8 Easy Thanksgiving Tabletop Ideas

Here are 8 of our favorite tabletop ideas for Thanksgiving. Most ideas do not need instructions, but for those that do you can Click here to go to the Womanswork Pinterest board, where you can be taken to the source.


An idea I saw on etsy. I painted mine silver and glued the tops back on.


Two gourds that were given to me around Halloween are now serving as placecard holders.


A small pumpkin serves as a placecard holder for our Thanksgiving table.


Courtesy of L Reynolds


Courtesy of vigvam.lv


Rosemary wreath placecards from Spoon Fork Bacon


Table setting for children from Roeda_Studio



Popcorn kernels courtesy of Joy Ever After


Holly with floating votives courtesy of Inspire me Heather

How To Create A Meadow Garden


Katie Rose Hillegas and her husband Jay Erickson have created a 4-acre meadow garden at their home in Pawling, NY.  I spoke with Jay about their garden, which is now in its third year, and what they learned that could be helpful to others. Here’s his story. view-from-hil

“I’ve always been a fan of meadows,” says Jay. His earliest memories of meadows include grassland plants in the Rockies where he spent summers as a boy, and early spring bluebell woodland gardens in England where he lived during part of his childhood.

Beyond the aesthetic attraction of the meadow, there is the ecological component. Compared to a lawn or traditional garden bed, a meadow garden is low maintenance, requiring almost no mowing or watering to keep it looking beautiful. “Also it puts food into the food chain,” says Jay. A diverse variety of pollen, nectar and seeds attracts a diversity of insects, bees and birds.

In 2013 the acreage surrounding his new house was cleared down to bare soil with a bulldozer. There was no need to spread topsoil or add compost or fertilizer, since most meadow plants thrive in poor soil.

plantidSince weed seeds are the biggest impediment to success in a meadow garden (some call them enemy No. 1), they have to be suppressed before putting in grass and flower seeds. Methods include laying down black plastic or newspaper, tilling the surface, or applying herbicides (the latter untenable to Jay and Katie Rose). Jay chose to overseed his plot since it was too large an area for laying down black plastic or newspaper. So if instructions called for 1 lb. of seed per acre, he put down 3 lbs.

In early May Jay put down a base of northeast native seed mix, which is a mix of perennials and annuals. He then broadcast seeds of specific species on his landscape in large swaths, as if putting paint to canvas. The first layer of seed also served another purpose. Since there are so many micro climates and varying soil conditions in a 4 acre area, some seeds from the seed mix were inevitably not going to thrive where they landed. Also, seed mixes have a higher mix of annuals than perennials, so Jay used only perennial seeds for the top layer he put down.

For the important seed-to-soil contact, he used a roller to compact the seed and he kept it watered to aid germination.

Watching the garden mature has been an education too. In year 1 the dominant species were cosmos and sunflowers. If he looked under the plant canopies he could see other plants coming up, but it would be another year before he saw coreopsis, echinacea and black eyed susan take their place in the panoply. Then in year 3, this year, aster finally came into its own, as did some of the milkweed he planted (though milkweed is notoriously difficult to establish from seed).meadowgarden

He is still waiting for his foxgloves. He sees them here and there, but not in the abundance he hoped for. He loves the way they look and the fact that deer don’t go for them. Perhaps in year 4?

At this time of year (late October/early November) he has the entire garden mowed down. This keeps invasives and woody plants from taking over, and helps spread seeds. It also robs furry mammals such as mice, which are hosts for the Lyme disease bacteria, from making a home close to his house. Without the cover of plants mice are more visible to hawks.

If you have experience with a meadow garden you would like to share, or questions you would like to ask, please fill in a comment. For more information follow this link http://www.americanmeadows.com/wildflower-seed-planting-instructions


How To Store Dahlias in Winter


If you live in a cold climate (Zone 6 and colder) you need to dig up your dahlia tubers before the ground freezes, and store them for the winter if you want them to live. More and more people are discovering the beauty of growing dahlias and many of us are learning this Fall ritual.


I received a dahlia plant from my friend Kathy Scherer last Spring. Kathy and her husband have built a beautiful garden in Pawling which is open to the public one day a year through The Garden Conservancy’s Open Days program. The dahlia she gave me is called Mrs. Eileen, and it grew about 3′ tall with coral colored, medium-sized blossoms. This was my initiation into the world of growing dahlias.dahliafrost

Two years ago we featured Frances Palmer’s dahlia garden in an issue of “The Curious Gardener”. Her garden in Weston, CT is also open to the public one day a year through the Open Days program. In an email last week she said she would soon start pulling her dahlia tubers out of the ground for the winter. She has hundreds of plants, so this is a project that takes quite a bit of time. Click here to read our story from “The Curious Gardener” in October 2014 about her garden and how to grow dahlias.

