Live-plant centerpieces add elegance to a holiday table

While red and green reign supreme in the traditional color scheme of the yuletide season -- and poinsettias adorn hearths and tabletops -- we thought we'd put the focus this year on the green. That is, on living, organic and sustainable green centerpieces that can grace holiday tables and transition into other seasons and occasions with minimal tweaks.

We asked four local designers to create centerpieces built around rooted plants embellished with items that evoke the season's spirit. Each found an individual point of view: One used traditional indoor plants and items found in many of our homes; two created colorful, textural combinations of succulents that require little maintenance; and the fourth created an arrangement of symbolic significance surrounded by leafy elegance. Each of these living masterpieces could crown the dining room table -- or serve as a focal point and conversation starter whether on a coffee or entry table or on a kitchen island.

Best of all, with only slight changes, these arrangements will keep tabletops merrily decorated into the new year.

Festival of lights

Julie Eastman of Extraordinary Events & Design was looking for a natural elegance in her centerpiece assemblage, above. The collection of various plantings and objets was arranged organically, intended to ebb and flow down a table's center with an easy, natural grace.

The designer began in consultation with Deitra Butler of Lush Couture Floral for the just-so gathering of potted plants. An English ivy topiary in a bark planter; reindeer moss and a lotus pod in a clay urn; a chia plant in a ceramic pot; and variegated euonymus and succulents became central elements. A golden antler candelabra, mercury glass, silver mint julep tumbler, and candlelight at various heights add shimmer and motion. Potted plants, containers and mercury glass, various prices, Lush Couture Floral. Burlap table runner, $49, Pottery Barn.

Ever green ... and pink and purple

Important moments come to pass around holiday tables. When we gather with family and friends to consider our blessings and offer gratitude, we also forge traditions and lasting memories.

Josh Addison of Redenta's fondly recalls potting containers of paperwhite bulbs with his grandmother. Even today, the sight and smell of the flowers transports him back to her home, where his large family gathered around the table every Christmas. Addison's fresh take on memorable Christmas flora was inspired by a single purple echeveria, which he surrounded with 18 other "foliage flowers." Low-profile, sculptural succulents offer diverse color and textures, and the simple, neutral container showcases the plants.

"It's low enough for people to converse over it and striking enough for people to converse about it," Addison says. Dried white root, miniature pine cones and red limes add holiday appeal.

Composed centerpiece, $240; 24-inch oblong cast-stone container, $69 (other sizes and shapes available), Redenta's (Addison works out of the Dallas store, but all Redenta's locations will create custom centerpieces).

Gather together

A thoughtfully laid table is central to a holiday celebration, designer Julie Eastman of Extraordinary Events & Design says. "It shows how much you care. To lay the table just right, to spend the time -- your guests see they are important to you." The collection of live plants that create the flow of her centerpiece assemblage inspired the mood of the tablescape she created for the Star-Telegram (two photos above).

Every element on the table has organic associations. The potted coprosma trees and English ivy topiary inspired Eastman to gather smaller potted plants and favorite items to form a table-long centerpiece. Plain containers wrapped in birch bark and succulents gilded with glitter spray heighten the gaiety. Mercury glass and pewter reflect warm candlelight. Every element of the table revels in its organic origins -- a burlap table runner, wood chargers, beeswax candles, green glass and white stoneware, birch bark turtle doves nestled into shredded paper nests.

"It's elegant nature," Eastman says. She says such an assemblage can be created with your own heirlooms and plants. "Take elements from your own home and group them," she advises. "Add a holiday element. In this case, sparkle!"

Snug in a shredded paper nest within each bowl, the doves accentuate the white dinner plates below. Green glassware is a nod to the traditional holiday color. Knives with handles of naturally-shed antlers and wood chargers complete the theme.

White dinner plates, $39; green glass bowls, $26; green glass dessert plates, $29; antler steak knives (six), $310; bird ornaments, $16, Lawrence's. Green glass footed goblet, $29; clear glass tumbler, $24. P.S. The Letter. Wood chargers, $10, World Market. Potted plants, containers and mercury glass candle and votive holders, various prices, Lush Couture Floral. Burlap table runner, $49; plaid napkins (four), $26, Pottery Barn. Pewter cow butter dish, $199; pewter dog salt-and-pepper shakers, $67; Juliska "Colette" plates and bowls, $26-$29; Juliska green glass pitcher, $78; Juliska "Berry and Thread" dinner plates, $39; Juliska "Berry and Thread" cup and saucer, $41; bird ornaments, $16, Lawrence's. Juliska "Colette" green glass footed goblet, $29; Juliska "Colette" clear glass tumbler, $24, P.S. The Letter.

O Holy Night

An aficionado of both plants and decor, Mary Levy of Into the Garden loved the idea of pairing living plants with driftwood Nativity figures.

"There is something so beautiful about a Nativity made out of natural materials, created [from objects] that come from creation. And while things are fading outside, it is optimistic to have plants alive in your home." The holy family stands sentinel over this lush landscape.

"Using succulents relates to the plants native to Bethlehem, while Norfolk pines and Algerian ivy give a nod to our Western traditions," explains Levy. "The crown tray could be a symbol of Christ the King and a nod to the Magi that brought gifts of homage. The crown is also a symbol of glory in Jewish tradition." A menorah or Star of David might also be featured in a similar design.

Levy kept plants in individual pots since they have varying water requirements and filled in gaps with reindeer moss. Vintage-look metal crown tray, $249.95; driftwood Nativity set (includes other figures), $145, Into the Garden.

West Texas wonderland

Home to Garden owner Mark Criswell can't find anything joyous about artificiality or waste. His modern, sculptural tableau of low-maintenance plants can be adapted with seasonally appropriate finds.

"Spend your money on stuff that will last -- and repurpose it," Criswell says. This low-profile, low-maintenance tableau evokes the rugged landscape of West Texas. Criswell made his own hypertufa container and filled it with succulents, air fern, string of pearls, Spanish moss and a branching aloe vera -- just about to bloom.

Aquarium gravel blankets the soil while bright red and silver vintage ornaments reflect the Christmas season, both past and present. For spring, change out the ornaments for green apples or poke test tubes into the soil adorned with a single tulip or poppy. For fall, substitute pumpkins, pheasant feathers, and walnuts or acorns. Centerpiece, $450; square hypertufa pot (other shapes available), $150, Home to Garden.