When most people think of centerpieces they think of flowers, but not Tim Latimer, a certified florist and floral design instructor at Michigan State University (MSU). “Vegetables are every bit as colorful as flowers,” Latimer notes. His own bountiful centerpieces are proof, with artful clusters of vegetables catching the eye with pleasing textures and a rainbow of colors.
It all started in the mid-1990s when Roger Swain of the PBS “Victory Garden” TV show came to speak at an MSU Garden Days event. “I thought it would be neat to try something different,” Latimer recalls. “Given Roger’s affiliation with the Victory Garden, vegetables seemed a natural for a centerpiece for his hotel room.” Latimer’s centerpiece was a big hit, and he’s been designing with vegetables ever since. “When you think of it, many vegetables ARE flowers – cauliflower, broccoli heads, asparagus tips,” he explains.
Firm vegetables work best in these arrangements, since they have to be inserted in floral foam (ripe tomatoes wouldn’t work well!) in order to use them in a centerpiece, Latimer says. First, cut the foam to the container size, then soak the foam in water. Hide the foam with dried moss that has been wetted down, or bark also works, and both can be found at craft stores. If you are going to eat the centerpiece afterwards, use sturdy natural toothpicks instead of painted floral picks. With a round vegetable, like Brussels sprouts or radishes, insert the pick into its base and then insert the pick into the foam. With long vegetables, such as asparagus or carrots, trim the end to a point so it can be easily inserted into the foam, or use wire to attach it to a floral pick. For the most impact, Latimer recommends using groups of three or more instead of scattering a single vegetable.
Herbs, kale or sturdy leafy vegetables make a great filler. Latimer especially likes rosemary, dill and fennel, which add both texture and aroma. Latimer also plants his garden with vegetables that he knows work well in his arrangements: squash, pumpkin, eggplant, green tomatoes, corn, potatoes, onions and green beans. “The important thing is to use a variety of textures, height, shapes and sizes when selecting your vegetables, and I like to use vegetables that are in season,” he adds.
Vegetable centerpieces can work for any occasion except more formal events. Keep in mind the size of your container when choosing vegetables. For large containers, Latimer has even used whole cabbage heads and large eggplants. For smaller arrangements, choose vegetables that will not overwhelm the container.
For even more texture and color, he suggests adding more natural-looking flowers, since vegetable arrangements are more informal. Other ideas include adding natural branches, dried lamb’s ear, thistle or ornamental grasses to finish your centerpiece.
Floral designer Tim Latimer will offer a class entitled “Designing from the Garden,” for both home gardeners and professional designers, on Aug. 17, noon to 4 p.m., at the Michigan Floral Association in Haslett (near East Lansing). Find more information about it and other classes at michiganfloral.org.
Rita C. Henehan is an author, freelance writer and photographer. For more on vegetable centerpieces, visit her website, migardenerscompanion.com.