Maureen Heffernan is a garden writer whose books include Seed Starter, Hershey Children’s Garden: A Place to Grow Native Plants and Fairy Houses of the Maine Coast.

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A Buffet of Choices
by Maureen Heffernan       #Decorating   #Ornamentals   #Vegetables

Rainbow-colored carrots in a glass vase filled with water makes the top arrangement of carrot tops with cilantro stems seem “rooted.” The cilantro stems also add fragrance and texture.
Arrangement and Photo by Julie Walker.


Last spring I attended a floral arrangement demonstration program at Myriad Botanical Gardens that changed the way I look at creating floral arrangements. The instructor, Dundee Butcher of Russian River Flower School in Healdsburg, California, created arrangements that were simple, yet sophisticated and beautiful, using edibles – from puckered dark green kale to cauliflower to purple carrots to eggplants, these arrangements were unique and lovely. Since that class, when I go to the grocery store or farmers’ market, I see not only what to make for dinner, but also what I could use to make the centerpiece.

The colors and fragrances of vegetables, fruits, and herbs rival those of floral arrangements and add a unique twist to table arrangements. Their shapes are as fascinating and gorgeous as their rich colors in all shades of the rainbow.

Your summer garden is filled with exactly what you need to make easy, delicious arrangements – either formal or casual. Once you see your vegetable and/or herb garden in this light, endless creative options await!  Produce becomes works of art and your appreciation for their beauty and their taste is taken to a new level. They can be used alone or mixed with flowers and ornamental foliage for captivating results.

Before you actually start arranging, it’s best to gather all your materials and tools. You’ll need some type of vase or other vessel – anything from pitchers, to bowls or glasses can be used – and pruners or scissors. Other items you may want to add to your toolbox include floral foam that holds water and stems in place; a flower frog, a weighted piece to place at the bottom of a container that holds stems in place; floral tape to hold foliage and flower stems in place; and chicken wire that can be bunched up to fit the container or cut, placed flat, and taped across the container opening. All of these items support stems to keep them upright or gently angled so they don’t flop over.

A lower, rounded arrangement with a large purple eggplant, Queen’s Anne’s lace, orange roses, collard greens, and sweetpotato vine.
Arrangement by Roberta Rowland. Photo by Leslie Spears.


How to start? Start with the same principles of floral arrangements.

Autumn sage adds a touch of red to this small arrangement of kale, broccoli, and yellow marigolds.
Arrangement by Roberta Rowland. Photo by Leslie Spears.

A vertical informal arrangement of yellow Coreopsis with wispy sprays of Mexican feather grass, lyme grass, and stems of cilantro for fragrance.
Arrangement by Roberta Rowland. Photo by Leslie Spears.

• If you choose to start with the container, allow its height, shape, color, etc. to help you determine the look of the arrangement. If you are starting with plant material, select a suitable container.

• A general rule of thumb is that your arrangement should be about one and half times as tall as your container for balance.

• Fill the container at least three-fourths full with water before you start arranging.

• Always cut the stems before placing them in water so they will be better able to absorb water and therefore last longer.

• Next, decide if you want your arrangement to be vertical, horizontal, or triangular. There are many other options, but these are the most common.

• Start building your arrangement using your greens/foliage first. They will be the foundation or frame of the arrangement.

• Think of putting your arrangement together like designing a garden. Plant the trees first, then smaller shrubs, and finally add accents of flower color. Select varying heights, colors, and textures that complement each other.

• Next add your secondary items. If you have made your frame using chard leaves for example, you may want to fill in the rest of the arrangement using lighter, lacier carrot tops or cilantro stems. Long stems can be upright or allowed to gently arch. You could also use a larger edible, such as an eggplant or zucchini, as the focal point.

• To finish, add your color accents – these are the “frosting” on the piece. Think red radish, purple basil, Queen’s Anne’s lace, nasturtium, or any other flower or smaller vegetable or fruit. A bunch of grapes or cherry tomatoes can look beautiful especially hanging over the edge of a low bowl. Add sprigs of curly parsley throughout add more green texture.

Try colorful carrots placed upside down or small colorful peppers. Simply play around with the arrangement until you’re pleased with the overall balance, form, and color.

This couldn’t be easier: Filling a cylindrical glass vase with bright red radishes and their foliage floating in water.
Arrangement by Maureen Heffernan. Photo by Leslie Spears.
Baby bok choy makes beautiful centerpieces by just adding sunflowers and radishes with red autumn sage (Salvia greggii) and pink waxflower (Chamelaucium uncinatum) for a pop of color. The arrangement is sitting on a “plate” of collard greens.
Arrangement and Photo by Julie Walker.
Ornamental millet contrasts beautifully with a simple, cream-colored pitcher.
Arrangement and Photo by Julie Walker.

Fast and Easy
For the easiest and quickest arrangements, just use one or two items. For example, in a smaller container, add bunches of thyme with yellow nasturtium flowers. Or mix dark green kale leaves with sunflowers or bright red grapes for a beautiful contrast and informal summer appeal. Even easier, fill a tall glass cylindrical vase with radishes or cherry tomatoes and line them down your table.

Next time you go grocery shopping or visit a farmers’ market, look at the produce section the same as you would as a floral shop – with so much potential arrangement material!


A version of this article appeared in a July/August 2018 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.


Posted: 08/02/18   RSS | Print


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