Autumn, Holiday, Seasonal

Last Minute Planning: Decorating for Thanksgiving

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It’s been a very colorful New England fall in Newport providing inspiration aplenty, so where to start? With my Japanese maples, of course, ablaze in all shades and a perfect selection for a mantle piece decoration.  Since Thanksgiving is right around the corner, I wanted to share this simple step-by-step with you that can be put together in under twenty minutes. Promise! Any leaves will do, but it  does play up what makes fall such a favored season.

Step 1…Pick a pair of favorite urns that have a small opening (so not too much plant material is needed). Place one or two pumpkins or gourds behind them to give a sense of depth and dimension to the overall composition.


Step 2…Begin with large-leafed material (here, brandy-colored  hydrangea leaves) that will provide support for the tall and willowy Japanese maple branches.


Step 3…Insert one straight Japanese maple branch slightly off-center and two curved branches on either side that will help create the “fountain” shape (I like to exaggerate the length of the inner branches so that they can be reflected in the mirror).


Step 4…Add one other variety that is in marked contrast to the shades of the maple; the yellow of gingko leaves is so memorable in the fall and a very different shape than a maple leaf.


Step 5…Now for the crook-necked gourds, the funkier the better! Their shapes, odd color combos and “lumps and bumps” add a sense of whimsy to the final arrangement.


Step 6…Finally, mix in some unexpected vegetables, like ruffled kale, artichokes and slices of cabbage. Then scatter a few hands full of gingko leaves across the mantle surface and step back to enjoy your creation…


Since we were celebrating Thanksgiving in Newport this year, I wanted to honor our “City by the Sea” and play on that theme. The large Juliska plates, with their swirling sandy shades streaked with gold, reminded me of a tidal pool in the setting sun; the vintage soup plates are hand painted with different shades of seaweed and sea grasses. The nod to our ocean surroundings are subtle enough that the velvet pumpkins (many of them in the same sandy shades) look and feel right at home for this holiday.


In keeping with the “last minute decorating” title of this post, I wanted to offer one more idea that takes its nod from the bounty of the land…and is a snap to put together at the last minute. This one was actually inspired last year by what was available as we were closing the garden for the season — cabbages and succulents. Perhaps not something one might normally think of putting together, but isn’t that what inspiration is about? Doing something you haven’t done before. And this took all of 7 minutes. An additional plus is that the plant material is large and takes up quite a bit of space; not a small consideration if you have a long table to fill with a centerpiece!

Photo Credit: Maaike Bernstrom

Here’s to stress free last minute decorating!

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About Bettie Bearden Pardee

Author of Private Newport and Living Newport, garden furniture designer (The Parterre Bench), national lecturer, and entertaining expert. An honoree for the second year on "The Salonniere 100 America's Best Party Hosts", she was also the host and creative producer of "The Presidential Palate: Entertaining at the White House".

2 thoughts on “Last Minute Planning: Decorating for Thanksgiving

    BEAUTIFUL in every sense………….
    OFF I GO to get the TURKEY today and last minute items……….so I can start COOKING Tomorrow!

    1. Have fun cooking, and thanks again for staying in touch. Hope you have a deelish T Day! Bettie

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