Naturally Beautiful Decorations

Bring nature indoors with these surprisingly easy arrangements. This mother-daughter team shows you how.
Ellen Ruoff Riley

Imagine turning your mantel or table into a winter wonderland brimming with Christmas spirit. This delightful idea is demonstrated by Molly Courcelle and Bee Sieburg, owners of The Gardener's Cottage in Asheville, North Carolina. Turning to the mountains for inspiration, they put together fabulous arrangements in a disarmingly easy manner.

Don't let the opulent look intimidate you--the best way to approach arrangements is to explore them in small steps. Cut flowers, berry-laden branches, and fresh fruit round out the look. "This is very easy to do," Bee assures us. "Start with the plants, and go from there. The arrangement almost leads you along."

Understand the way these collections go together, and adapt the materials to where you live. Amaryllis, paperwhites, and cut flowers are available throughout the South. Go for a mountain look as Bee and Molly have, or celebrate your own region with greenery and berried branches unique to your locale.

The Mantel
"We want the area over the fireplace to be a natural, casual reflection of the mountains," Bee says. Red is at the center of their palette, and they weave it through the arrangement. "When you pick a color, you're not limited to just flowers. You have plants, fruit, and berries to choose from as well," she continues.

Purchase potted plants in 4- and 5-inch containers, including ferns with soft foliage and ivy with long hanging tendrils. Use flowering kalanchoes and begonias, and add forced amaryllis bulbs for large, regal flowers.

"Begin by putting your plants on the mantel. Lay some on their sides so they're looking at you," Bee instructs. Use this potted material to determine the arrangement's length. Bee and Molly's creation extends the mantel's full span, but you can do it on a smaller scale. Some ferns need constant moisture, so slip their roots into sandwich bags containing soil to keep them damp. Place weighty plants toward the back for stability.

Next, center a moist florist foam bar--a long, narrow piece of florist foam wrapped in plastic--among the potted plants. Add greenery from the garden, using branches of various heights. "We cut cedar, pine, and other greens from the yard and used ivy with long tendrils too," Bee says.

Now, add cut flowers, fruit, and berried branches. Choose plants with sturdy stems, such as hydrangeas, roses, and ornamental cabbage. "Group items with similar shapes," Molly says. Push stems into the florist foam, placing some so blooms come over the mantel's edge. Attach red apples with florist picks, clustering them for impact. "Just keep the whole thing loose," Bee says.

Table With a Theme
Molly and Bee use the same steps to put together a centerpiece. The homeowner's passion for birds is the focus of the dining room decor. "We want the room to be personal, so we use birds' nests, tiny eggs, and garden ornaments," Bee says. The arrangement meanders down the table, with fresh moss covering the pots and the florist foam bar. Paperwhites, ranunculus, ornamental cabbage, and ferns combine with lichen-covered branches for the look of a winter garden.

The sideboard takes simplicity into the realm of casual elegance. Garden ornaments flock around a bowl of green apples, and the ferns on the sideboard connect it to the table.

"Anyone can do this," Bee says. "When you're working with beautiful materials, you can't mess up. There are a ton of ways you can express your own style and feeling."

With a vote of confidence like that, we should all give it a try.

Molly's Tips
Whether you've been arranging flowers for eons or are brand new to the endeavor, Molly's tips are terrific.

  • Use different shapes and textures. Group similar forms--such as amaryllis blooms and apples, which are both smooth and rounded.
  • Begin with something large and solid, such as an amaryllis, or a collection of items, such as the concrete birds on the sideboard.
  • Include elements that will add texture and give a sense of flow. This can be achieved with potted ferns, trailing ivy, lush moss, or cut greenery.
  • Introduce items with strong lines, such as holly branches or bittersweet.


"All of these things complement each other very well," Molly says. "Your eye will land on a solid item, follow the texture, and move on to a linear item. It gives the arrangement order."


"Naturally Beautiful Decorations" is from the December 2003 issue of Southern Living.