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Table Decorations

( Originally Published 1923 )

There is no place in the home where flowers are more welcome than in the dining room. One writer has said that nothing is more helpful than flowers in making daily meals a means of eating to live, rather than living to eat, a transforming of the physical into the ęsthetic feast. Certain it is that when one comes into the breakfast room and finds it cheery with flowers, his mental mood responds and he is prepared pleasantly for the duties of the day. Flowers give added pleasure to every meal and the spirit of cheerfulness which they impart aids digestion as well.

For convenience of discussion we can classify our various meals into distinct types.

(a) Breakfast.

(b) Luncheon Simple luncheon. Buffet luncheon.

(c) Dinner Simple home dinner. Elaborate formal dinner.

(d) Banquets.

(a) A Breakfast Decoration

In most instances the more simple the decoration, the better it will please. This is true particularly for the breakfast table. The decoration for a luncheon or a dinner may be more elaborate, but there is no time of the day when a simple arrangement of flowers of delicate colors, light and airy in form, gives more pleasure than at the morning meal. Nothing can add more cheer to a breakfast than an arrangement of single Trumpet Daffodils, Poet's Narcissi or Pansies. Heavier flowers with intense colorings are not in keeping with the spirit of the morning meal. Among wild flowers, Violets, Butter and Eggs, Linaria vulgaris, False Mitrewort, Tiarella cordifolia, and the Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, are excellent for the breakfast table.

Flowers for the dining room table should never have a strong perfume, as certain odors are extremely offensive to some people. I dislike the odor of perennial Phlox indoors and vividly recall a luncheon where their presence on the table marred the pleasure of the meal.

(b) Luncheons

1. Simple Luncheon

Flowers suitable for the breakfast table are also appropriate for a simple, home luncheon and, if desired, flowers of deeper colors may be used. A definite color scheme may be worked out in an attractive manner. This is particularly pleasing if the luncheon is for a special occasion. I recall a very pleasing decoration for an old ladies' luncheon. The centerpiece was of white and lay-der Sweet Peas, with the green foliage and tendrils of the vines. Each guest had a colonial bouquet, also of lavender and white, with sprays of garden lavender for foliage, and tied with narrow lavender ribbon. A similar decoration might be used for a dinner, with tall lavender candles placed on each table. It should be remembered, however, that lavender loses its intensity under artificial light and consequently more lavender, or of a deeper shade, must be used, to give the desired effect. Luncheon decorations in yellow or pink are always attractive.

2. Buffet Luncheon

For buffet luncheons the decorations may be massive and striking. As the guests are served standing and the tables are viewed from one side only, this factor may be considered in the arrangement. One large bouquet may be placed in the center of the table and smaller ones about it. It is permissible to place flowers or ferns directly on the cloth, and Smilax or other green may be festooned along the sides of the table. Similar decorations may be arranged for a large tea where ladies pour from both ends of the table, but for such an occasion the flowers should be arranged so they will be attractive from every point of view. For a decoration of this nature, it is possible and very effective to adopt a color scheme, having the flowers harmonize with the wall decoration of the room, the ices and confectionery. A decoration of orange Calendulas with a few blue Delphiniums to give height to the design, with orange ice, yellow mints and yellow icing on the cakes, is very effective and more so if the draperies in the room be gold or blue.

(c) Dinners

An important factor, which always should be considered in a table decoration, is that there should be nothing to interfere with the pleasure or sociability of the guests. The centerpiece should not be too high nor so heavy that the guests cannot see each other easily. As a rule, no decoration should be over fifteen inches above the table unless a few fine sprays be inserted to give the arrangement a better balance or a more graceful effect. In a large room, and with a large table, the decorations may be carried higher. There may be a low bank at the base of the decoration, then a slender glass or silver receptacle may hold a high arrangement, the flowers of which should not be nearer the table than twenty-four inches. An arrangement of such a character cannot interfere with the pleasure of the guests.

Another important factor is that the flowers should not interfere with the table service. It is better not to have flowers arranged loosely on the cloth nor to have them radiate far from the centerpiece. If strands of Smilax radiate to the edge of the table they often interfere with serving the guests or they may be a source of annoyance to the diners. Under no condition should there be flower decorations attached to the cloth at the sides of the table, if guests are to be seated. As the flowers are to be viewed at close range, there should be the greatest care exercised in their arrangement, with no crudities nor apparent haste shown.

