Shavuot: How to Make a Festive Green Floral Centerpiece

By Danielle Crittenden Frum

My late mother-in-law, Barbara Frum, was an avid gardener in a difficult climate. She managed to turn her suburban Canadian backyard into a magical, wooded wonderland, with paths, glades, and towering trees. She planted flowers sparingly — no showy flowerbeds for her. Instead she liked single blossoms to peek elusively from pathways, as something precious and rare. To wander through her garden at any time of year was to be constantly delighted by surprises and small vignettes of natural beauty.

Barbara did not live to see my garden in Washington, D.C.I suspect she would have found gardening south of the Mason-Dixon line “too easy.” Our winters are short. Our challenge is to discipline overgrowth in a lush, semi-tropical climate — not to  coax reluctant plants from an unforgiving soil.

In her mind, the true gardener’s palette was shades of green and brown: leaf upon leaf, bark against soil, with color deployed sparingly and only as an accent.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Barbara and her garden as we approach Shavuot, a holiday which celebrates harvests as well as the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Traditionally the bounty of the season is fruit. We try to eat more of those, along with at least one dairy meal. To illuminate the holiday, I wanted to create a centerpiece that reflected the abundant greenery of Shavuot; with my mother-in-law on my mind, I took her challenge of only using hues of green. Here’s what I came up with

At the garden center I had to discipline myself as I walked past fuchsia peonies the size of dinner plates, stately fragrant white lilies, and glorious blue hydrangeas. Instead I skulked around the containers holding what usually count for “accent” fauna — grasses, branches, etc. In the end I chose some cabbage heads, a few bobbing branches of viburnum, curiously shaped Bells of Ireland, delicate Ladies Mantle, frothy trachelium, and — for a Biblical touch — branches of myrtle. I sought different textures and types of green from dark to a bright lime; the cabbages and others had bits of white on them, which I allowed, as the white did not constitute the primary color of the plant. I also picked up a basket and a container that fit inside it. The frog pins are mine.

I started with the heavier cabbages, and then began adding the lighter foliage around it. When I got it to a shape I liked, I added in the Bells of Ireland and branches of myrtle. 

The finished basket. It occurred to me (belatedly) that you could stick limes and even avocados in around the base, peeking out to acknowledge the fruit harvest. The result felt very festive: a big burst of green to sit on a table or a greet guests in the hallway. 

Please feel free to share your decorations with us!