Thanksgiving cornucopias can add color and spice

November 18, 2004
Victoria County
Master Gardener

Everyone looks forward to Thanksgiving for special reasons besides the usual one of bringing family together. My family's holiday table is always laden with a cornucopia of delicious food and natural decorations.

We are particularly fond of my mother's cornbread dressing, the recipe of which my sister and I have tried to duplicate - with less success. Incidentally, the cornmeal is from my uncle's corn crop grown on the same land my great-grandparents farmed in the early 1900s. When you think about it, the vegetables served at the first Thanksgiving in 1620 are the same we are serving today, although varieties and gardening techniques have changed greatly.

Often Master Gardeners work together on this column, and since you read about pumpkins - and even more about gourds last week - from Master Gardener Maria Sobczak, she and I discussed a few decorating ideas for this article to add seasonal color and spice to your home.

Pumpkins and gourds are readily available from your grocery store - or maybe a roadside stand - if you did not happen to grow them in your own garden. They are a good start toward creating a different type of cornucopia instead of the traditional basket type. According to a published floral expert, Dale Rohman, you can turn a hollowed out pumpkin into a beautiful centerpiece that is perfect for your Thanksgiving table or for display near the fireplace as seen in the accompanying photograph. His list includes these materials: large pumpkin; two large blocks floral foam; carrots, red and yellow peppers, artichokes, red cabbage and radishes; floral pins, meat skewers, and pruning shears; daylilies, sunflowers, cattails and dried wheat.


This hollowed-out pumpkin cornucopia with peppers, carrots, artichokes, cabbage and radishes, as well as floral elements designed by expert Dale Rohman, is perfect for a table centerpiece and can be broken down and the vegetables eaten.

Pumpkins and gourds can be found in roadside stands or grocery stores this time of year.  On display for fall decorations, they will last longer if they are carefully cleaned, waxed and kept in a dry place.  Occasional inspection for mold is recommended.

Suggested steps: Hollow out the pumpkin and save the contents for pumpkin pie or pumpkin soup. Soak two large blocks of floral foam and insert them into the center of the pumpkin, leaving a portion of block sticking out of the opening.

Use floral pins to secure a carrot bunch to the foam so that carrots drape along the side of the pumpkin. Run a meat skewer through the base of each vegetable, and snip skewer base with shears at an angle, so the skewer slides easily into the foam. Continue to add vegetables until the foam is covered. Cut stems of lilies and sunflowers at an angle and insert stems into foam. Nestle in radishes where there are bare spots. Add some height with cattails and clusters of dried wheat, or use any of nature's treasures that you have found.

If you are looking for decorative materials to use for the above project or just want to put out a few reminders of the season, you don't have to go far from home. Fabulous arrangements can begin with a unique container, including vases, urns and other complementary items of all shapes and sizes, a few flowers and some freshly cut foliage or weeds. Containers can range from formal to rustic depending on your own taste and creativity. Personally I prefer antique collectibles such as weathered baskets, sap buckets, old clay pots, crocks, or for outdoor display, wagons and wheelbarrows. A miniature wagon filled with pumpkins, gourds and pinecones on your front porch is a simple way to welcome your guests, and I am always on the lookout for these types of items either for my antique business or to use in fall decorating.

Cut flowers and foliage stay fresh in water for about a week, and some will dry beautifully with very little effort. A colorful fall stem is natural goldenrod, which when placed in only 1/2 inch of water, its blooms will gradually dehydrate, and it can be used in timeless arrangements. I use goldenrod because I like to add a little bit of the color yellow to my home whether it is with flowers, pieces of pottery, pillows or figurines. It brings sunshine into a room that sometimes needs to be brightened up on a dreary fall day.

Look to your garden for a variety of leaf shapes and seasonal colors from magnolia trees, or cuttings of photenia, coleus, fire spike, croton and purple knight, which nicely accompany vivid flowers such as bright and sunny yellow button mums, sunflowers and marigolds. I happen to be lucky enough to have a sister who lives in the country where I often walk and gather interesting items to put in an arrangement. Even my husband and grown sons keep an eye out for natural materials that they think I can incorporate into my decorations such as large acorns, pinecones, seedpods, moss and limbs.

How about a container of living plants with which to decorate? You can move it from patio or front porch to wherever you need a spot of color - even inside on the fireplace hearth for a different look. Instead of the usual fall plants, I tried a combination of crossandra and kale as seen in the photo. Crossandra infundibuliformis, or firecracker flower, is a tender evergreen shrubby perennial growing up to 3 feet tall in full sun to light shade. It blooms beautifully for months with red, yellow, orange or lilac funnel-shaped flowers. It will freeze and should be brought indoors during cold weather. Crossandras also do well as house plants if they receive at least four hours of direct sunlight a day. Ornamental cabbage and kale cultivars are grown specifically for their appearance. Kale are perfect for late season interest and color with their bluish-green outer leaves and pink, red or white centers that improve with frost and cold weather and show great, vivid colors below 50 degrees F.

A fall container planted with crossandra red, yellow, orange or lilac blooms, as well as kale with its bluish-green outer leaves and purple, red or white centers, provides a spot of fall color on your patio, front porch or indoor hearth.

I hope these various suggestions will add spice to your home with a cornucopia of fall colors from the garden and Mother Nature. Incidentally, if you want to see fall color fluttering by, hundreds of butterflies have been seen recently in the Master Gardeners' Victoria Educational Gardens (VEG) at the airport. Stop by and take a look at these colorful natural treasures.

Whether Thanksgiving brings scrumptious food or colorful settings - or both - to your home, don't forget the many &quoot;taken-for-granted" little things, which give the good life real gusto. I credit the Texas A&M University Web site for the following insightful message of the "Thanksgivings of Gardening" which all of us share: 1) Be thankful for physical strength, which is necessary to prepare a garden. 2) Be thankful for that look of joy that flows from your youngster when he picks that first red tomato. 3) Be thankful for an understanding family who will eat your garden-grown vegetables regardless of how they look. 4) Be thankful for the personal pride stimulated by a successful garden. 5) Be thankful for the invaluable experience gained from struggling to produce a garden. 6) Be thankful for the vegetable farmer who does produce a good crop every year to supply us when we fail. 7) And last but not least, be thankful for the miracle of growth, which we all, whether young or old, experience each and every time we plant a seed and watch it grow.

Happy Thanksgiving next week - and may the gardens in your life provide you with a cornucopia of treasures all year long.