When you live on an Island and are never far from water and fine beaches, it’s not hard to find tablesetting inspiration. Red and white is the color scheme for this Lighthouse Watch al fresco tablesetting which features lobster rolls and potato salad on the menu. Continue reading Lighthouse Watch Summer Al fresco Tablesetting→
I love setting beautiful tables and making them season-friendly. In our all-too-short summer season here on Prince Edward Island, I like to use fresh locally-grown flowers whenever I can. With beautiful pink flowers like those in the photo below, it’s easy to set a pretty alfresco dining table.
I have a collection of white milk glass and like its clean look. I find it transitions well to any season and any color of flowers. One of the biggest advantages I find to using the white vases is that they conceal the stems and make a cleaner-looking tabletop. When I add to my collection, I try to find pieces of the milk glass that are different shapes and sizes and, when using them in a tablesetting, I use varying sizes and shapes to add more interest to the tablescape. Taller vases add a dramatic effect and “lift” to the tabletop. Just make sure that they and the flowers are not so tall as to block guests’ views of each other as this makes tabletop conversation more difficult and gives an obstructive ambiance to the setting.
This setting lends itself well to the use of my vintage Grindley (England) Cream Petal dinnerware in the apple blossom pattern.
When I am setting a table, I first decide on whether it will be a casual, informal, or formal setting. Then, I choose my dinnerware accordingly and then select linens, flowers, vases, and glassware that will complement the dishes. Pink was an obvious theme color for this setting and was derived from the pink pattern on the dinnerware.
In this case, I chose a small-checked pink tablecloth and simple ivory-colored napkins to match the off-white color in the dinnerware’s background. Because I am using a collection of vases on the table, I need to use table linens that are fairly solid in color so they don’t distract the eye and create a chaotic look. The checks in this tablecloth were sufficiently small that they work. And, of course, it goes without saying that, regardless how casual or formal the event, the tablecloth must be ironed and all creases from any folds removed. It’s a sign of a well-set and dressed table when the linens are pressed and wrinkle-free. A casual style tablesetting does not extend to the point that the host/hostess has not taken the time to properly prepare the linens.
When using patterned dinnerware and you want to show off the pattern, choose plain colored napkins and a napkin fold that is placed on the table rather than on the plate covering up the dinnerware pattern. The napkins on this table have an embossed pattern which adds a level of texture to the table. To keep tablesettings simple for a casual dinner, use a basic napkin fold and position it under the fork(s). If you aren’t adept with fancy napkin folding, this is the easiest fold to do and it is always classy and always in style.
When using multiple bouquets as a tablescape, it’s best that they be in odd number format, versus even, as this is more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. It’s also preferable to vary the height and size of the vases as this adds interest to the setting. The great thing about using individual vases is that they can be configured in any format on the table – i.e., spread out the length of the table as I have done here, clustered altogether in the table’s center, or they can be clustered into small individual groupings here and there along the center of the table. If spreading the vases out, I recommend placing them in an “S” shape, as shown in the photo below, to make the arrangement more interesting.
The main thing to keep in mind with this type of arrangement is not to overfill the vases with flowers, trying to create an entire full bouquet in each. Keep it simple and casual by placing only one or two stems and perhaps a bit of greenery in some (but not nesssarily all) of the vases and varying the size and variety of the flowers used.
In this arrangement, I have chosen, among others, Sweet William, Sweet Peas, Estoma Lisianthia, and cress, varying the size, shape, and color intensity of the flowers chosen. The colors range from soft white to pale pink to medium-deep pink. By keeping the colors in the same palette and varying the color intensity just a little, it is less chaotic and more calming to the eye. The use of vivid colors on this tabletop would have provided too much contrast and taken away from the dinnerware. A tip to keep in mind when selecting flowers to use as single stems in vases is to ensure they have strong enough stems to stand on their own without drooping over giving the impression that they are wilting on the table.
My choice of floral varieties was deliberate because I wanted them to be the varieties that would suit vintage dishes and the flowers chosen are all ones that would have been found in old English-style gardens from long ago. All flowers came from Island Meadow Farm in York, PEI. Owner, Barb Jewell, grows the most amazing array of beautiful flowers and I love to pay her a visit to find some wonderful flowers for my tablesettings. You can check out her website here. She is the florist of choice on PEI for many brides for their summer weddings and I have seen photos of weddings in which brides carried stunning bouquets that came out of Barb’s small flower shop.
