Fresh and natural tablescaping ideas to get people talking

Used to be, the sign of a well-set table was the centerpiece, a vase or vessel of fresh cut flowers from the florist or possibly your own backyard. The centerpiece was on display, positioned as it was in the center of the table and it added color and texture, maybe even fragrance and certainly personality. And we’re still big fans of the classic, especially when the flowers have a personal touch (your mother’s favorite flower, the same light pink peonies your daughter had in her wedding bouquet, the lilacs your guest kindly presented at the door).

But we’re also pretty smitten with the idea that tablescaping is less about one look-at-me focus and more about the guests and their experience with the table and the meal and the people who are sharing it. Things are more personal and, in many cases, more natural and organic, proudly showcasing yard-to-table finery (even if it is from someone else’s own backyard).

The point is we’re gathering things that make our guests and us happy as we prepare to gather together AND reconnect. And in the interest of cultivating these memorable occasions, we’ve gathered a short list of some of our most recent favorites.

1) PUMPULENTS  

Two of our favorite things: pumpkins and succulents, brought together in a progressive way. Start with a plump pumpkin of virtually any size, cut a circle from the top as if you were going to carve a jack-o-lantern. Scoop the seeds (because, baked pumpkin seeds, right?), then instead of carving the front, stuff the pumpkin with succulents.

If you choose a larger pumpkin, be sure to fill the reservoir with a succulent soil mix, then get creative with your succulent combos. If you’re reading this any time in fall, you can also check the Altum’s Workshop schedule for Pumpulent Make & Take classes. For mini pumpkins, consider planting up a succulent or two for each one and using them as place settings and/or take-home treats for your guests.

2) Evergreen   

The well-deserved, fragrant favorite for a reason. Create living napkin rings, tuck a tiny branch in a folded napkin, create tiny wreaths for each place setting, decorate a long swath of the table with an evergreen garland, beautiful in its simplicity or accented with pinecones, berries, ornaments, candlesticks or other ideas.

3) Birch

We’ve always loved the quiet and delicate beauty of the birch, but who knew it would become so chic? Birch is everywhere, from using twigs and logs in winter containers to birch patterns in wallpaper, candles, even jewelry.

We love the addition of a larger bundle at the center of the table, nestled with live and fragrant greenery, berries, glittered ornaments or branches and more. We also love tiny bundles (perhaps tied with twine or raffia) at each place setting, possibly even nestled with a hand-lettered nametag.

And last but not least, birch discs—essentially a slice of birch trunk—used as chargers or coasters for water or wine goblets are really wonderful.

3) Mini Plants  

Mini anything is really irresistible, don’t you agree? But when it comes to winter and holiday minis, they’re extra adorable. Take the mini poinsettias in white, red and pink or a tiny cypress or amaryllis. And don’t forget succulents, which we know are technically tropicals, but trust us when we saw they steal the show on a wintery table even so (did that rhyme?).

Again, cluster them, line them up or place one at the 12 o’clock spot of each dinner plate, perched on top of the plate (or birch disc?) or on a sideboard or serving table like a mini forest or flower garden for everyone to take as they leave. You can perch nametags among their branches or stems, drop them into tiny clay pots painted with chalk paint (and bedazzled with initials) and/or decorated with a kid-made, personalized ornament.

4) Live napkin embellishments

By now you’ve seen napkins folded, fanned, rolled, tucked and draped over place settings fancy and casual. And while we’re all for creativity, we like to keep it kind of simple. Like folding your napkins on each plate and laying a simple sprig of holly or boxwood on top. You could tie a tiny nametag to each, punch a whole in the tag and pull through the tiny branch or again, just lay it on top of the napkin or plate.

We also love a living napkin ring fashioned from flexible greenery, tiny wreaths or berried branches.

  1. The Style Files, 2. 100-Layer Cake-let, 3. Martha Stewart Weddings

5) your favorite things

We’ve seen this trend in terrariums and even in the way we pot up plants. Using found objects and keepsakes as part of your tablescape add character and meaning. Think old ice skates or stockings slung over or tied to a chair or chairs and filled with fresh, fragrant greens. Your grandmother’s silver serving tray stacked with natural fall goodies like colored leaves, seed pods and pumpkins of all sizes or shimmering ornaments, berried branches and greens. An eclectic mix of old vases clustered together in the center of the table with a tiny branch, feathery grasses or sprig of cedar.


And if you get creative and post to Instagram, please share with us at #plantsmakeeverythingbetter and @askaltums!

Of course, Pinterest is always a go-to for variations on any theme, but trust your own sense of aesthetic and make some time to have a little fun. Peace and joy to you and yours this holiday season.