Califonia Bountiful

Gardening: Inspiration is just outside your door

Nov./Dec. 2009 California Country magazine

Turn garden gleanings into centerpieces fit for a holiday or an everyday table.

Pumpkins and squashes are nestled in a festive breadbasket among an assortment of leaves, mosses, pine cones, redwood branches and other natural “finds.” A raffia bow provides the finishing touch.

I walk through the garden during autumn’s gray days, pruning shears in hand. It’s because opulent sprays of red nandina berries, brilliant yellow chestnut leaves and luscious swags of orange pyracantha berries beg to be cut, brought inside and arranged for holiday entertaining.

It’s a bit of a scavenger hunt, and you never know what you’ll find, but with a smidgeon of imagination and an open mind you can turn garden gleanings into centerpieces fit for a holiday or an everyday table.

A glass ornament with candle anchors this stunning arrangement, in which camellia leaves and pine cones placed in a glass bowl provide graceful lines. Add your favorite Christmas baubles if you wish!

I love to dress the autumn and winter dinner table with nutty brown chestnuts still clothed in their spiny covering. I pick up twigs covered with bits of bright green lichens, tiny pine cones from mighty Ponderosa pines. I scour the property for juniper and cedar branches, pomegranates partially cracked open to expose the ruby red seeds, whatever catches my eye. I use oak leaf hydrangea leaves in shades of red and purple for fall placemats. I scatter fiery red burning bush leaves on the table for a splash of color. I gather acorns, tiny caps still in place, and strew them across the table. I collect dried sunflower seed heads, too. And guests are always enthralled with the way red seeds dangle like tiny Christmas baubles from southern magnolia seedpods.

Floral foam in a cast iron kettle holds the water and natural items in position, which include weeds, branches, ivy and pine cones. The kettle is placed on an ornamental white plate and surrounded by nuts of the season.

Add candles, lemons, mandarins, miniature pumpkins or Christmas ornaments to a tray of magnolia leaves or cedar, and you have an ever-changing but always beautiful table for guests.

Inspiration is just outside your door. Have some fun!

Gardening tips for November/December

  • It's time to plant bok choy, broccoli, garlic, onions, radishes and spinach. Plant bare-root artichokes, berries, grapes, horseradish (watch out: it can be a pest) and rhubarb. Plant bare-root roses and trees. Bare-root plants are generally cheaper than those already potted.
  • If you love sweet pea flowers, now is the time to get seeds in the ground for an explosion of flowers next spring.
  • Shop for fall color.
  • Get the garden ready for winter by cleaning up weak or damaged branches on trees and shrubs. Rake away fallen fruit and leaves from roses and fruit trees so overwintering insects don't have a place to hide. Stop fertilizing. Divide overcrowded perennials (agapanthus, daylilies, ornamental grasses). Pull out spent summer annuals and vegetable plants.
  • If rains are infrequent, be sure to water lawns and newly planted trees and shrubs. Make sure potted plants are getting enough water, too.
  • It's OK to give the lawn another dose of fertilizer, but stop fertilizing roses. If gardenias and camellias foliage is looking yellow, give the plants chelated iron. Quit pruning citrus trees and evergreen shrubs.
  • For larger blooms on camellia plants, remove some of the buds.
  • Protect citrus trees from frost by making a frame around the tree and covering it with row cover.

Pat Rubin is a long-time gardener and garden writer. Send questions or comments to her at

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