You can also check out this link to another, more formal tablesetting, I did using this Cream Petal dinnerware and beautiful flowers from Island Meadow Farm.
When constructing a casual tablesetting, don’t hesitate to use mixed glassware as not everything has to be perfectly matched. Here, I have used my vintage water and wine glasses and they are not a matched set. Because the dinnerware is vintage, I have chosen to use similar style glassware as opposed to sleek, contemporary stemware. Of course, the more cuts in the glass, the more sparkle and life that natural sunlight will add to the table.
As you can see from the photo below, this setting was for an alfresco dinner held on a beautiful summer day.
Even for casual tablesettings, I tend to arrange the placesettings that reflect the order of the meal to be had. Here, the placement of the salad plate on top of the dinner plate and the addition of two forks, suggests a starter salad will precede the dinner. While it is not necessary to place the plates on the table if the meal will be plated from the kitchen, doing so sets a pretty and inviting table as guests arrive. Without the plates, I would find the placesettings to be missing something.
Every year in late June, the countryside in Prince Edward Island is blooming with the wild lupines that grow in a vast array of colors.
Lupines usher in summer on the Island as their blooms are one of the first signs of the season’s arrival. They don’t have a long season in which to bloom and they don’t last long but they range in shades of purples, pinks, white, salmon, yellow, white, and varigated.
Somewhere around the 20-25th of June is typically when they are in full bloom and at their best.
From the time I was a small child, I was in love with these tall elegant flowers. I loved to pick baskets of them and they are so easy to arrange.
On the south side of the Island, the deep purple tends to be the predominant color although other shades as they have on the north side are starting to take hold. The field in the photo below is beside my mother’s house.
Many, many years ago, I picked huge amounts of seed pods in shades of pink, shelled them (clearly I did not have enough to do at the time!) and threw them out alongside the road to the cottage. They take a long time to take root but, every year, we have more and more bunches of them growing, albeit they are mostly in the purple shades. From time to time, I will buy a few packages of seeds in other colors and plant them where there are none currently growing.
You might even find a lighthouse on PEI that is surrounded by lupines.
Today, I am featuring these glorious long-stemmed beauties in a tablesetting. I simply clipped some of these wildflowers along the roadside by my mother’s home for a pretty casual arrangement.
Summer tends to mean more casual dining and it’s fun to move the dinner party outside to the front verandah or porch or the back deck. Lupines are perfect for a casual al fresco dining event. I used small jars decorated with a bit of lace and rafia and, of course, used an odd number of jars for aesthetic purposes.
The great thing about having individual bouquets like these is that they can easily be re-positioned or clustered into different formats. Here, I have used them equally spaced in a single row along the center of the table. No need to fuss much with arranging these flowers – they are stately enough on their own that they seem to just almost automatically fall into pleasing designs and take on a personality of their own.
When I want color to pop on my table and attention to be drawn to the tablesetting’s focal point which, in this case, would be the colorful lupines, I start with a plain white tablecloth as a blank canvas. Colors always pop on white backgrounds and white provides a non-distracting background. I have several old white linen tablecloths that have been in the family for years and I make good use of them. I am noticing that many second-hand shops will often have some old vintage white linen tablecloths so they are available.
I can’t take credit for crafting these glass vases – they came from a local dollar store. I make great use of dollar stores and thrift/second hand shops for a lot of the props for my tablesettings. I interspersed little purple votives throughout the tablescape to coordinate with the color scheme.
The lupine napkins shown in the photo below coordinate with the lupine theme. Knowing that, if I tried to form them into a napkin fold, I would lose the pretty lupine design, I simply laid one over each plate. That’s the beauty of using simple, crisp white plates – they form a great clean canvas for other decorative (and useful) elements of a tablesetting.
When dining outside, contending with the weather elements can always be a challenge and, on PEI and living near the water, summer breeze is a common factor. Using the cutlery to hold the napkin in place does double duty: It secures the napkin and also lends a casual look and feel to the placesetting. Al fresco dining is meant to be casual so go ahead and break the rules of formal tablesettings!
While lupines grow wild on the Island, many visitors like to take home packages of the lupine seeds to plant in their gardens. These colorful seed packages make a nice take-home gift for guests at an early summer dinner.
The sparkle and shine of glass that has lots of cuts adds to a table on a bright summer’s day. Glass will always add a light and airy look to a tablescape.
I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my al fresco tablesetting that features the famous lupines of Prince Edward Island.
On this Halloween weekend, I am sharing my seasonal tablescape that has a distinctly pumpkin theme. I have chosen to use some good quality artificial decorations mixed in with some traditional ones that nature has provided.
In keeping with the mood of the season, I have kept the lighting low and moody to give a golden glow to the dining room.
I have a little collection of fall and Halloween decorations and, wherever possible, I try to work with I have as opposed to going out and buying more. I have had the terracotta pumpkin below for years. It’s so much easier to get a Jack-o-Lantern this way than the mess of carving a real one!!!
A glitzy pumpkin gets gussied up with a witch’s hat from the local dollar store. The headband/hat was a previous costume accessory.
I found the little 3-tier server below at a local thrift store and it forms a nice tower for three mini pumpkins. It will also serve other purposes throughout the year.
When I am creating a tablescape like this, I try to vary the heights of the components as it adds interest and appeal to the eye.
The color theme for the tablescape is orange, gold, ivory, and black. A piece of sheer orange curtain fabric over an ivory tablecloth makes an economical table covering without overtly screaming Halloween or competing with the focal point of the tablescape. A piece of black net fabric forms the base for the centerpiece display. The gold charger plates frame the white tableware, a good backdrop for the black napkins which are simply rolled and tied with glittery orange ribbon and accessorized with some colorful leaves.
Little orange votives tucked in through the tablescape add some extra drama to the scene. A number of years ago, I was able to get some good quality garlands of orange and black berries so they have been casually threaded in through the components of the centerpiece. The garlands are wired, making them easy to mold into areas needing some filler.
My fireplace mantle is decorated to compliment the table.
Framed behind garlands of orange berries and colored leaves, a white pumpkin dons a fancy witch’s hat.
The white pumpkin below is simply wrapped and tied in black organza, giving it a dramatic look by the simple folds in the fabric.
And, the orange pumpkin below is dressed in black spider web lace!
And, here is what the tablescape looked like in daylight…
Not nearly so dramatic but still colorful, nonetheless.
I hope you have enjoyed a glimpse into my Halloween festivities.
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One of the things I like to do over the holiday season is to prepare some “greenery bases” for floral arrangements and have them ready for different holiday dinners and events. This way, it is not necessary to start from scratch to create a new floral centerpiece for every dinner party. Once the greenery is in place, floral centerpieces are quick and easy to prepare. Simply by changing the color of the flowers in a centerpiece can give a whole new look to a table.
About 10 days ago, I posted photos from a purple tablescape. I recently removed the purple-tinted mini carnations from that centerpiece since they had passed their prime and I replaced them with bright pink and white ones. Leaving the candles and greenery in tact, this centerpiece probably took me between 5 and 10 minutes to create.
While I like the white linen tablecloth look (I call it my blank canvas), sometimes I like to see the maple wood in my table. Seeing the wood on the table also lends a less formal look to the tablesetting. So, for more casual dining, this is often a look I go for.
A number of years ago, my Mom hand-quilted these placemats to match my Royal Albert Lavender Rose china. Aren’t they beautiful! The quilt pattern is the lovers’ knot.
Having a collection of charger plates that match my china means they can be used to change the look of the table as well. Having invested in my fine china, I like to use it as much as possible; however, using the same dinnerware repeatedly can start to make every table setting look the same unless you inject other elements, like different colored charger plates, candles, table linen, flowers, etc.
The napkin fold I have selected for this tablesetting is the Christmas tree fold. This is not a difficult napkin fold and, of course, it is most suitable for the Christmas season. Choose good quality cloth napkins for this fold so that the fold will stay in place.
So, here is my third tablesetting of the season, all set for this evening’s dinner.
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To view other Christmas and New Year’s Tablesettings, click on the links below:
Update 2019: While Vanco Farms still grow wonderful tulips in their Mount Albion greenhouses for sale and export, they no longer (as of January 2019) operate a retail outlet open to the public on the premises. Their fabulous tulips are, however, available locally at several retail outlets around PEI, including major supermarkets and florist shops.
It’s time again for me to share another tablesetting with you. This time I was preparing for a casual dinner party for six and I was featuring Island-grown tulips in my centerpiece. I wanted to keep the tablesetting very simple and streamlined, unpretentious, and understated. But first, let’s go on a field trip to Vanco Farms to get the tulips and find out about their tulip-growing operation.
Last week was the coldest week yet on Prince Edward Island this year. On Tuesday mid-afternoon, when I headed east out of Charlottetown, across the Hillsborough Bridge, I glanced at the computer screen on my dashboard and it was reading an outside temperature of a balmy -14C (without windchill factor which some days was down around the -30C to -34C range). As I drove along, I thought this was an interesting day to be heading to a tulip garden, a huge one at that.
I have often stopped by Vanco Farms in Mount Albion, about a 15-minute drive outside of Charlottetown, to pick up some of their fabulous tulips at their onsite retail outlet. While sometimes I do purchase the tulips at a local supermarket, there is something about buying product right at source – the freshness is unbeatable. Last winter, I was rarely without their tulips throughout the house and, particularly, on my dining table. I had contacted Vanco Farms last spring about doing this story in connection with a tablescape but it was near the end of their season and they suggested I wait till January when their greenhouse operation would be in full swing.
As is the case with several stories, particularly ones where growing food or flowers are involved, the story evolves over several months so I can capture the various steps in the process. So, let’s pick up the story way back on May 10, 2012, when, in preparation for this feature, I photographed a huge field of Vanco tulips in full bloom in Pownal, PEI.
This was a field of tulips that were about to be cut down so that all the plants’ energy would be generated towards their bulbs that grow and multiply underground and not directed into the pretty blooms. How heartwrenching to see a tractor and cutter mowing down all these colourful petals; however, it is for long-term gain. The bulbs that are large enough will go for bulb sales or will make their way into the greenhouse to be grown for cut flowers over the winter. The smaller bulbs will be replanted in the fall and will be given the time to mature and grow into the more desirable large bulbs. Large bulbs will produce the larger, more premium blooms with stronger stems.
Aren’t these fabulous colors!
So, fast-forward to January 22, 2013, when I visited the Vanco greenhouses and production facility. I was met by Bas Arendse who toured me through their tulip-growing operation. Seriously, on a cold January day, there is nothing more uplifting than to stroll through warm, bright greenhouses with thousands of tulips at various growth stages through to bloom.
Vanco Farms began growing tulips in 2002 with a modest experimental crop of less than one acre. That venture has grown exponentially and, today, they grow some 3 million bulbs covering 40 acres – can you imagine and picture 40 acres covered in fabulous colorful tulip blooms! I asked Bas what made Vanco Farms decide to start growing tulips on PEI (they are the only commercial tulip grower on the Island). He tells me he grew up in Holland on a tulip farm that is still run by his father and sister and, when he moved to PEI, it was natural for him to grow tulips. Yes, I think it would be fair to say that tulip-growing runs through Bas’ veins and he has it down to a science. Thus, growing tulips is second nature for Bas. He says about 50% of their bulbs still come from Holland while the other 50% come from their own fields in PEI.
So, basically, here is the process. The bulbs are planted in the fields in the fall so they have a chance to root before our harsh, cold winter arrives. In the spring, once the tulips come into full bloom, the petals are all cut off the plants. The bulbs stay in the ground for about 6 more weeks when they are then harvested. The bulbs are dried and separated with the smaller ones destined for field growth the following fall and the large ones set aside for greenhouse growing over the winter.
The larger bulbs are planted in these trays in October-November and are kept in cold storage to recreate winter-like conditions for the bulbs – in other words, to trick the bulbs into acting as though it is winter.
