It’s around this time of year that I become nostalgic for my home coast. I was born in Pennsylvania, and although I now call San Francisco my home, I find myself longing for those autumn days when the air was crisp and the leaves took on those fiery hues of red, amber, and gold. I can recall walking down a quiet street in West Chester while showers of honey-colored leaves rained down from above. It stirs up memories of football, hayrides, leaf piles, and nature in general. For some reason, I equate fall, and especially Thanksgiving, with the great outdoors and all it has to offer.
With this in mind, I’d like to share some nature-inspired ideas for fall-themed table decor!
PUMPKINS, GOURDS, AND INDIAN CORN
It’s usually best to snatch these veggies up after Halloween, when you can get them for next to nothing. You’ll want to choose a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. The simplest way to create a centerpiece is to take your largest pumpkin, place it in the center, and then add other elements such as indian corn, gourds, and smaller pumpkins, Don’t be afraid to layer or angle your pieces; you want it to have a natural feel.
Pumpkins as candle holders
Pumpkins make great candle holders. Make sure you choose those that have a nice, sturdy bottom, and aren’t tippy in any way. Settle the pumpkin, then choose a candle. Measure the base of the candle, then, using a drill with a paddle bit that matches the size of your candle, drill a hole straight into the pumpkin. Place the candle in the pumpkin.
Pumpkins as votive holders
Using those tiny little pumpkins (be sure to choose pumpkins that are still large enough to accommodate a votive candle), cut off the lid and scoop out the insides as you would when you are making a jack o’lantern. Once cleaned, insert the votive candle. You can do a single file line of them down the center of the table to make a lovely display.
Pumpkins as vases
Using either a largish pumpkin (for a big display of flowers) or smaller pumpkins (for a few flowers), hollow out the pumpkin as you would normally for a jack o’lantern. If you have dried or silk flowers, place them directly into the pumpkin and arrange as you please. However, if you are using fresh flowers you will want to place a bowl, small vase, or even a plastic container inside the pumpkin to fill will water before placing the flowers. If you have green floral foam, soak that in water, insert into the pumpkin, then arrange your fresh flowers. The green foam keeps the flowers moist and in place.
Indian corn votives
Fill glass vases ⅓ with Indian corn (or regular popping corn). Place a pillar candle inside. It’s a very simple way to add a natural effect! You can also try it with other thematic, natural items.
LEAVES, BRANCHES, PINE CONES, AND SEEDS
Use available glassware and fill them with one item: acorns, leaves, pine cones, etc. Place your filled glasses in interesting configurations on the tables. Add votive candles to the mix, and allow the simple beauty of the items to contrast with the glow of the votives.
Wrap leaves around glass containers (secure in place with glue dots). Tie with raffia. Place votives or electric candles inside for a pretty glow. Of course, be sure that the leaves and raffia are safely protected from the flame.
If you can find leaves that still have color and life in them (if your leaves have all dried up, you’ll want to use silk leaves instead), arrange them on a styrofoam ring base and hold them in place with pins. Place the ring in the center of the table and stack items such as pine cones or pumpkins in the center.
Pine cone lineup
If you can find a series of pinecones in a variety of sizes, it’s fun to simply line them up down the middle of the table. My mom used to find these really, really big ones, which were always neat to use. Some people like to spray the pinecones different colors of paint, like gold, silver, or white, but I find the natural feeling of the cones more pleasant.
Log candle holder
I used this idea for a Bat Mitzvah once! I simply took birch logs that were split down the center (so that they lay flat) and drilled holes in the top. In that case, we were actually using silk Gerber daisies, but the idea also works as a candle holder. Simply drill holes as explained in the pumpkin candle holder above. Make sure you use votive candles in glass holders, or electric candles; don’t use taper candles, as they could burn down into the wood and start a fire.
Branches and twigs
Place beautiful branches in glass containers weighted with river rocks, or opaque vases filled with sand. You’ll want slender branches that don’t overpower the table. You can also fill glass vases with cut twigs to create accent pieces of your branches, or wrap votive candle holders in small twigs to create unique lighting accents.
The main thing you want to remember when using anything from nature is that it needs to be cleaned before it is placed on a dining or service table. Use wire brushes to remove any dirt or loose bits of bark from wood, dust off all leaves and pinecones, and wash any rocks, gourds, or pumpkins you may use. Make sure there aren’t any critters living in your materials -- nothing can ruin a good meal more than a bunch of bugs joining the party! However, if you take precautions like placing your items in airtight garbage bags for a few days prior to prepping for the event, and clean all items thoroughly, you should be completely fine.
Nature is an inexpensive yet beautiful way to brighten any festive tables. And the best part about it is the gathering! Take your family on a walk in the woods to scavenge for just the right supplies. Explore the world around you; it will invigorate your senses and get you in the perfect mindset for Thanksgiving!