Create Beautiful Table Settings with Herbs

| October/November 1998

  • Tuck a tiny posy into the folds of a linen napkin.
  • Create a lively centerpiece by temporarily planting herbs in an unusual container. Click the Image Gallery for more place setting inspirations!
  • The beauty of leaves and petals shows through this unusual ice bowl.
  • An herb sprig tied to the stem of a wineglass is simple and pretty.
  • Two glass bread plates sandwich a pattern of herb leaves.
  • Serve herbal butter on a leaf of scented geranium.
  • A single sprig or leaf in the center of an ice cube is enchanting.

Click on the Image Gallery for more inspiring table setting looks.

When I entertain, I set my table so that it looks as if it has sprung right out of the herb garden. The fragrance and beauty of herbs and flowers lend a festive touch to any special occasion. The table itself becomes a visual feast, and its varied aromas stimulate appetites for the meal to come.

The availability of bright flowers in spring and summer make it easy to set tables that burst with color, but winter and fall tables can be just as lovely when decorated with twigs, berries, and evergreen herbal leaves. Wander the garden with a pair of clippers to find your inspiration. Adapt some of the ideas presented here to your own plant material, china, and linens to create table settings that are yours alone. Your guests will feel welcome.

The Centerpiece of Attraction

The most important and conspicuous part of a beautifully laid table is the centerpiece. Make it striking, unexpected, even edible! I occasionally place a small pair of scissors at each setting so that guests may snip bits of herbs from the centerpiece and sprinkle them into their soup, salad, or vegetables. You can’t get herbs much fresher than that. Such a centerpiece can be as simple as a few small pots of culinary herbs and edible flowers temporarily planted in a harvest basket or large soup tureen a day or so before the party.

You’ll need potting soil, a sturdy container, and enough herb plants to fill it. Choose herbs to complement your dinner: basil and oregano for pasta, savory for beans, cilantro for tacos, and so forth. If you don’t know whether a particular flower or herb is edible, don’t use it.

If the container is not watertight, line it with a large plastic bag cut to fit. Fill the container halfway with potting soil. Unpot your herbs and arrange them in the container, placing the tallest plants in the center and the trailing plants ­toward the edge. Add more potting soil to within an inch of the top. For a whimsical touch, tuck in a small birdhouse or nest for your guests to discover.

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