These are then moved into the greenhouse where the warmth will trick the bulbs into acting as though it is spring and time to grow. This process, known as tulip-forcing, means the tulips will be ready for market in about 21-28 days. Keeping a steady schedule of when these bulbs are taken out of cold storage at staggering times ensures there is always an abundance of tulips ready for market throughout the winter and early spring months.
When the tulips are ready for cutting, they are picked and loaded into these carts.
The tulips are then processed by this machine that cuts the bulbs from the stems. These bulbs will go into storage and be planted again next fall.
An assembly line of workers gather the tulips into bunches and place them on the conveyer belt.
The conveyer belt takes the tulips through the machine that wraps elastic around them to hold them in place.
At the end of the conveyer belt, a worker takes each bundle of tulips and slips it into a plastic sleeve.
The tulips are then placed in these crates which sit in water for about 30 minutes to allow the thirsty stems to soak up a drink.
From there, the drained crates of tulips move into a cool storage room where the bundles of tulips are packed in boxes ready for shipping.
While Vanco Farms does produce some tulip bulbs for sale, that accounts for only about 10% of their business with the remaining 90% coming from the sale of cut tulips that are grown in their greenhouses. In terms of best sellers, Bas says the most popular colors of tulips are yellow, orange, white, and pink followed by red and purple. I like them all!
I asked Bas what the biggest challenge is to growing tulips in PEI. He says our typically cold spring weather can pose an issue, particularly if there is a heavy frost. This can cause the stems to go hollow and the bulbs to not grow.
Tulip-farming at Vanco Farms is a year-round operation despite our relatively short growing season on the Island. January to May is their busiest time because it is when the greenhouse is in full production and so it is cutting season. During this time, they will employ between 15-25 people and have three delivery trucks on the road in eastern Canada and the New England area of the United States. The rest of the year is devoted to field work and processing tulip bulbs.
Vanco tulips are available at many places on the Island including the retail outlet at the farm in Mount Albion, major supermarkets, most flower shops, the Saturday Farmers Market in Charlottetown, and Riverview Country Market in the east end of the City. They also export a large portion of their greenhouse-grown tulips from January to May. In fact, their delivery trucks transport shipments of fresh tulips to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Quebec twice a week and to Boston once a week.
It’s always a highlight of my winter when I discover Vanco tulips are on the market! Their colourful blooms always inject a bit of bright color into those dark, dreary winter days.
I like tulips for dining table floral arrangements. Not only do they have beautiful simplistic blooms on long elegant stems with wonderful greenery but they are also not heavily scented which means they don’t compete with food scents. There are any number of ways to arrange tulips for the dining table. Here I have selected Vanco’s Snow Lady white tulips and I simply arranged 20 of them in a fluted vase for this casually-elegant tablesetting because I was looking for something very simplistic and not fussy. I chose white because it blends in with winter and also because it matches anything. In this particular setting, I used a white tablecloth and napkins and my china pattern which is largely white. I like how the white blooms just seem to pop from the greenery! The wine glasses I chose to use are very simplistic and are actually somewhat tulip-shaped themselves. I opted to go with a plain, flat napkin fold because I didn’t want anything to detract from the tulips – I wanted them to be the focal point of the table. I also chose just a couple of small crystal votives, again so there would be nothing to compete with the floral centerpiece.
Florist Bernadette Praught of Bernadette’s Flowers in Stratford, PEI, has high praise for Vanco tulips. She says being able to go directly to their greenhouses about 10 minutes from her flower shop and pick up freshly-cut tulips means she is getting the freshest flowers possible for her customers. Bernadette says tulips are thirsty flowers and do best if arranged directly in water as opposed to in oasis arrangements. Tulips can be used in combination with other flowers and made into more elaborate arrangements. Bernadette says tulips pair well with roses and with a variety of greenery and Baby’s Breath. So, tulips are a very versatile flower. You can go with something very simple as I have done here or you can really dress them up.
For more information on Vanco tulips, visit their website. Vanco Farms Ltd. is located at 9311 TransCanada Highway, Route 1 in Mount Albion, PEI. The next time you are buying a bouquet of tulips, be sure to look at the sleeve label….you just never know, they might be ones that were quality-grown right here on Prince Edward Island!
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