives you time to think about your creation, and to pick up more flowers if you run short.

Start by soaking an Oasis Floral Foam—the green foam block that holds the flowers—in cool water. Avoid the temptation to push it down, which causes air pockets to form in the foam. Instead, allow the foam to sink slowly as it absorbs water, until it’s completely submerged and stops releasing air bubbles.

Line the inside of your container with plastic wrap, florist foil or a tray to protect it and your table from water damage. Hollowed-out pumpkins and gourds make nice vases, and you don’t even need to waterproof a pumpkin, as a fresh pumpkin can hold water for up to a week without rotting, Jackson says. But, she cautions, check the bottom every day to be sure it’s not starting to decay.

Next, cut the foam with a knife to fit snugly inside your container, and you’re ready to arrange the centerpiece.

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Push in the greens first, clipping the ends with sharp scissors or plant shears. “You want to cover the mechanics of the container—the edges where you can see the Oasis, foil or plastic,” Jackson says. “Create a collar of greens; they’re like the frame of a picture.” Push each item into the foam, and leave it; don’t pull it back out or it loses contact with the foam and won’t draw up water.

Then place the flowers, starting with your larger blooms and moving to the smaller ones. Think in terms of odd numbers, which please the eye. Design your centerpieces to be viewed from all sides, and stuff any empty spaces with additional greens.

Fill your arrangement to bursting, and your holiday table will go from ho-hum to wow!