We donned our “Digger” garden gloves and followed her step-by-step instructions in our garden, reprinted here from a story in Connecticut magazine.

Step 1: Cut off the stalks to about 6-10 inches above ground.

dahliatubersstep1Step 2: With a shovel or pitch fork, gently work around the perimeter of the plant and try to find how far the tubers are extending under the soil.

dahliatubersstep2Step 3: Carefully bring the plant up out of the ground in one piece. If some tubers fall off, these can be stored as well. Remove any rotted ones (I had one rotten tuber in the bunch).

dahliatubersstep3Step 4: Lay the tubers in a cardboard box with peat moss or sawdust covering the bottom of the box.

dahliatubersstep4Step 5: Fill the box with tubers and then gently fill the box with additional peat moss or sawdust. Close the box and store in a cool basement – 40 to 50 degrees is ideal.

Labeling your tubers with a tag attached to the stalk will help when you replant them in the spring.

Floret Founder Shares Flower Arranging Secrets


Erin Benzakein of Floret on her farm in Washington

Erin Benzakein, founder of Floret, is one of the original farmer-florists. On her farm in Washington’s Skagit Valley, she and her family have created a thriving flower farm, design studio and learning center. Her workshops are soldout affairs, created for those who want to learn more about small scale, high intensity flower production and floral design.


Garden Glove hang tags

We asked Erin to share some of her secrets to creating beautiful flower arrangements. Here’s what she wrote:

Harvesting tips:

floret-womanswork-3Harvest in the coolest parts of the day. Early morning or in the evening are the best times to cut your flowers, as blooms harvested during the mid-day heat tend to wilt faster.

Use clean, sharp clippers. Rusty, dull flower snips are not only frustrating to use, they can damage your stems. Cut stems at 45 degree angles.

Allow flowers time to “rest” prior to arranging them.  This process is called conditioning and it is a key step that is often overlooked.  Place freshly harvested flowers into water for a few hours to allow the uptake of water into the stems.  You’ll be amazed at how some semi-wilty flowers will perk up after being conditioned for a few hours.

Remove bottom leaves from stems. Leaves that have been left on the stem and then submerged in water will quickly start to decay.

floret-womansworkVase tips:

Always utilize clean vases.  Dirt and bacteria can cause your flowers to wilt prematurely, so be sure to wash vases thoroughly with hot soapy water prior to putting fresh cut flowers into them.  Add water and commercial flower food, if you have it.

Choose short- or medium- sized vases.  Whether it is for an elegant wedding or a simple centerpiece for my dining room table, I prefer to use shorter vases that have wide openings.  While mason jars and common clear glass cylinders are fine for a big bunch of a single type of flower, the flowers only have one way to go: up.  Vases with wide openings, such as a footed compote, allow for a wider, more interesting bouquet shape that stretches out horizontally, allowing for an unimpeded view across the table.


Add stem support.  With most vases, particularly wide-mouthed vessels, you will need some sort of structure to support the flower stems. My preferred technique is to utilize coated chicken wire. If you ball up a piece inside the vessel, the wire provides multiple places for the stems to “catch” on the wire and form the bouquet’s shape. This technique creates a more natural look to your design than floral foam.  (Foam makes bouquets look “stiff;” plus it is not eco-friendly).  If you don’t have chicken wire, try using waterproof floral tape to create a grid over the opening of the vase to provide support for the stems.

floret-womanswork-2Design tips:

Create your foliage framework.  To start, choose foliage with sturdy, slightly arching stems in order to create the overall bouquet shape. Then begin layering in supporting greens and vines, echoing the original shape you established.  Mint, ninebark, eucalyptus and raspberry greens are a few of my favorite foliages from the garden.  Great options for supporting greens and vines include: love in a puff vine, sweet pea vines and foliage, scented geranium, cup and saucer vine, akebia vine and ‘sweet autumn’ clematis.

Thread in color & texture:  Now it’s time to start adding in the flowers. Be sure to give the flowers “room to breathe.”  In other words, do not try to cram a bunch of flowers into a tight, flat, dense cluster.  The bouquet should have a lighter, airy feel to it.

