flowers under $50: formal ferns

by Mary Kathryn Paynter

Photo by Mary Kathryn Paynter

For today’s “Flowers under $50,” I’m looking to ferns — workhorses of the landscaping world — to create a formal, architectural tablescape when arranged simply to show off their silhouette. Sword ferns are most common here in the South and can be found everywhere from back alleys and breezy porches to fancy country clubs. But one of the wonderful things about today’s idea is that you could use any type of fern growing locally near you. Western ferns have a nice geometry, and more tropical ferns would be showy and statement-making, while the ferns of New England have leaves that are tiny and dense.

The vases used in this arrangement are simple — just clear bottles of varying sizes collected over time with the labels washed off with warm, soapy water. Good sources for these are cream soda bottles, cold-brew coffee bottles and olive oil bottles. When in doubt, restaurant supply stores are always great sources for simple, inexpensive glassware.

Above photos by Mary Kathryn Paynter

For this dinner, the simple ferns counterbalance the ornate china and flatware. Paired with the rough wood in the Louis XVI chairs, the raw linen in the table runner and the brass candlesticks, the ferns bring color and formality to the table without feeling overtly feminine or fussy. The result is organic yet upscale.

This tablescape is as simple to make as it is cheap. After the jump, I’ll show you how to use your own backyard ferns to create a stunning display for little to no cost. — Mary Kathryn

The post continues after the jump . . .

Above photos by Mary Kathryn Paynter

To create your own tablescape with ferns, you’ll need at least one large fern. Ferns can also be purchased as cut stems at flower markets for a relatively low cost. Using one large living fern, however, could outfit multiple tables for a large event with single fronds.

For our table, I used a large, potted sword fern growing in my yard. Follow one frond (stem) down its base with your shears, and trim close to the soil at an angle. Use an assortment of fronds with varying lengths, shapes and ligatures for maximum visual interest. Trim down the leaves along the base until you have at least a good six inches of clean stem, depending on the neck heights of your bottles. After filling your bottles with water, arrange them on the table. Bottles of varying heights look better when clustered together, and bottles of uniform height would look great evenly spaced. Drop the ferns into the necks of the bottles and wedge the bottom two leaves of each stem into the very tip of the bottle, so the ferns are positioned as upright as possible. Beware of overhead ceiling fans or drafts from nearby doors — if your ferns are heavier than the bottles they are in, they can act like propellers and knock themselves over. Remedy this by using candle wax to affix your bottles to the table.

Photo by Mary Kathryn Paynter

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  • Nice post. Got 2 more under $50: Plant some Honesty – it spreads like wildfire and the purple flowers make my garden look great right now, even in the extreme rain. Or even better, buy LOTS of lemons, and use them in place of flowers. Then you’ve got the substance of preserved lemons, candied lemons, salad dressing, cocktail ingredients, lemon curd…

  • A very simple and elegant setup? Do you happen to know where the china and flatware are from? I love the fork!

  • Thanks for the post! Do you know where the chairs are from? They are a nice mix of traditional and organic modern!

  • Might just make it onto the tables at our wedding! Was trying to think of an uncomplicated table arrangement for the Victorian era house where we are getting married. Thanks Mary Kathryn

  • Does anyone know the name of the china pattern. It looks like the china I picked out for my 1967 wedding

  • Nice! I have a front yard full of ferns- and I am always haphazardly jamming ’em into vases- but this is lovely…. oh, and I’d like to second the request for the wall color? It belongs in my bedroom. Please do tell!