MARGOT, THE PERSON, not the hydrangea, turned 95 the other day. She threw herself a big bash. “It’s the last one,” she said. But she also said that at her 90th.
She’s the most energetic and optimistic person I’ve ever known. Starting with virtually nothing, she built a small commercial property empire on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill, which she still manages. She just finished renovating her beach-house kitchen. She also plays poker, travels, gardens, has a book group, has season tickets to various theaters and sits on more boards . . .
Which is how she had about 75 of her favorite people and closest friends at the seated dinner at Washington’s Arena Stage theater complex. A major donor, she gets to do things like that.
A string quartet played in the glass-enclosed setting, the wine flowed, the meal was superb. Of course, each beautifully draped table had a centerpiece: a beautiful mix of pale green cymbidium orchids, orange zinnias, soft purple hydrangeas, thick-leafed purple succulents, lemon leaves and spikes of black berries.
“Take one,” she said as I was leaving, so I did. Of course.
The funny thing about centerpieces is that no matter how lovely the composition, they always look as if you just took home a centerpiece from an event. What dazzles at a banquet looks far too stiff at home where, to my mind at least, flowers and greens should look simply gathered from the garden, not like an event venue.
Besides which, with a little playing about you can often create multiple arrangements from the one. In this case, I got four.
I usually use containers that are fairly small at the mouth so there’s no need for a frog, wiring, or floral foam—the flowers are self-supporting. Hydrangeas are great for creating a base. Two or three in a vase and you can poke bits of other stuff among their poofy heads to flamboyant effect.
It is a little intimidating, ripping apart the artistry of a first-rate florist, and these arrangements were gorgeous. I just held my breath and plucked.
There’s one I did for the china cabinet in the dining room, just a single hydrangea and a little spray of orchids in an inkwell. Set beside a bisque bust and flanked by fat candles, the mirrored backdrop gives oompf to what is a rather delicate assemblage.
Most of the orchids were plonked into a crystal vase on a marble side table. I didn’t want to diminish their beauty, just punctuated the mass with the rosette head of one succulent. In the background is a favorite lamp, a bronze monkey sitting under a palm tree, scratching his head and looking up, as if wondering where the hell I got all those orchids.
Another side table has only orange zinnias and hydrangeas in a tortoiseshell-print glass vase, adding softness and a burst of color to a rather hard-edged tablescape of silver and gold and bronze objects. The feathered lampshade helps here too, as does a paisley wool cloth and a gold-framed photo of Baby in Paris. I do like feathers. I also like Paris, and Baby.
My favorite arrangement is in the hall. The ornate silver bowl was too wide for my nesting trick, given the odds and ends I had left. Instead, I stuffed the cavity with floral foam and stuck the sturdy stems of the lemon leaves sideways around the edges, like a wreath. Filling the center is a single hydrangea, a single orchid, a single zinnia and one fat, juicy succulent.
I love this leaf idea, a new one for me. That the arrangement came with lemon leaves was a stroke of good luck, since they’re incredibly long-lasting. But other leaves would be beautiful as well, particularly the reds and oranges now appearing on fall trees.
Pick and poke, add a few bits of something, and done.
LittleBird “Stephanie Gardens” finds flowers everywhere.