Flower types to incorporate:

  • Focal: These large blooms are usually the stars of the show.  Some of my favorites focal flowers are peonies, garden roses and dahlias.
  • Filler: These smaller flowers, like cosmos or clustered blooms such matricaria ‘vegmo single,’ are great complements to the focal flowers.
  • Textural elements:  Incorporate uncommon ingredients such as poppy pods, crabapples or blackberries to add visual interest and texture.

floret-womanswork-4Finish with airy accents:  Add in some delicate accents, such as grasses, or any frilly or umbel-shaped flowers.  These elements should occupy a separate “plane” of the bouquet, which may be slightly higher or extended outward just beyond the larger flowers that form the shape of the bouquet. Some of my favorite flowers and grasses to use for airy accents include:  chocolate laceflower (daucus carota), False Queen Anne’s Lace (ammi majus), and fiber optic grass ‘frosted explosion’ (panicum elegans).

Enjoy your flowers!

Flowers featured in the photos include:  False Queen Anne’s lace, cosmos, Persian Carpet zinnias, scabiosa, garden roses, helianthus, lemon verbena, crabapples, oregano flowers and dock.floret-womanswork-5


florettag-2We are inspired by Erin’s story and we created hang tags for our garden gloves so all of our customers can read about Erin and the farmer-florist movement.erinbenzakeintagback

Container Gardening How To


containergardeningblogIn one of the classes I took at the NY Botanical Garden I learned about the container gardening concept of “Thriller, Filler, Spiller”. When you’re selecting plants for your container, the Thriller is the central plant that grows taller than the others and is the focal point. The Filler is the plant or plants that surround the Thriller, and the Spiller is the plant that spills over the edges of your container.

I followed this concept with the container I planted at my house this summer, shown here. The Thriller plant is an annual variety of Milkweed (Asclepias Monarch Promise); the Filler is called Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and the Spiller is Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’).containergdnsetup

Before planting I assembled my tools, which included a pair of Incomparable Scissors for trimming dead leaves and deadheading blossoms to allow roots to grow; Eco Watering Spouts, and Weeder Gloves to protect my hands from the soil and amendments I was handling. I used a terracotta container I purchased at Sugar Tools in Camden, Maine. It has a lovely, natural shape with a patina that suggests age. It’s true that plastic containers retain water better than stone or terracotta, and there are plenty of them on the market that are very attractive! The two containers behind my terracotta pot in the photo are made of fiberglass to look like stone.


Womanswork Weeder Gloves


Amy O’Donnell of Sugar Tools suggests lining your terracotta pot with bubble wrap to help retain water and prevent the pot from cracking in cold weather. For winter protection we recommend bringing the container indoors or into a place that does not have prolonged below freezing temperatures, such as a garage. Amy also suggests putting a coffee filter at the bottom of the container to prevent soil from draining out through the hole.

I mixed organic potting soil with perlite to give it air and aid drainage. I watered and fertilized the plants after potting them up, and moved them to their permanent location on our front stoop.

DCF 1.0

Itea shrub

When grouping containers I try to think about what I want the focal point of the grouping to be. Otherwise it looks fussy and the plants compete with each other. With this particular grouping my focal point is the container in front potted up with the Thriller, Filler, Spiller concept, while the two larger containers behind it provide a more neutral backdrop. One of the larger containers in back is planted with a single shrub, Itea, which I will plant in the ground at the end of the growing season. Itea has arching branches with white blossoms when in bloom. The other container is planted with a variegated liriope that has purple flower spikes. The overall effect is simple and very pretty.

Container Planting Tips:

-Use a container that retains water or line the inside of a terracotta pot with bubble wrap

-Put a coffee filter at the bottom of the pot over the holes to prevent soil from leeching out

-Create balance by following a Thriller, Filler and Spiller arrangement– as appropriatemillerton

-Mix it up by combining annuals and perennials. Plant perennials in the ground at the end of the season, or shelter them with their containers against winter freeze.

-Combine complementary textures, shapes and colors for a more interesting effect

-Think about the focal point of your container planting, and if you are grouping several conatiners together think about the focal point of the grouping too.

I saw this eye catching container on a street in Millerton, a small town near here. Here the Thriller is a tall Canna, the Fillers are Coleus and Heuchera, and the Spillers are a chartreuse potato vine and a Bacopa plant with yellow flowers spilling over the edge. A Black Eyed Susan vine is growing up a trellis against the brick building.



Container plants at the home of Michael Trapp, West Cornwall, CT.


