By Thanksgiving, many gardens have been put to bed for the winter. There appears to be little or nothing available for Thanksgiving flower arrangements. A little planning earlier in the year, however, can provide you with both living and dried materials to incorporate into arrangements with fresh florist flowers. Unless you live in year-round temperate zones, put in some plantings that will yield late fall arrangements.
Plant flowers known for fall blooming. Chrysanthemums, unless forced, are familiar fall bloomers. Late started sunflowers, Japanese lanterns and marigolds will often hold out until Thanksgiving, unless you have early frost.
Plan some space in your yard for plants that dry well. Late in the summer or early in the fall, cut blooms, branches or seed-pods to dry for Thanksgiving arrangements. Tie cuttings in bunches with string and hang in a well-ventilated dry area, with bloom-ends down. This ancient technique has preserved flowering and medicinal plants for centuries; the attic, garage or workshop rafters are ideal. To maintain dryness, you can cover the blooms with brown paper tied to the stems (even grocery bags work well). Plants that dry well include: yarrow, large varieties of sedum, statice, hydrangea, lavender, rosemary and ornamental grasses. Strawflowers and dusty miller dry well and add other color elements to your arrangement.
Incorporate plants with fall berries into your garden. They will attract local wildlife as well as add a touch of fall color. Hawthorne, beautyberry, creeping cotoneaster, bayberry, bittersweet, viburnum and barberry all end their summer careers with fall berries. Usually an ample supply of berried branches remains for cutting at Thanksgiving.
Capture ornamental grasses as their seed-heads mature. Dry them the way you dry late summer flowers. They will lend a harvest tone to your arrangement, with arching leaves and nodding seed-heads.
Look beyond Christmas-style evergreen trees to shrubs that keep their leaves and color all winter. These range from arborvitae and yew to junipers and even Japanese azalea. They can contribute a wealth of textures and subtle colors, such as golds, greens and blues, to floral arrangements. Sacrificing a single rhododendron bloom can make its leaf-edged bud the center of your Thanksgiving arrangement. Don't overlook ivy and pachysandra as floral candidates.
Examine the bare branches of plants in your yard. Winged euonymus, azalea, clematis and wild grape are all as interesting in bare form as when they have leaves. Use them to add strong architectural lines or sinuous curves.
If you are fortunate enough to have a bouquet of strictly dry materials, consider displaying your abundance in a basket or simply laid on the table, stems tied together with ribbon. Extend your growing theme by arranging dry and fresh materials in a cut pumpkin or squash, into which you have inserted a container of water. Cut off the top of a cabbage (cooking or ornamental variety), hollow out room for your water container, and spread some of the outer leaves to make a spectacular flower-holder. Fill a glass bowl with fresh grapes and dry grape vines.