Fall is quickly settling into the South. It’s time to enjoy these clear blue sky days and starry evenings that are just cool enough to enjoy outdoor living. Grab a sweater, turn on some SEC football, light your outdoor fireplace, and set your dining table with outdoor centerpieces. With a few easy outdoor entertaining tips, you’ll find plenty of ways to create simple, elegant table settings that will wow your guests.
Even as daytime temperatures linger in the 70s, fall colors slowly reveal themselves in leaves showing tints of red and gold. A new crop of fruits and vegetables has arrived at the markets and vibrant blossoms and berries in hues of gold, red, and deep purple are ready to lend fall color to your outdoor room. Celebrate the crisp, festive feeling in the air with an outdoor table setting that showcases the abundance of the season.
Choose Your Materials:
For most outdoor dining centerpieces, you need to look no further than your own back yard. From the beginning of fall until the last leaves drop from the trees, there is a wealth of natural materials available to be woven into a tabletop tapestry of flora and fauna. This season brings hearty flowers, colorful leaves, branches, berries, and fruits that combine for a cornucopia of color and texture. Whether you shop the market, florist, or your own garden, you’re sure to find plenty of items to create stunning centerpieces designed to wow for any occasion. Choose from a mixed bouquet of color and flowers or opt for something simple. No matter what you choose, a live arrangement adds interest and character to your table.
Seasonal Fall Favorites:
Anise Hyssop, Aster, Chrysanthemums, Dahlias, Mums, spent flower heads such as Water lily pods and Scabiosa, Asters, Golden Rod, Sedum, Sunflowers, Thistle, dried or late blooming Hydrangeas (these will dry and retain color), Red Spider Lillies, Russian Sage,
FRUITS, NUTS, and BERRIES:
Branches with acorns or pinecones, gourds, Nandina, ornamental grasses, reeds such as Horse’s Tail and Cattail, branches with leaves (look for large leaves such as Magnolia as well as delicate leaves such as Japanese maple, Beautyberry, Bittersweet, Pomegranates, Ilex Berry, Amaranthus, Seeded Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus will dry beautifully and the fragrance will last through the holiday season).
Here are a few tips and inspirational images to get your outdoor party started:
Play to the Season:
Pretty teak chairs and a round table set a casual tone at this serene lakefront location. Opt for simple settings such as this glass and iron vase so guests will keep their eye on the view of the lake and changing leaves. Here, simple stems of cheery yellow sunflowers are anchored in a heavy container that will stand up to lakeside breezes. The straight lines of the contemporary container contrast the curvaceous base of the Croquet French Teak round dining table. Paired with Croquet Teak arm chairs and side chairs covered in Interactive Cobalt cushions, the light finish on the furnishings and blue and white fabric lends an Indian summer feel to this casual waterfront setting.
Create a Scene:
Hosting lots of guests? Be sure to offer plenty of comfortable outdoor seating. Classic Wicker sofas, chairs and ottomans, and a round dining table covered in pale blue outdoor fabrics with extra soft cushions are arranged in casual, convivial groupings. With so many seating options on this outdoor deck with a lakefront view, the party is sure to last into the evening. To enhance the year-round outdoor furnishings, opt for planted containers such as the green and white caladiums. For fall color, try pots of mums, cool weather vegetables such as lettuces, or ornamental grasses. For more adornment, choose glass vases and fill them with cut stems of late blooming hydrangeas. If you must have blue, you can find these popular blooms year round at your local florist (NOTE: Hydrangeas will dry beautifully and retain their color for year round arrangements. For tips on drying naturally or with silica gel, visit www.hydrangeashydrangeas.com/drying_silica.html). Set the table with the last vestiges of summer: colorful drinks, tropical leaves, and fresh fruits and you may find guests inspired to take a dip in the lake. Be sure to have an extra set of beach towels on hand!
Keep it Simple:
Sometimes impromptu parties are the best. When time is short or unexpected guests drop in, move the party outside for casual entertaining. Here, the Croquet Dining table and chairs offers a gracious setting for afternoon fun. Set against a shingle style house, this eco-friendly faux wood resin table is right at home with all-natural materials. Twiggy placemats hold contemporary square plates—a perfect accompaniment to the angles of the table and chairs. No time for flowers? No worries. A cut branch lends height and interest. Planted containers flanking the back door offer end-of-season blooms and ornamental grasses. No time to cook? That’s okay too. Everyone loves fresh fruit, bread, a fine glass of wine, and gourmet takeout.
Asian-inspired outdoor lanterns with grid patterns take cues from the airy top of the rectangular Oxford table. A showy centerpiece of orange roses, yellow spray roses, Green Trick Dianthus, and red berries are arranged in an orange Chinese ceramic urn on stand adding an exotic touch to the scene. Shop the market for fresh fruits such as pears and apples to pile into a woven basket. A stalk of Brussells sprouts (in season February through March) look especially good when used as adornment. Other vegetable favorites? Green and purple cabbages, cauliflowers, pumpkins, gourds, artichokes (ask for them on the stem from the florist), and root vegetables. Whether alone or mixed in arrangements, these farmer’s market delights add interest and impact to any outdoor party centerpiece.
