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Summer is slowly slipping away. Fall is just around the corner. The gathering season is almost here.

I often find myself gathering things: pinecones, twigs, dropped feathers—anxious to preserve these bits of nature that will eventually be blanketed under snow.

Bringing nature home

Natural elements, when arranged in groupings and displayed in interesting vessels, inexpensively give a home warmth. A basket of pinecones, a collection of antlers or twigs are easy to assemble, while providing  strong visual impact. (See sidebar for the best way to preserve these elements.)

A bouquet of found feathers arranged in a silver vase has a very sophisticated look, and is also easy to arrange. To keep feathers fixed in place, fill the bottom of the vase with kitty litter, sand, salt or rice, which make ideal filler for dried arrangements. Other ways to display natural finds include placing them under a cloche; pinecones, river stones and bird nests are very attractive when displayed in this fashion.

Drying flowers from your garden is another way to have a keepsake of these last days of summer. Hydrangeas are probably the easiest flower to dry.  Simply place them in a vase with water,  forget about them and in a few weeks you will have a lovely bouquet with a delicate antique hue. Grasses can also be dried this way; however, cone flowers, mums, roses or any flower with a thin stem or dense head needs to be hung upside down to dry to prevent the stem from bending. (Do not use candles around dried flower arrangements).

Your local farmers market or garden store has much to offer. Don’t forget to stop by.

Swap out summer linen pillows with more textural woolen or furry ones. Display your own collection of natural finds in apothecary jars or  mason jars, on cake plates, silver trays or any vessel that won’t distract from their natural beauty. Manila tags found in stationery and office supply stores are inexpensive, and when affixed to lidded jars provide space for documenting your find with information about where you found it, the species (if applicable), or a lyric or poem that it inspired, adding to its interest.

Creating centerpieces

For round or square dining tables try displaying fresh fruit in a large white bowl or an assortment of gourds on a wooden tray. Pinecones and acorns placed in glass or ceramic bowls have a sculptural aesthetic. Even a bundle of twigs wrapped in twine and placed on a pedestal cake plate creates a simple, zen-like accent.

Candles always evoke warmth and festivity. Try grouping an assortment of candlesticks of varying heights on a tray, preferably the same metal tone, style or color.  Don’t have an assortment of candlesticks? Pillar candles of varying sizes work just as well. You may want to line the tray with river stones or dried beans to keep candles secure and absorb the wax drippings.

Odd numbers always seem to work best when arranging things in groups. Outdoor lanterns also evoke country charm when used indoors as an accent on a table or incorporated into a centerpiece grouping. Again, an odd number of varying styles and heights will create the best presentation.

For a fresh and easy flower arrangement, turn a bundt pan upside-down and fill halfway with pebbles or floral foam to anchor the stems and add water. Fill with evergreens from your garden and adorn with acorns and pinecones. If the greens are fresh and properly watered, place a large pillar candle in the center. (See sidebar for tips on how to get keep your fresh arrangements longer.)

Arrangements for oblong tables work best in two symmetrical arrangements or linear grouping. Try using 5-9 tin cans or baby food jars placed evenly apart down the center of a long table. Be sure to remove labels and glue—soaking them in hot, soapy water should do the trick. If the glue is persistent you may want to use rubbing alcohol. Place fresh sprigs of pine, mulberry or, for a culinary twist, fresh herbs like chives or dill into the tin cans. Remember to keep them low so guests can see over them during a meal. Finish off with votive candles placed in between each vessel. You can create a table runner using brown or white craft paper to help define your linear arrangement.

For symmetrical arrangements, try using two large pumpkins or gourds, hollowed out and lined with a glass bowl or jar. Add garden-picked evergreens, grasses or leaves, tightly packed to give them a lush look. Cut the stems short enough so only the fullest part of the stems and branches cascade over the lip of the vessel. You can rubber band the stems of this arrangement if you have trouble securing them.

For a more dramatic centerpiece, place twigs or branches in two tall vases (set evenly apart) and adorn with lightweight decorations or family photos. These should be removed when the meal gets underway to avoid obstructing the flow of conversation.

For a splash of autumn, collect some brightly colored leaves and dry then in a cardboard box or traditionally, between pages in a heavy book. (See sidebar for instructions.) Scatter the leaves down the table’s center to create a natural table runner.

Whatever elements you choose to employ, be sure to keep it simple. Let nature be your guide while you gather and ready your home and soul for fall and all that it encompasses.  

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