By Brenda Bolton, Mobile Master Gardener |

Q: I am hosting my first “extended family” Thanksgiving. I’m wondering if you have any centerpiece advice. I want a “tablescape” that is decorative but not tacky.

A: A successful holiday dinner is created by good company, good food and a warm atmosphere, which is all about managing the environment for your guests. Your best gift to guests is a sense of time and place that says “home for the holiday,” and nothing says “home place” better than nature. You may risk “tacky” with an overload of Pinterest, but abundant nature is never tacky.

So, how do we go about creating a perfect tablescape that speaks of time and place?

Decor should not interfere with function — having a good meal in comfort. Don’t let decor block conversation … unless you need to isolate Uncle Henry from Aunt Ruth, in which case a big floral arrangement may be just the ticket! A creative tablescape offers relaxed decor and sparks conversation.

PLAN the type or style of tablescape you want, such as:

• Traditional Fall: Seasonal plant material with colorful fall edibles such as pumpkins, apples, citrus and vegetables, from your garden or the local market. Don’t forget how beautiful the bare stems of deciduous, even dead, plants can be. Consider dried seed pods and blooms, garden okra left to dry on the stalk. Perhaps Uncle Henry will talk about his okra crop instead of politics.

• Trendy Minimalist: Less is more. Avoid traditional fall tones; use neutrals; create warmth with metallics in candlelight. Spark dinner conversation with a whimsical use of some common home object. Aunt Ruth will declare how clever you are and Uncle Henry will snort and repeat a tale of the time he … “Quick! Serve the soup!”

• Naturalized: A rustic appeal incorporating wildlife imagery, mosses, bird nests and woodsy plant material. Perhaps the conversation will turn to nostalgic memories of the old home place.

GATHER decor you were given by Aunt Ruth or bought at the Vintage Market, now stored in the closet. Make a collection so you can reach for just the right thing while you work. Or follow inspiration from closet to closet, finding just what you need. Your choice.

CONSTRUCT a composition of plants and elements to create a theme, mood or style, following principles of design such as unity of style/color/theme, variety, formal symmetry or loose balance around a focal point and in scale to the room and table size.

Begin with a base to unify the arrangement. A base can be a simple rustic wooden plank or a silver tray for a vintage look. Place the largest element or focal point first. Add complementary elements, keeping balance or symmetry and proportion to table and room size. Use differing elevations for interest and variety, achieved with containers, platforms or plants of different heights. A well-designed composition has an identifiable “shape” when complete, such as triangular, rectangular, linear or rounded. Back away and look at it carefully. Add safe luminaries for warmth, using those with realistic wax and flickering flames. Remember to coordinate your linens and place settings to your tablescape.

And give Uncle Henry an extra Irish coffee before he settles in to snooze through the games.

What: Master Gardener Greenery Sale and MBG Holiday Market
When: Dec. 1-2 (Fri. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sat. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile