Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
December, 2011
Regional Report

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Fun and easy to make, this pineapple centerpiece will fill your holiday home with the welcoming fragrance of fruit and evergreen foliage.

Carve a Measure of Good Cheer

The holidays are upon us, and whatever our faith, many of us celebrate the month of December with long-held family traditions such as decorating our homes with symbols of faith and hospitality, sharing a special meal, and giving gifts. Of the many rituals, one of my favorites is cutting a collection of varied evergreens from the garden or nearby woodlands and planning a special arrangement for the holiday table.

Tradition plays a part here, too. I always use magnolia in honor of our Southern heritage and incorporate candles for a festive atmosphere. The addition of flowers or fruit, mixed with the pungent scent of the evergreens, fills the room a warm and welcoming fragrance.

Most important, the project must be fun and relatively easy; something the family can do together while the turkey is roasting.
In recent years, we've carved ourselves a portion of good cheer with a pineapple centerpiece that satisfies all these criteria. The arrangement has enough complexity to keep the crowd attentive and lively, and enough flexibility that it is always a success.

Directions for Cathedral Window Pineapple Centerpiece
To make the centerpiece, you'll need a firm pineapple, paper and scissors to make a window template, straight pins, a Sharpie or other marking pen, a carving knife, a cake plate or cookie tray, a half block of water-soaked floral foam such as Oasis, florist tape and picks, three or more selections of evergreen cuttings, and a votive candle with a tea light.

To begin, measure the height and circumference of the pineapple and use those figures to create a window template that will be proportional to the fruit, while leaving roughly two inches of pineapple at the top and base and between windows. My experience has shown that four-inches tall and three-inches wide are usually about right.

Fold the rectangle of paper in half (with long sides together) to make a symmetrical gothic-shaped window, and then use this first template to make two additional patterns. Space all three templates evenly around the circumference of the pineapple, pinning them in place and tracing them with a Sharpie to mark the surface of the fruit.
Remove the pins and templates and use a carving knife to cut away the windows, always keeping the tip of the knife pointed towards the heart of the pineapple. Once three large chunks of pineapple are removed, trim the inside of the fruit as needed to remove excess pulp and to make a flat base for the candle.

Secure the water-soaked Oasis to the cookie or cake plate with florist tape. Place the pineapple on top of the foam, pushing it down until it stands perfectly upright, and then pin it into place with florist picks. I begin with three picks, locating each behind one of the three solid sections of fruit that divides two windows, and push them down through the base of the pineapple and into the florist foam. Add more picks as necessary for stability.

Use the evergreens around the base of the pineapple, pushing them into the sides of the wet Oasis. Finally, place a glass votive with a tea light inside the pineapple. When lit, the fragrance of fruit will make your mouth water, adding to the pleasure of fine food and good company.

A single arrangement is perfect for a round table, but a pair is better suited to a rectangular table. The arrangement can also be used on a coffee table, side table, or mantel. Never leave a lit candle unattended, however.

Selecting and Preparing Evergreens
Select evergreens by the "rule of three," choosing one with a reflective, waxy coating, one with needle-form foliage, and one with variegated leaves. The example shown combines 'Little Gem' magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), 'Yoshino' cryptomeria (Cryptomeria japonica), and variegated holly-leaf osmanthus (Osmanthus heterophyllus). Other evergreens could be added or substituted.

Always gather cuttings early in the morning, when plants are most hydrated. Rinse the stems and foliage in tepid water to remove dirt and insects, then recut the stems and place them in buckets of warm water with a splash of lemon-lime soda for a boost of sugar. Soak overnight or as time allows.

Remember, all holiday decorations made with live evergreens will be adversely affected by direct sunlight, high heat, and low humidity. The longevity of the pineapple centerpiece can be extended for further use by wrapping it in plastic and putting it in a refrigerator or another cool location.

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