Where to start
When creating a centerpiece, start with a focal point and build from there, said Karen Cartlidge, artisan and board member of the Heritage Craft Center of the Eastern Panhandle, in Martinsburg, W.Va.
A focal point is the main design element of a centerpiece. It can be something from around the house, like a pot or basket. It can also be something off-beat, like an old tin cracker box.
"You want something that reflects your personality," Cartlidge said.
I started with an array of orange, yellow and green gourds, keeping in mind one of Cartlidge's tips: A series of objects can act as a focal point, as long as there are an odd number of them, like three gourds instead of two.
"This adds visual interest," Cartlidge said.
Cartlidge said farmers markets and roadside stands are the best places to find gourds, and other potential focal points - pumpkins, squash and dried corn. The Hagerstown city Farmers Market is open Saturdays from 5 a.m. to noon.
"We're just starting to get the good pumpkins in," Jennifer Kram, recreation assistant for the City of Hagerstown.
I bought my gourds at Weis, off Eastern Boulevard in Hagerstown.
One downside to working with natural materials is longevity.
Gourds and pumpkins do OK, but there are other things that pose problems.
For dried leaves, Cartlidge recommends immersing them for six weeks in a mixture of two parts water and one part glycerin. The leaves will remain pliable, but won't tear. They'll last for about two years, Cartlidge said.
If you're using fresh flowers, you'll want to keep the water fresh and ample, Ipsan said. She recommends mums, golden rods and asters. Ipsan said spraying flowers with a few blasts of hairspray can help keep them together longer, Ipsan said. Drying them is another option for some flowers.
To maintain shrubs and certain weeds like teasel and smooth sumac, coat them with a clear matte acrylic spray, Cartlidge said.
Ipsan said blue beard, which is now flowering, and beauty berry are long-lasting shrubs.
Natural goods will be around until frost hits, Ipsan said, which gives you about a month to get what you need.
What you can't grow or find in your yard, you can always buy from a craft store.
Putting it all together
Marilynn Host, an artist and author of "Gourd Crafts for the First Time" (Sterling Publishing Company 2002), said gourds were her medium of choice. She said people like to use her "chicken," a figure she makes from a bottle gourd, for holiday centerpieces.
"Pretty much anything you can paint on wood, you can paint on a gourd," Host said by phone.
My design concept was comparatively low-tech.
I used a square-shaped plate as the base, then arranged my bottle-shaped gourds upright so that their necks curved inward and formed a swirl near the center.
I glued small, orange-tone pebbles around the inner rim of ring-shaped, wicker candle holders and set a small glass candle holder inside. I placed three candle holders in the spaces next to the openings created by the gourds.
To finish it off, I put a small, pumpkin-scented, orange votive inside each glass and swirled slender twigs around open spaces on the plate. You can see how I did and see the finished centerpiece it at www.herald-mail.com.
In the end, I wound up with something with autumn chic minus the labor and the money.
Types of gourds
Gourds are popular as focal points in fall-themed centerpieces. Here's a guide to how some are used:
o Bottle gourds - Characterized by having a body, neck and a bulb-like head on top. Uses: Vessels, birdhouses and bird feeders and ornaments
o Bowl gourds - Round, without necks or heads. Uses: Bowls, containers with lids, baskets, drums and masks
o Ornamental gourds - Soft-shelled and small in size, usually no larger than 4 inches in diameter. Shapes referred to as apples, oranges and pears. Uses: Ornaments and decorative objects
o Snake gourds - Long bodies, with one flat side. Also called club or banana gourds. Uses: Trough-like containers, ornaments and decorative fruits
- Source: Marilynn Host, artist and author of "Gourd Crafts for the First Time," Sterling Publishing Company 2002
Where to get gourds
Not a gardener? City dweller without a yard?
You might find materials for your centerpiece at these local spots:
o Snavely's Garden Corner, two locations:
19719 Leitersburg Pike, north east of Hagerstown, 301-739-3622. 2106 Lincoln Way East, Chambersburg, Pa., 717-352-8341
o City Farmers Market, 5 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
25 W. Church St., Hagerstown, 301-739-8577, ext.183
o Lovell's Nursery
19777 Leitersburg Pike, north east of Hagerstown, 301-733-8733
o Common Ground,home base for the Heritage Craft Center of the Eastern Panhandle
145 N. Queen St., Martinsburg, W.Va., 304-263-5633
31 Eastern Boulevard North, Hagerstown, 240-420-0472
17225 Cole Road., Halfway, 301-582-9120
o AC Moore Arts & Crafts
17656 Garland Groh Blvd., west of Hagerstown, 301-739-4888