“Au Natural” Tabletop Designs

I love to entertain, and setting a fabulous table is an essential part of establishing the ambiance, creating anticipation for a memorable experience that is to come. At times, a good tablescape can even pardon a food faux pas. Recently, I decided that I would focus on creating a complete tabletop design dedicated to Mother Earth.
So with Mother Nature by my side and my Hunter boots on my feet, I wandered in my gardens for insight and inspiration. I took the time to notice the various colors and textures of green. From the pale, emerald new growth on the boxwoods to the dark, rich, deep green of the holly leaves — I was particularly infatuated with texture and colors of the moss growing perfectly in the shade garden. At that very moment, I pondered to think how I could introduce this rich color and texture to my dining table without bringing Mother Natures’ little critters along the way. I fell into a “green” vortex for a moment and when I awoke I was enriched with a vision.

A lot like a four-season garden, a MARvelous table design has to also offer four distinct levels of interest. The first: a tablecloth and/or placemats will always be the foundation; second: interesting plates layered for each course; third: a centerpiece that comes just under eye level; and finally four: candlesticks that are tall but do not obstruct the view of other diners. “Four to score” — it’s that simple. This four-level table design concept from yours truly creates many opportunities to include the endless resources from Mother Nature’s outdoors, thus becoming what I like to call an au naturel table design.

The first step in any well-planned table design is deciding on a table covering or none at all. I like to use interesting placemats that provide texture to my tablescape allowing me to show off the actual table. This is the essential component of table décor, i.e., what goes under the plate. The tablescape starts here so why not get creative from the start.

Recently for a garden tour, I felt compelled to put this “all green” philosophy tablescape to the test.


I began by creating a moss placemat for each person. This is an easy project when you have the right moss to work with. I discovered at my local garden center “SuperMoss,” which offers a single sheet of moss that rolls out like wallpaper, already affixed to a backing. Eureka! SuperMoss is my new BFF as I can use it for everything, from lining a hanging basket to creating a wall covering in the studio. Yet the best use for me was creating six circular placemats. The process was easy. By simply taking an existing placemat and a marker, you can trace an outline in your desired shape, then simply cut it out. With the mesh rubber backing, you don’t need to worry about ripping or tearing.

A leaf from an Oak Leaf Hydrangea can make an amazing extension of the moss placemat — because they have a great size, pretty shape, and are quite flat. I like to place them on the charger plate under the napkin, off to the side under the silverware or under the centerpiece. (In the photo you can see both the leaf and the moss placemat used together.)


Every table needs a centerpiece, large or small. However, for this centerpiece, I chose to go with the green-on-green tones to compliment my garden. So often we think of flowers for the table, but a bunch of hosta leaves, boxwood, ornamental grasses, hydrangea branches or even azalea clippings all bunched together in a bouquet create an inviting and spectacular green display. It was certainly a hit during the garden tour.


I always prefer a natural linen or cotton napkin. There simply is no alternative — especially if you are going for the au naturel theme. It’s definitely worth having them starched as they look and feel so nice on the table. For a napkin ring, I went to the hardware store and purchased garden twine as I wanted a natural, organic alternative. It comes in various thicknesses and natural colors. Take three strands, and knot them together leaving a bit at the end for fringe. Then, braid the three strands together and knot this end, again leaving a bit at the end for fringe. Don’t limit yourself to garden twine; any twine will do.

Take the napkin square and gather it in the middle with one hand. Tie the twine around the napkin once in a single knot. Place the napkin off to the side of the plate.
This is also great for large parties where, as an alternative, you can roll the flatware in the napkin and tie it with the twine and place them all in a basket or galvanized bucket.


Another idea is to take a flower head and float it in an ice cream dish or shallow glass bowl and place one per place setting it in the center of the topmost plate. When dinner starts, simply put the dish off to the side. Gardenias, peonies, and hydrangeas are particularly gorgeous this way. This idea transfers well in the bathroom, on a small table or even on your nightstand. Another MARvelous tip: use sparkling water rather than simple tap water, as the bubbles will surround the flower and make it more interesting.


Another alternative to the flower boat idea is to use a circular piece of sod grass in the dish. Cut the sod to fit (similar to the moss placemat) and press it into a shallow bowl. If you do this before your guests arrive you won’t need to add any water; however, if you prepare them in advance you’ll need to keep the grass hydrated; simply sprinkle a few tablespoons over top, but do not saturate the sod. Onto the sod, tack a relatively large emerald green leaf — use a single flower with a woody stem. For a golfing luncheon, use a golf tee for the tack, and set a golf ball on top. You could even use a Sharpie to monogram each ball with each guest’s initials. (Now I know what to do with all those golf tees in my sports closet.)


Birch logs can become the base for a candlestick with the help of a drill and a hand saw. A simple project, should you have the right tools. Use the handsaw to trim the birch log to the right length (I recommend about 1 foot long for a 6-foot table.) Drill holes to hold the candles. The size of the hole will depend on the size of the candle you want to use. Space these holes evenly along the length of the log. This is a real showstopper on the table and can be used again and again.


This vibrant green moss is a great addition to arrangements because of its distinctive color and how well it keeps when dried. I like to use this in hurricane lanterns and other clear vessels; inserted between stones or branches — whenever I create a dry arrangement and don’t need to fill the container with water — the reindeer moss fills spaces with a touch of vivid lime color.


Using a lush leaf from garden ivy or magnolia tree offers an organic and stylish label for your decanters. This is a great way to highlight a special wine or cocktail. Simply take a handheld hole punch and create a small hole; then with a metallic marker write “sangria, rose, vino, etc.” When done, insert a small piece of raffia to attach the leaf to each decanter.


Now that you’ve set your table, why not set people talking with a fabulous dessert? Let them eat cake — in a universal way that celebrates Mother Earth. I discovered an amazing product called CakeVase; it’s the quick and MARvelous way to create a beautiful cake inspired by the garden. Works on any 6″ or 8″ round cake or sheet cake. You simply press it firmly into the cake’s frosting, pour a little water into the reservoirs, and arrange your favorite flowers. It’s the piece de resistance for any party — and not just garden parties, but birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, you name it. Create your own gorgeous, custom design cake for any and every occasion. A must-have!

Some additional simple green table ideas:

Fern leaf inserted into the napkin ring with the napkin

Beach rocks or crushed native stones scattered around the centerpiece

Rose petals scattered on the table

Green leaves from the garden or grocery in the bottom of a glass vessel to hide the stems of flowers. Think kale, ivy, fig and even cabbage leaves. Remember to add sparkling water as the tiny bubbles accentuate the crevices and natural beauty of the leaves.

The opportunities can be endless when you consider all the beauty that Mother Earth has to offer. A well-executed table design is inviting, aesthetically pleasing and a prelude of what’s to come. I think I’ve found a new way to define dining au naturel don’t you? In every season, the garden will offer up multiple ways to dine with Mother Earth, so it’s up to you to “eat, drink and be MARry “ with her.

And there you have it.