Food & Entertaining - Entertaining

Set your Thanksgiving table with nature finds

Jennifer Roos
Photography by
Jennifer Roos

Use fall leaves and gourds to create colourful tea light holders, napkin rings and place cards

You've prepped and planted, tended and weeded; now autumn is here and it's time to reap what you've sown. Impress Thanksgiving guests with fresh garden goodies: Savoury butternut squash, mashed potatoes dripping with butter, honey-glazed carrots... and don't forget about the pumpkin pie! Add in a golden, cooked-to-perfection turkey and your menu is complete. For a naturally beautiful Thanksgiving table fit for your feast, look to none other than Mother Nature to provide the decorations. Multicoloured, multi-shaped gourds become glowing tea light holders, preserved oak leaves serve as natural napkin rings and pressed leaves sprayed with gold paint make elegant place cards.

These decorations are simple to make, even if you're all thumbs. And since the leaves are free and you can find inexpensive gourds at farmer's markets, you'll be able to spend your money where it counts—on a really big turkey.

Glowing gourd tea lights
Unlike their orange cousin, gourds are too small to carve into jack-o'-lanterns. And they don't make for good eating like their other relative, the squash. Throughout history, though, gourds have proven themselves to be very useful: Rattles, musical instruments, bowls, containers, ladles and birdhouses are a few of the many uses they've had.

Today, there are societies dedicated to gourds and many artists use dried gourds as a canvas for their creative projects. Put gourds to work for you this fall: Turn fresh gourds found at markets (or perhaps in your own garden) into beautiful tea light holders to add a festive glow to your autumn table.


  • Three large gourds
  • Pencil
  • Tea lights
  • Paring knife

To make

To begin, choose three large gourds that look different from each other. Place each of the gourds on a flat surface. Reposition the gourds until they rest flat and stable; you don't want them to roll. When you've figured out the best resting position for each gourd it's time to make the candle holder.

Place a tea light on the flattest part of the top of the gourd and use a pencil to trace closely around the tea light. Set the tea light aside and use a very sharp paring knife to carefully cut out the circle you've traced. Remove the circular plug, but don't remove the gourd's seeds or innards. (If you take out the seeds and innards, the candle will fall into the gourd. It needs something to sit on.)

Try to fit the tea light into the hole. If the hole's too small, gradually trim with the knife until the hole is just large enough. Press the tea light into the hole. Note: the edges of a tea light are sharp. Use an oven mitt to press the tea light in place until it is flush with the edge of the gourd. Repeat these steps with the two remaining gourds.

To display them, set the three gourds into a large bowl, tuck in a few preserved fall leaves (see preserved oak leaf napkin holders for instructions on preserving leaves), add some pinecones and light the candles. Keep in mind that these gourds will eventually rot, so make the centrepiece as close to the date of your meal as possible.

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