Women love the little black dress. Depending on the shoes, jewelry, purse and other accessories, it can easily be dressed up for evening or toned down for daytime. It moves gracefully from one holiday soiree to another.
The same can be said of a good clear-glass vase. Fill it with water and fresh flowers for a simple arrangement, or fill it with decorative baubles topped with a candle. The possibilities are endless — fall gourds at Thanksgiving, pine cones or pomegranates at Christmas, silver and gold balls at New Year's. Like the little black dress, it always looks fresh and fashionable.
Check your cupboards for glass containers. Cylinders and square-shaped glass vases are popular, and if you have several in various sizes, you've got it made. If not, they're easy to find at local retailers. Quality will vary, from inexpensive, thin-glass vases (we've had good luck at Michaels Crafts and Joann Fabric and Crafts, both of which always have 40-percent-off coupons in the Sunday newspaper) to heavier pieces that cost considerably more. They're sometimes called "hurricane vases" or jars. Make sure yours is wide enough around so it can be filled easily.
Some hurricane vases have a metal insert near the rim, which can be used to hold a candle or wet floral foam for fresh flowers. Hurricane vases with a molded glass insert in the center for holding water are also available. On a recent shopping trip to Target, hurricane vases with metal inserts were priced from $10.29 to $29.99, while those with glass inserts started at $22.99.
"If you own a hurricane jar, you have an instant centerpiece for any occasion. You can use it all year round and whenever you entertain," says Yun Stanton, owner of Beach Papery & Gifts in St. Petersburg, which stocks a wide variety of hurricane vases.
For Thanksgiving, Stanton created several arrangements with a variety of items, including colorful gourds, pumpkins, miniature corn, pears, apples, oranges, kumquats, cranberries and fall leaves. A large pear-shaped vase is topped with a free-form arrangement of artificial berry stems, pomegranate stems, branches and fall leaves, while cylinder vase sets are topped with cream-colored candles.
You could just as easily place a juice or other narrow glass in the center of your vase for holding water and fresh flowers, Stanton advises. The decorative items in the vase will camouflage the water container.
For just a few dollars, you'll find small gourds and pumpkins, cranberries, nuts in the shell and other produce at the grocery. Discount and craft stores sell a wide variety of artificial decorative filler, including fruits, gourds, potpourri, pine cones, cinnamon sticks, small stones and more. Some stores already are discounting fall merchandise to make room for Christmas decorations, so look for bargains.
You don't even have to leave home to find creative fillers and foliage for arrangements. "You'd be surprised at how many things you have in your yard. Go out in your back yard and get branches," says Stanton, who regularly forages for magnolia leaves and cones, pine cones and uniquely shaped fallen branches. Colorful croton leaves are a good choice because they're long lasting.
"There is no right or wrong way of doing it. Don't be afraid to make the arrangement too big. The bigger, the better. That's what makes a statement," she advises. ''You can even group a few filled hurricanes together."
Of course, if your centerpiece will stay on the table during dinner, you want your guests to be able to see over it. Not a problem if you know you'll have to remove it to make way for food.
Stanton suggests mixing good-quality silk stems, which can be re-used, with fresh flowers and greenery. There's no rule about mixing real and faux, and florists do it when price or availability of a certain flower is a problem.
After Thanksgiving, refill your hurricane jar with deep red pomegranates, pine cones, cinnamon sticks, Christmas balls and baubles, candy canes or other holiday items, and your vase will be transformed for the next holiday event. Just like the little black dress.
Yvonne Swanson is a Pinellas County master gardener and freelance writer. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.