Container planting at the home of Jane Garmey, West Cornwall, CT


DIY Hypertufa Plant Containers


Containers made at Stonecrop Gardens

Hypertufa containers offer the perfect environment for succulents and alpine plants. They’re porous and provide a good vessel for the arid, fast draining soil required by these types of plants. They also have an unmistakable charm if you’re a pushover for anything made of stone or resembling stone!

What is hypertufa? Hypertufa is a manufactured substitute for natural tufa, which is a slowly precipitated limestone rock. Hypertufa is a man-made rock composed of various aggregates bonded together using Portland cement.

Trough at Sissinghurst, England

Trough at Sissinghurst, England

When I was touring gardens in England I took this photo of a timeworn cement trough at Sissinghurst Gardens.

I have taken a workshop in trough making at Stonecrop Gardens in Cold Spring, NY, which has a rocky landscape that is home to many large, plant-filled cement containers. In the workshop we used wooden molds that have been in use for years.


Using plastic cups as molds

Before taking the workshop at Stonecrop, I made some troughs at home using a recipe I got at Oliver Nurseries, an outstanding garden center in Fairfield, CT. I used plastic cups and bowls as molds, sometimes fitting a smaller one inside a larger one. It worked!

Long container planted at Oliver’s

Hypertufa Trough Recipe

1-1/2 parts coarse perlite

3/4 parts sieved peat moss

1 part Portland cement, type 1, light

Handful fibermesh (available at masonry supply stores)


Small shovel or hoe

Appropriate molds

Thin, large plastic bags

Womanswork gloves and dust masks

Wire brushes and other shaping tools

Mix dry ingredients thoroughly, making sure there are no pockets of individual ingredients. Add water slowly until mixture reaches the consistency of thick oatmeal. Water should be added a little at a time and mixed between additions. If the mix becomes too wet wait 15 minutes or so; the consistency may correct itself as the peat absorbs water. You may need to add more dry ingredients proportionately.

Troughs must be molded immediately after the hypertufa has been mixed; cement cannot wait! Line your mold with plastic, thin garbage bags work well. Try to minimize folds and creases. Use flexible molds.

Forming the trough: A handful at a time, begin patting the hypertufa inside your mold to form the bottom of the trough. Next build up the walls, carefully firming each new handful onto the last so that no weak spot develops. Try not to overwork the mixture. Too much kneading and patting changes the structure and wetness of the mix, causing walls to “slump.” (editor’s note: we patted ours to death and the walls did slump, but in the end I think it worked ok). Use your finger or a piece of dowel to poke drainage holes in the bottom.  Place entire mold into a large plastic bag to set up overnight. Do not allow it to freeze at this point.

Cement troughs cure for 3-4 weeks in plastic bags. After curing, let the troughs sit for several days or weeks outdoors to allow the free lime in the cement to leach out. It is harmful to plants. Click here to watch the You Tube video we made for How To Make a Trough.

Protecting Container Plants in Winter



Containers at Dorian’s front entrance. The two large ones are made of fiberglass, so they are not prone to breakage. The smaller one is terracotta, so I will bring it indoors.

When Rebecca asked me for advice on protecting her potted plants over the winter, I had a few suggestions as follows:

  • Huddle the pots together in a protected spot next to the house and bury them in shredded leaves or surround them with hay bales.
  • Plants that are not hardy in your region must be brought indoors. Indoors, put them in the basement or garage and water them sparingly. They will go dormant and you can put them outside again in Spring.
  • Plants that are in terracotta pots should be brought indoors or removed from the pots so the pots can be brought indoors. If leaving the plant outdoors, leave soil around the roots and lay it on its side covered in mulch or hay to protect its roots.
  • Last summer I picked up a tidbit from Amy O’Donnell of Sugar Tools, a shop in Camden, Maine. She suggested lining the inside of your pot with bubble wrap before putting your soil and plant in, so that it can freeze and thaw without damaging roots or heaving the plant out of the pot.

Also, there are lots of beautiful pots being made now that are not clay. We have several that are made of fiberglass but look just like stone or clay. A process is used where a stone dust is mixed with the fiberglass for the outer layer, and it really does look like the real thing.

I found more good information on overwintering potted plants on the GardensAlive website.












