Jennifer Schultz Nelson
Extension Educator, Horticulture
The holidays are here once again. If you are hosting any holiday meals or other celebrations in the next six weeks, your job is all the more challenging this year with our turbulent economy. Besides food costs, one often overlooked cost is that of a centerpiece. Quite honestly, the cost of a fresh floral centerpiece may be the first thing to be cut if you are looking to reduce the cost of entertaining this holiday season. But there are some more cost effective options out there to consider that will brighten your table without blowing your budget.
I assisted with a holiday program last year where I was asked to provide holiday table and home decoration ideas. From the beginning it was apparent that if I wasn't creative, the cost of fresh flowers alone would make showing just a few ideas ridiculously expensive.
I found some ideas online, but I got more ideas just looking at things I had at home with a different eye. I also did some shopping, but I didn't just look at the seasonal decorations. I found a lot of inspiration in the everyday aisles, including the produce aisle.
Many items you already have can be repurposed for the holidays. Serving platters for example, make perfect trays to hold a grouping of candles. One very simple but striking idea is to choose various heights and widths of candles in a single color. Add some fresh or silk flowers or greens for accent if you'd like.
Using fresh flowers or greens for accents rather than the focal point of a centerpiece is one way to reduce your overall cost. Remember to use floral foam, water vials or a vase as a water source for your fresh items to extend their life in the centerpiece. Changing water daily and using commercial floral preservative will extend the life of fresh flowers and greens in a centerpiece even further.
My favorite centerpiece idea using a platter also used fresh cranberries. Start with a large white rectangular or oval serving platter, and fill it with fresh cranberries. Place tea lights in among the cranberries for a beautiful glowing red effect. You can use plain white tea lights, but I found some silver and gold ones that were very attractive.
I tried to add to the cranberry centerpiece with some silver glittery snowflakes which were actually tree ornaments. I scattered them among the cranberries and they sparkled nicely in the candlelight. I was really proud of my creation-- that is until during my program when someone shyly asked if my centerpiece was supposed to be "on fire".
I turned and saw that one of the silver snowflakes had caught on fire and was filling the room with pitch black smoke. I was able to put the fire out without a problem. The charred snowflake hangs on my office wall today as a reminder to be careful when using candles!
Looking back, it really was a bit surprising how quickly the snowflake burned, as well as how much smoke it produced. Candles can be dangerous, and it only takes a moment for a fire to start. Use caution when lighting candles indoors to keep your home and family safe. Do not (as I did) put flammable materials anywhere near a candle flame. Also, do not leave candles unattended. If someone in my program hadn't noticed the snowflake fire, who knows how big it would have gotten.
My other favorite "centerpieces on a budget" also involve a trip to the produce aisle rather than the florist shop. Choose fresh fruits in colors to compliment your holiday decorating. Keep it simple. Use less expensive fruits for the bulk of the arrangement, accenting with more expensive unusual fruits.
Group the fruit in a favorite serving or punch bowl-- remember it doesn't need to be a special holiday one. You may choose to combine the fruit with purchased fresh greens, but consider what you might have in your own back yard. You can't get any fresher than holly or evergreens harvested from your own landscape. And the price is right!
In my opinion, some of the most effective uses of fruit in centerpieces are the simplest: red apples with greens, oranges with red and white striped peppermints, fruit of one color interspersed with glass ball ornaments of the same or contrasting color. Carve out the core of an apple and insert a tea light. These apple candleholders look great at individual place settings, grouped, or in a line on a mantle or buffet.
If you are a houseplant lover, you may have a great centerpiece in your house already. Again, keep it simple. A great example I saw used a white footed bowl with a potted ivy and small red poinsettia inside. The ivy cascaded over the sides of the bowl, and the combination of red, white and green was very festive.
You may think you need to be a designer with a big budget to create attractive holiday centerpieces. Use your imagination and start with what you have on hand-- there is no right or wrong answer here. If you like it, it's right.