Constructing The Centerpiece

No matter what season is in question, a centerpiece in a container planting can organize the planting, and enrich the visual experience.  Fall in my zone means a limited selection of plants grow at a vastly reduced rate.  My summer pots have nicotiana mutabilis topping 6 feet now-none of my fall plants will grow like this.  I have no objection to creating a centerpiece in a fall pot from natural materials that have already grown up, and been harvested.  A case of really beautiful bittersweet arrived a few days ago-I could not wait to use it in some fall container plantings. 

Other natural materials are from places far from my home.  Bahia spears-I have not the faintest idea what plant produced these stems.  They are stiff and woody; these chocolate and gold stems look just like fall.  Dried natural materials are an element that can spice up a fall planting. I love each and every one of my living plants, but the ability to create a shape from natural materials, and integrate that into a planting is great fun-try it!      

The base of this centerpiece-a pair of broomcorn shocks.  Broomcorn-yes, this plant has been widely grown for for brooms.  This means the stalks are stiff and weather impervious.  The seed heads come in a range of colors from cream to red to black.  I zip tie several bunches around a stout bamboo stake.  That stake will keep my centerpiece straight up and down, no matter the weather.  Zip ties-love them.  They hold the heaviest centerpiece together.  I use lots of them, in the early stages of construction.This centerpiece is ready; there are three layers- all zip tied to a stake.  The lower tier-10 faux grass stems.  Fault me if you will for the fake statement, but anything that pleases my eye is ok.  The long portion of this stake will be set way down into to soil of a pot.  This stake is an anchor, and a rudder.  A centerpiece gone out of level is not a good look.  The centerpieces need to stand up straight.  The beauty of any design depends on what your eye can believe.  This centerpiece has a ways to go, before I would call it finished.    

This three tiered centerpiece gets some air from the bittersweet vine sections, and a welcome shot of fall color. I cut the stems on an extreme angle, and work them under the zip tie.  These wild and curving stems will start to loosen up that strictly zip tied affair.  I use lots of zip ties in the construction of a centerpiece, as it will need to travel to the job.  Should you be constructing a fall centerpiece for a treasured pair of pots-go large, go tall-be loose. The ties you do not really need once the entire container is finished can be cut off, for a looser yet effect. 

My centerpiece made the trip to the job without any damage.  It is very heavy, but easy to handle.  My crews handle anything I send their way with aplomb.  The fabric you see draped over the edge of a pot keeps the pot from getting dirty on the rim.  The tarp on the ground is there for the same reason.  A little care keeps the cleanup part fast and easy.  The Redbor kale are the center plants.  These we plant first, so its easy to tell exactly where the centerpiece goes.  Getting the centerpiece in the center is as important as making sure it is perfectly upright.         

Levelling the centerpiece takes some time-and at least four hands.  Once that centerpiece is set, level, and solid, we tweak.  The top most zip tie-we cut that off.  We move this element up, we move that element down.  We deconstruct what we constructed. This is the most important part.  A centerpiece has to be strong and securely made.  But how it gets loosened up is what creates a very natural look.   

All of the elements of the centerpiece gets adjusted after it is installed.  I try to integrate it with the living material in such a way that it all looks lively, and of a piece.

Fall  plantings are all about some cabbages, some mums, some late representing grasses, the pansies-those plants that tolerate cold temperatures.  But fall container plantings are greatly about that gardener that has a mind to represent fall in a way they think is beautiful.    

What is in your yard, drying, now?  Sounds like a centerpiece to be, to me.

If your yard is light on materials that might work in a container, your local nursery or famer’s market is bound to have something. There are lots of possibilities for fall pots- make the most of having a choice.  Your fall pots have lots of possibilities.  Make much of the fall plants that tolerate the cold.  Make more of putting it all together.


  1. I shall suggest this to several clients!

    Thanks, Deborah!

  2. What a great idea, I love the flowering kale & cabbages for a lovely winter planter idea.

  3. Your fall pots are fabulous. I’m anxious to say goodbye to my tired geraniums and get my fall on. Too windy in Illinois for it today though. Keep posting these great pictures of your fine work.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thanks Pam. I am getting a little weary of my pots, and they are getting very weary of the cold weather. I like doing these pots! Deborah

  4. The penultimate photo of the story…one of my all time favorites. Something about the pot shape and pot decoration married to the dark kale and the central stalk — what in heaven’s name is that plant in the center !!

    So lovely…so Autumn…so DS!

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Michael, the central stalks are cut broom corn stems. If you type “broom corn” into the blog search line, you will get a post I did a year ago about this plant-known as sorghum. It is available now at the farmers market in tall cut bunches known as “shocks”. Corn shocks commonly used for Halloween decor are dry to my eye-I better like that plant from which brooms are made. The seed heads are every imaginable fall color-including a beautiful black. Thanks, Deborah

  5. I love everything you do. Do you have any books with your work for sale? If you do we’re can I get them? If you don’t I hope you will your landscape and all your design works,. Are amazing . I devote part of my day looking at all you have done. Like a good book worth repeating over and over thank you Cindy

    • Deborah Silver says

      Thank you for your letter! I do not have a book, but there are plenty of essays with pictures on the blog-dating back to 2009. I am glad you are enjoying it. Deborah

  6. Dear Deborah

    Stunning as usual. You are such an artist with amazing talent. We are the beneficiaries as you let us in on how you go about creating. The photo with the dark green kale & cabbage is my favorite. How long into the winter will the foliage stay green? I can imagine it dusted with snow. Beautiful.

    • Deborah Silver says

      Dear Cathy, the longevity depends on the fall weather, but I have seen them look great at the end of December. Thanks for your letter! Deborah

  7. Deborah, Fantastic arrangements. Finished off our deck and pergola last month and can’t’ wait to visit your store next spring to bring it to life. As always, thanks for the ideas as well.
    Brian and Angelika

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