Creating Thanksgiving table decorations comes naturally to Peggy Graddy.
Graddy, who lives on a Woodford County farm, the Homestead, pulls together elements collected over time.
Using pieces of freshly cut magnolia greenery from the family gardens, bright pumpkins and gourds saved from an October wedding, and creating a fancy presentation from wild turkey feathers that her son Ike brought home from a hunting trip a few years ago, her designs reflect a mood of fall harvest.
Graddy began working with floral design after a birthday trip she took about 20 years ago with her two sisters and mother. The women attended a weeklong course given by famed floral arranger Sheila Macqueen at The Bath Priory in Bath, England (Thebathpriory.co.uk).
The Bath Priory, a former monastery, is surrounded by four acres of beautifully landscaped gardens. That trip changed Graddy's life.
"I was let out of a cage," she says of the creative possibilities she discovered there, including learning Macqueen's rules for arrangements. One tenet is to look at where the floral décor is going to be placed and choose elements that reflect that setting, and to find containers appropriate in proportion, material and color.
"In the summer, flowers are abundant, so they get a lot of attention, but in winter, containers and other props become very important as decorative elements," she said.
Props for arrangements can be acquired over a lifetime.
The wide and low harvest basket holding this year's outdoor porch table decoration at the farm came from a trip to Bucks County, Pa., early in her marriage. Its shape allows for eye contact and conversations across the table, and it holds pumpkins, green hedge apples and gourds. The burgundy nandina leaves trailing over its edge were picked from a bush just beyond the porch railing.
"Don't buy anything, but instead look around and use things you already have," Graddy suggests. "They make you smile, and they make a house become a home."
Indoors, the setting becomes more formal, and for holidays, the table is set with the sparkle of crystal and china.
"I'm a traditionalist," Graddy says, "but I like to do things that draw your attention."
An eye-catching spray of turkey tail and wing feathers form a sideboard vignette, and a preserved pheasant struts in place at the center of the table. The dining room is wrapped by a pastoral mural that incorporates vignettes of other Graddy family farms in the area, including Welcome Hall, Springside and Greenwood. The mural was painted by Lexington artist Joe Richardson.
"I love nature, feathers, eggs, nests, fall leaf colors," Graddy says.
On a walk outdoors, you can collect a handful of brightly colored leaves from a red Bradford pear, assorted pine cones, magnolia branches with seed pods, acorns and ornamental grasses to use in arrangements. Think about how a basket, prop or container might suit your setting as you browse antique shops.
You also can collaborate with relatives. Graddy's arrangements often contain flowers from sister-in-law Lucy Smith, who is an acknowledged horticultural expert and who loves experimenting with color. Both are members of Little Garden Club in Versailles.
"It's just a miracle, the way arrangements come together," Graddy said, "but it does take time."