There’s something meditative about zeroing in on elements of nature to appreciate their form, color, and shape during a walk. This activity takes that practice to the next level, by making art with stems, leaves, flowers and other natural materials. Annie Selke’s senior stylist Melissa Lillie shows us how to create an evocative centerpiece composed with echoes of ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging.
Anything with interesting texture or a tactile quality will enliven your arrangement. Texture can come from nonliving things, too: Pinecones, rocks, or branches with last year’s leaves still clinging to them are all beautiful.
Of course, you’ll want to look for signs of life, in Melissa’s case: lush clumps of moss, a few fern fronds, and clippings from a rhododendron whose buds are close to blossoming were key elements.
As you gather, search for interestingly-shaped plants and objects. You want a mix of tall, thin things and lower, broad ones. Also, aim for a mix of straight lines and also curved shapes.
Our eyes naturally go to pops of color (is there anything more joyful than spring’s first daffodils?), but look more closely for subtler colors. The reddish bark of a dogwood branch, some minty lichen growing on a tree, or a rust-colored rock can all contribute to your arrangement. Pro tip: you’ll see these hues more easily on a cloudy day.
Note: If your yard isn’t a rich natural habitat, ask a neighbor if you can clip a few branches. If you choose to venture into a local woodland to forage, be very sparing in what you take home and only clip plants you know to be common; if in doubt, leave it in nature—and never forage in a national park.
Melissa used a set of antique vases and bowls she inherited from her grandmother, who practiced ikenobō (an older form of ikebana), but any variety of containers can work. You’ll need one main vase to anchor the composition and two or four lower ones to arrange around it (an odd number of containers will look more pleasing than an even one). Look for watertight, shallow vessels, including soup bowls, soap dishes, and juice glasses; know that opaque ones may be more forgiving than clear.
You’ll need something to help your clippings stand upright in the main vase. Melissa placed a kenzan (a type of metal floral frog) inside her vase. Any floral frog will work, but some other options to make your cuttings stand up straight are floral foam, a pile of pebbles or marbles, or even pie weights.
The main vase should be the star of the centerpiece. A loose rule of thumb is for the arrangement to be approximately twice the height and twice the width of the vessel. Go slowly, adding one piece of greenery at a time: The goal is to have a less-is-more arrangement with a strong silhouette.
To create secondary elements, fill smaller, low bowls with moss or other greenery. These should be much lower and simpler than the focal point vase (think of them as the supporting cast and your main vase as the A-list star). Again, aim for two or four small vessels to end up with an odd number. Pro tip: If you’re using moss like Melissa did, be sure to keep it very damp—mosses love water and will dry out quickly!
Place the main vase at the center of your table, and stagger the smaller vessels around it. If you have leftover materials from your foraging, you can place a pretty rock or a pinecone directly on the table, as well.
Please share your tablescapes with us on Instagram and be sure to tag @annieselke!
For more inspiration, see:
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