Organize A Milkweed Plant Giveaway

For two years in a row our local land trust has sponsored a milkweed giveaway at our local farmers market. The momentum has grown and this year we had an eager crowd of friends and neighbors waiting to receive their plants. In addition, there were plenty more who did not yet know the value of milkweed and were delighted to learn they could make a contribution to improving our local ecosystem!MonarchOLC Presentation-red

We contacted two sources for our milkweed plants this year. One source was Monarch Watch, a national organization dedicated to increasing populations of monarch butterflies. They sent us a few hundred plants at no charge except the cost of shipping, because we were using most of them for a local habitat restoration project. Included were common milkweed (asclepias syriaca) and swamp milkweed (asclepias incarnata). Our other source was Helia Native Nursery, a local native plant nursery that propagated the plants themselves and sold them to us for $3.25 per plant. They were swamp milkweed, which has a pretty pink flower when in bloom, and grows nicely in a garden bed.

Next we created a Fact Sheet to have at our booth to help answer questions about the connection between Monarchs and milkweed, and the importance of both. Some Facts include the following:

  • In 2004 550 million Monarchs completed their annual migration to Mexico from the United States. In 2013 only 33 million arrived, representing a decline of 94%!
  • Scientific research concludes that the primary reason for the decline in Monarchs is the destruction of the most important plant to their survival: Milkweed
  • Milkweed is essential to Monarchs because it is the ONLY plant that female monarchs lay eggs on.

For information on organizing your own milkweed plant giveaway contact Dorian Winslow, President of Womanswork, at dwinslow@womanswork.com. We can also make the original files for the Fact Sheet available to you and you can customize for your organization. Enjoy!


Dorian Winslow, President of Womanswork, with Stancy DuHamel

Meeting Martha Stewart


Last week I visited Martha Stewart’s estate (aka ‘farm’) in Katonah, NY, just 30 minutes from where I live. My garden club had arranged a special tour by Martha’s head gardener, Ryan McCallister, and Martha herself was our host for tea on the terrace and a question-and-answer session in her vegetable garden.Shaking hands with Martha

I found her to be a friendly and hospitable host, and it was fun to see her gardens, her greenhouse and her collection of animals (dogs, horses and donkeys).  As a woman business owner, I admire her for the business and lifestyle she has created. I had a chance to thank her for the nice things she and her colleagues have said and written about Womanswork products over the years. Most recently Womanswork was named a Design Finalist in her American Made program.

Here are some images I took of her farm with my iphone.


A pretty border had allium and other perennials blooming.


An allee of Miss Kim Lilacs pruned as standards


The main house in the background


Martha standing on her back steps talking with us about her farm




Boxwood and Ginkgo garden Summer House


Inside the greenhouse, everything is organized as we would expect (at Martha’s)


Donkeys in their pen


Tree Peonies were in full bloom


Womanswork gift basket we presented as a thank you for hosting our group.


Happy Mother’s Day Mom

My mother is a vigorous lifelong gardener with varied and naturalistic gardens on her property in northwestern CT, and a small pond which provides a focal point behind the house. She also has a raised bed vegetable patch which produces broccoli, brussel sprouts,  lettuce, tomatoes and beans.  She finds that the rule in her garden is ‘one for me and one for the rabbits.’  Sometimes it’s two for the rabbits to her one.Mom_Screening_Compost

Recently I spent an afternoon gardening with my mother. When I got there she had her shovel deep in her compost bin.  Then she dropped the compost on a screen positioned over her wheelbarrow and began rubbing it through the screen.  The result was the most perfect soil I have ever seen.

When ambling through her gardens she points out the lavender that came from a friend, or the iris she transplanted from their former home in Weston, CT.  There’s one small plant I divided last season and gave to her, a chocolate-y heuchera caramel. In my garden half of the plants are from my mother’s garden, divided over the years and dropped in a pot or wrapped in wet newspaper for transporting to my garden.

It’s part of the fun and the ritual of gardening, sharing and recalling where our plants came from.  My mother’s sister in Minnesota has poppies that came from my great uncle’s garden in Emmetsburg, Iowa.  He died at the age of 97, over 30 years ago, but his poppies still live.  When we look at the poppies we think of Uncle Harold.  I have asked her to collect seeds for me so I can try propagating them in my greenhouse next Spring.

I remember many years ago my grandmother showed me a somewhat tattered photo she had of her perennial garden, established along a high riverbank back in Iowa where my mother and her sister and brother grew up. Although the picture was in black and white I could tell my grandmother saw all the colors in her garden when she looked at it.  She loved looking at that picture.

Gardening is about the past, the present and the future—and the connections we make between them.  A love of gardening is a wonderful gift to pass on to others.  Thank you Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!MomGarden8

[This story was first published for Horticulture in May 2012. My mother continues to love her gardens in Sharon, CT.]