Branch out on table decorations

Look for inspiration in your refrigerator or on a walk in the woods

The turkey is roasting, the oven mitts are flying, and the last thing on your mind is a table centerpiece.

You're probably grateful to find a tablecloth without gravy stains and a pair of untarnished candlesticks.

But every holiday table needs decoration, whether a simple bowl of fruit or an elaborate floral arrangement.

If no guest brought a bouquet of fresh flowers, there are plenty of materials to be found in the kitchen or out in the yard. Or take a break from cooking and go on a walk, keeping an eye out for vines and leaves.

Everything from vegetables and fruits to branches and berries can make splendid table decorations (see sidebar). For maximum impact, pair these elements with containers that emphasize their shapes and colors.

The simplest arrangements are groupings of one kind of fruit or vegetable - a bowl piled high with spiky, green artichokes, a tray festooned in purple grapes, or a wire basket brimming with lemons, for example.

A helpful source of ideas is "Carolyne Roehm's Fall Notebook" (HarperCollins, $25), part of a series that offers seasonal tips on gardening, cooking, and entertaining. The author, who has worked in both fashion and home design, obviously has an eye for color and texture.

She points out that designing autumn and winter arrangements requires a different mindset than creating a bouquet in spring and summer. In the same way that a tree's shape is revealed once the leaves are gone, winter arrangements rely on branches, clusters of berries, and deeply etched leaves for a more rustic, and dramatic, look. Stark outlines replace the bright, frilly masses of summer flowers.

To give her tables pizazz, Ms. Roehm starts with a single color, say, deep red. She then groups objects in the same color range, mixing glossy red berries with Japanese maple leaves and crimson pomegranates. For a green palette, she might combine polished Granny Smith apples and lemon leaves in a basket.

Roehm loves the unexpected. Instead of a vase of store-bought carnations or roses, she composes a dramatic display of dried hydrangea blooms, rose hips, and ornamental grasses.

She encourages people to bring out the family silver, because highly polished sterling helps pump up the volume on deep colors that otherwise would fade into the background.

She also offers practical suggestions, such as using unscented hair spray on berries such as bittersweet to keep them from shedding into your pumpkin pie.

Evergreens and tree branches need to be soaked in warm water for several days before arranging, if possible. And don't expect boxwood or fir boughs to withstand central heating for more than four or five days before they drop leaves or needles.

As a professional, Roehm has a well-honed sense of style that may elude harried home arrangers. But, looking at her designs, it's clear that she takes her cue from nature. And few things are as perfect, or as welcoming, as a bowl of ripe, red apples.

A-hunting we will go

Suggested materials for making knockout table arrangements. Plan a family field trip to collect wild vines and berries for centerpieces. Reminder: Don't collect from other people's property or from conservation areas.

BERRIES

Bayberry

Bittersweet

Buckthorn

Chokeberry

Firethorn

Hawthorn

Pepper berry

Pokeweed

Rose hips

Viburnum

BRANCHES

Harry Lauder's walking stick

Witch hazel

FRUITS, FLOWERS

Lady apples

Kumquats

Oakleaf hydrangea

Pears

Persimmons

Pomegranates

Quinces

LEAVES

Buckthorn

Chokeberry

Hawthorn

Sugar maple

NUTS

Acorns

Chestnuts

SEEDS

Eucalyptus

Poppy pods

Ornamental grasses

From 'Carolyne Roehm's Fall Notebook,' HarperCollins

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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