Plant a living centerpiece

Decorate your holiday table with festive "shoe box" planters
Peter O. Whiteley

Creating a centerpiece scaled for a big holiday dinner is a real challenge, especially if you've extended your dining table to seat Aunt Sadie and her brood. But small bouquets get lost on a crowded tabletop and oversize arrangements can end up blocking views and spilling over plates.

What you need are long, narrow containers you can fill with greenery and flowers that stay well below eye level. Finding such vessels can be difficult, but making them is easy ― with shoe box-size plastic storage containers. Something wonderful happens when you fill them with living plants and trim the boxes with festive ribbon. Instantly, you have a centerpiece elegant enough to grace any table, and you can make it as long as you want simply by adding more boxes.

For the arrangement shown here, we used three boxes and filled them with indoor plants readily available at nurseries and floral shops: florist's chrysanthemum, kalanchoe, 'Ocean Spray' maidenhair fern, and variegated ivy. In mild-winter areas, you can substitute cool-season flowers such as primroses, pansies, and Johnny-jump-ups. Since the boxes are relatively shallow, plants should be no larger than 4-inch size. Once planted, the centerpiece can be displayed for a week or two. Water sparingly to keep soil evenly moist, not soggy. After the parties are over, repot the plants individually for indoor display; cool-season flowers can be set out in the garden.

Shoe box-size plastic containers cost less than $2 each at most home supply centers. You can mask the boxes with any variety of materials, from rice paper to satin ribbon. Coordinate the color with the flowers and your tablecloth.

TIME: 1 hour or less

COST: About $35 as shown

MATERIALS

*Three plastic storage boxes, each at least 12 1/2 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 3 1/2 inches deep

*Potting soil

*Three plants each of florist's mum, kalanchoe, and fern from 4-inch pots (or substitute cyclamen, Primula obconica, or Rieger begonia)

*18 plants of variegated ivy from sixpacks (optional)

*Satin ribbon or other trimming material, 3 1/2 inches wide

*Candles (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1. Fill each box with potting soil.

2. In each box, set three 4-inch plants and firm soil around them. Fill in around the sides with trailing ivy, if desired.

3. Lightly water the soil and wipe the sides of the boxes.

4. Set the boxes on a tabletop, all together or spaced a few inches apart to make room for candles, if desired. Wrap a length of ribbon around each box to cover the sides.