Illuminate the Evening:
There’s nothing better than an outdoor fireplace when chilly weather calls. Sometimes the magic of the flame is all you need for a focal point—especially when surrounded by luxury outdoor furniture such as the Pacific Spring Lounge and Sofa shown here. Add a few glass lanterns, fall branches, and watch the hearth cast a dramatic glow. Perfect for firesides, the Pacific collection is made of UV resistant wicker and arms are capped with heat displacing teak—also great for summer. For extra comfort, fill a basket with comfy blankets and throws for snuggling. Need a treat? Don’t forget about s’mores—those wonderful gooey concoctions of chocolate, graham crackers, and marshmellows.
Keep it Casual:
Named after the seaside resort of Royan, France, the transitional style of the Royan dining collection could easily suit elegant or casual outdoor entertaining. In this image, the 84-inch all-weather table is set for a laid back luncheon with grass placemats, classic white china, and stemless wine glasses that appear as if they have been dipped in gold. Reflecting the rich, warm hue, cut sunflowers arranged in stemware parade down the center of the table in effortless style. Other casual container ideas include Mason jars or mixed and matched milk glass vases. Blue and white seat cushions cue the striped cotton napkins and cobalt trimmed stemware channeling classic Riviera fashion.
Whether your space is traditional, classic, or transitional, your outdoor dining table and chairs is a blank canvas for creating casual or formal settings to suit your style. The key? Start with luxury outdoor furniture like the dining table and chairs from the Palm Collection shown here. Opting for casual elegance, this table is set for a pretty, feminine garden party suited to a bridesmaid luncheon or baby shower. Matching iron topiaries are filled with pink garden roses, climbing variegated ivy, and Limelight hydrangeas. Place settings are more casual in tone with grass cloth placemats and woven chargers. Lending texture, artichokes hold glass votives. A trio of glass hurricane lanterns line up along a stone wall for even more ambiance.
Think Outside the Container:
Every hostess needs a party tray—especially for outdoor dining. Whether it’s used for serving dinner or drinks, a tray can serve many purposes and save lots of trips back and forth from the kitchen. Here, it’s used as centerpiece when set with flowers and candles on this set of white aluminum Lattice outdoor furniture. The navy textured leather tray trimmed with gold handles serves up a small bouquet of summery pink Peonies from the florist and later-in-the-season Oak Leaf Hydrangea. Fresh green pears and gold speckled votives spill across the table extending the centerpiece beyond the tray.
Embrace the Night:
When outdoor lighting is at a minimum and your outdoor furniture is dark in finish like the double lattice Provance table and chairs in slate gray shown here, opt for lots and lots of candles and votives to illuminate the evening. Similarly, choose reflective floral containers such as these shimmery copper vessels holding simple stems of white hydrangea to capture the candlelight. (Similar to shade gardens, white is a good choice for evening flowers because they show up!) For more magic, string party lights in trees and shrubbery.
Tips to Make Your Arrangements Last:
- Always cut stems on the diagonal.
- If you use floral oasis, be sure to soak the form evenly and completely.
- Clean your stems. Leaves, thorns, and blooms below the water line will cause flowers to deteriorate more quickly.
- Change the water every two days.
- Replace dead flowers. Just because part of your bouquet has wilted doesn’t mean you have to toss the whole thing. Reinvent the lasting blooms in a fresh bouquet.
- For even longer lasting containers, start with a container of houseplants in dirt and use water picks to add favorite flowers that you can rotate throughout the season.
Want to create more beautiful bouquets for your durable outdoor furniture settings next spring? Don’t miss these easy-to-grow blooms for spring bouquets:
Bulbs: Daffodils, Crocus, Tulips, Iris
Annuals: Snapdragons, Pansies, Coreopsis, Calendula, Cone Flower, Gloriosa Daisy, Salvia
Perennials: Bleeding Heart, Coreopsis, Delphinium, Hellebores, Fern, Foxglove, Phlox, Ornamental Grasses
Shrubs: Azalea (look for Encore Azaleas—they bloom twice a year. www.encoreazalea.com), Quince, Forsythia, Clematis, Wisteria
NOTE: As a general rule, be sure to plant spring flowers before the ground freezes. For more detail, be sure to check your climate zone. Depending on your zone, www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov
Perennial or Annual?
A perennial comes back every year. Annuals are seasonal. For the greatest reward (and to save time and expense), invest in perennials and fill in with annuals as the seasons change. In some zones, perennials work better as annuals. Some plants fall under both categories.