Q: I’m hosting my first family Thanksgiving dinner, and I want to make it a special event. Craft magazines make my head hurt. How do I make the place festive and incorporate a little greenery if I don’t have a green thumb?


A: My family likes to spend Turkey Day watching movies in the living room. Our biggest challenges are finding sturdy TV trays and agreeing on the list of movies scheduled for our holiday marathon. I like comedies, my sister prefers Lifetime, made-for-TV dramas, Mom likes Tyler Perry films and my brother prefers classics such as “Rocky,” parts one through 100. In other words, festive décor is nowhere near my radar.

For that reason, I solicited the help of my favorite Flower Whisperer. Mark Good’s floral arrangements earn a well-manicured thumbs up from Southern brides and stylish socialites across metro Atlanta. As a holiday gift to MNN.com readers, Good offered to share a few stellar secrets to creating special effects with flowers. Here are his tips for fabulously faking the floral gene during the holidays:

Keep it simple: Forget about the vase and focus on what’s inside of it. “You don’t really want people to notice the vase,” he says. “You want to notice what’s in it.” Don’t splurge on pricey containers. Instead, make use of what’s already in your cabinet, especially if there’s a vase or pitcher that has been passed down in your family.


Maintain balance: Floral arrangements should complement your décor, Good adds. If you plan to use graphic linens, the flowers should be simple. If your table linens are solid and simple, then have fun with a detailed arrangement that serves as a focal point. But don’t get too crazy. “It’s like an outfit,” he says. “If you have lots of bows and buttons, people don’t see the dress.”

Add stability: “The frustrating thing about flowers is they move around,” Good says. “Just like a tree has soil, a flower arrangement needs that stability.” To keep flowers from shifting, place strips of tape in a grid across the mouth of your vase. Next, focus on the greenery. If you want a tall bouquet, Good says, start with a base of branches and build a good foundation. Then, reach for the buds.

Mother Nature rules: “I pick up a lot of things when I’m out walking my dog,” Good says. “You might see something kind of cool.” Another benefit to scanning your yard for hidden treasures is that you will find colorful flowers and plants that are native to your surroundings. “Don’t try to over embellish,” he warns. “A flower doesn’t need much. For the most part, it will be pretty on its own. You end up taking away from the beauty of it by adding things that will distract.”

Check out the farmers markets: For the best selection of hearty flowers, Good says it pays to check out your local farmers market. “Of course, that means you won’t always get the exact flower you saw in a magazine bouquet,” he says, “but you will get a flower that probably lasts longer and didn’t burn a lot of fossil fuels to reach your living room table.”

Grocers have great goods, too: Good gets his flowers from wholesalers and farmers markets. But that didn’t stop a gardening club from challenging him to create a crowd-worthy centerpiece with grocery store flowers. Good rose to the occasion, armed with one key secret for success: Avoid pre-mixed bouquets. “They may be bright colors,” Good says, “but they are cheap flowers.” Instead, he reaches for single-bloom bouquets of hydrangeas, roses or tulips. “Even a big bunch of yellow daisies or orange roses will look better than sprig of this, sprig of that,” he says.

Focus on the location — and the occasion: Forget blinding crystals and over-the-top bouquets bursting with exotic blooms at the dinner table. “You want something interesting,” he says, “but something that won’t obstruct the view or be too fragrant.” For Thanksgiving, Good likes to hollow out a pumpkin, fill it with sunflowers and branches, then add chrysanthemums, cattails or other seasonal plants. Instead of a centerpiece that competes with the turkey, add flowers and colorful leaves throughout the table so that guests have more to focus on than a bread or butter dish, he adds.

Go green: Good loves fragrant evergreens during the holidays. Gather a large basket or ceramic container and fill it with juniper or cedar, and then add nuts, oranges and pomegranates for a natural touch of color.

Make them last: To keep flowers from wilting, Good says to change the water regularly. It’s an easy task if you use the tape trick that I mentioned earlier. Adding a bit of bleach or vodka (MNN.com columnist Matt Hickman’s go-to plant cure) helps prevent bacteria from clouding the water as well. Good also makes sure there is a spray bottle handy to keep blooms moist.  

I hope this helps you to keep your home filled with flower power during the holiday season.

— Morieka Johnson

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See also:

Thanksgiving crafts

Thanksgiving recipes

History of Thanksgiving

What are easy ways to make my home festive for Thanksgiving?
Morieka Johnson went straight to the pros for advice on holiday decorating. (Need movie tips? Now that she can answer herself.)