Hunt and Gather

Start with a dinner-plate-size base for your centerpiece. A piece of driftwood or mossy tree bark makes for a striking, organic foundation. If trees aren’t shedding their skins around your yard, Mt Scott Fuel Co (6904 SE Foster Rd) will let you fill a 5-gallon bucket with bark for a dollar. In short, think outside the vase.

Once you’ve selected your foundation, it’s time to gather the rest of the centerpiece materials, keeping in mind that the larger, sturdier items you choose (like pinecones and squash) will serve to fill out the first, structural layer of the arrangement. Smaller, leggier materials (like berries and twigs) can then be tucked into crevices to add color and texture.

The easiest place to start looking for the forestal elements is your own backyard (or sidewalk, or nearby park). Weeks suggests gathering objects like moss, small branches, seedpods, and pinecones for your creation. The sylvan settings of Mount Tabor, Forest Park, and the hiking trails that wind around the Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood are great places to scour for these forest materials. River rocks, which you can find at the Sandy River Delta or other local rocky riverbeds, are effective structural elements as well. Collect shrub or tree trimmings from your recent pruning, or cut leaves and other renewable foliage from plants. If you’re on a hike, think freely and bravely. As Poor Richard’s Almanac put it: “Beauty, like supreme dominion, is best supported by opinion.”

spaces entertain woodsy things
Image: Kurt Hettle

Bright winter vegetables will make your centerpiece pop and imbue it with a seasonal harvest feel best for cozy dinner parties. Look for vibrant Northwest produce like purple cabbage, decorative squash, kale, and cranberries at late-season Portland Farmers Markets; at People’s Food Co-op (3029 SE 21st Ave), which operates a year-round market on Wednesdays; and at grocery stores that stock local foods, like New Seasons Market (multiple locations). Local greenhouse herbs also make for beautiful ornamentation, and they smell delicious to boot. Try incorporating parsley, thyme, and rosemary.

For a more sculptural, dramatic piece perfect for cocktail parties, place lotus pods, wheatgrasses, and curly willow shooting up vertically from the base of the centerpiece. You can gather these materials at City Flowers & Interiors (824 NW Davis St).

To animate the centerpiece with festive, holiday-season revelry, try orange-red holly, exotic evergreen stems, and nandina berries. Flower shops like Sammy’s Flowers (2120 NW Glisan St) are perfect destinations for these visual stunners.