The receptacle should be selected with a view to both form and character of material. First of all it should conform to the shape of the table; if round or oblong, the receptacle should be of similar shape, and as low and inconspicuous as possible. As a rule, a glass or silver receptacle harmonizes better with the cloth and articles of table service than does pottery. Low, white wicker baskets or baskets colored to harmonize well with the flowers are effective. If the arrangement is to be carried high, a narrow silver vase or one of thin glass makes a rich receptacle in keeping with other features of the dinner. Sometimes a thin, strong rod of wood or metal, about too and one-half feet high, is placed in a low bank of flowers on the table and this supports the base of a metal receptacle in which other flowers are arranged, well above the line of vision. For an elaborate dinner, the base may be made of flowers of large size and intense coloring, such as Roses or Cattleyas, to give a well balanced appearance, and the upper receptacle may be filled with spray orchids, like Oncidiums or Odontoglossums, sprays of Acacias or other light, airy species. The sup-porting rod may be wound lightly with Smilax or other green in which a few light sprays of flowers may be inserted, if desired, just before the dinner.

(d) Banquets

Decorations for banquets are usually the most elaborate. The speakers' table is so placed that the speakers may easily be seen and heard from all the other tables. A "T" arrangement is a very common one, with the toast-master seated at the center of the cross line of the "T," and the other speakers at his right and left. This provides space for the decorations in front of the principal speaker where they will not interfere with the service of other guests. Naturally the decorations in front of the toast-master will be the most elaborate or the "point of emphasis." If the tables can be arranged so that this "point of emphasis" first greets the eyes of the guests as they enter the banquet room, the effect will influence the whole decoration, and first impressions are the lasting ones.

If more tables are needed they may be placed parallel with the standard of the "T."

A hollow square is also a good arrangement, the tables being placed around the four sides of the room. This permits of a low bank of flowering or foliage plants being arranged in the center of the square, forming a decorative feature for the room. This bank should not be high enough to screen the guests at the different tables. For a large banquet it is necessary to use flowers of considerable size if the best effects are to be obtained. At a recent university function tables were decorated for the entertainment of five thousand people. Fifty tables, each seating one hundred, were used by the caterers. The building was a large armory. Fortunately, it was at the season of the year when Peonies were available and they were used with excellent decorative effects. Not only were the tables attractive to the diners, but the effect was most pleasing from the galleries where many, not present at the dinner, listened to the speaking which followed the banquet.

For large banquets potted plants may be used on the tables, but as a rule, they are heavy and less attractive than are cut flowers. I attended one banquet where the so-called Boston ferns were used on the tables. To add color to the occasion, Carnations had been wired to green sticks and inserted in each pot of ferns. The effect may have been decorative but it was far from realistic.

Interest is added to table decorations if they are appropriate for the season of the year. For example, a low, plain, glass receptacle or a brown wicker hamper filled with well-fruited Japanese Barberries and small, yellow Chrysanthemums, with perhaps a few sprays of attractively fruited Snowberries, Symphoricarpos racemosus, makes a fine centerpiece for a Thanksgiving dinner. Banked about the receptacle may be various fruits, candies and nuts. For Christmas, a low pan of Poinsettias and small ferns, with the pan banked with Holly, is very attractive and appropriate. For St. Valentine's Day, a low, heart-shaped, wicker basket may be filled with Forget-me-nots or Bleeding Hearts, Dicentra spectabilis, which have been forced into bloom by the florists, or a heart-shaped receptacle with red Carnations may be employed.

In arranging table decorations it should be remembered that there is no background for the flowers; hence, it is necessary to select species of pronounced form or outline, and to use foliage generously to emphasize the beauty of the individual flowers. As has been stated in a previous chapter, no green material so nearly corresponds and harmonizes with the flowers as that of the same species. The desired foliage, however, is often difficult to obtain, especially with such flowers as Carnations, for the florist sacrifices a flower each time he cuts a spray of foliage. The long, bare stems require some green and when its own blue-green foliage is not to be had, Asparagus plumosus or Asparagus Sprengeri is most commonly used; but the pronounced differences in the shades of green, together with their drooping character, make them far from ideal. With other species they are excellent, especially the fine, interesting foliage of Asparagus plumosus.

It is not easy to select just the right foliage and flowers to use together. Some have that happy faculty and it is the secret of much of their success in floral decorations.

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