When I agreed to design a table for the Meals on Wheels Classique d’Elegance this year, I was excited to showcase sustainable methods and local materials at a high-profile event. But in late November, in a season when my flowers have mostly finished blooming, it would take a little extra creativity to design a table with a real wow factor.

Ultimately, I found my inspiration in the gorgeous St. Catherine’s lace (an abundant native buckwheat) that carpets the nearby hillsides starting in late summer. It dries beautifully, with pale blush flowers slowly darkening on the plant to a rich rusty brown in the fall. I foraged blooms over a period of several months to capture the full range of color, and prepared to transform my little square of the ballroom into an enchanted fairy glen.

The first order of business was lighting. The ballroom at the Portola Plaza Hotel in Monterey is very dim with the main chandeliers off—and besides, nothing creates atmosphere quite like the right lighting. So with help from my husband and Thicket chief engineer Max, I chose four tall, gnarled branches from a downed tree in my yard and secured them to reusable custom bases.

Standing one branch at each corner of the table framed the space, making it feel like a private nook, and we used the branches to string bistro lights over the table, casting a warm glow and creating the festive feeling of a backyard party. The wires were hidden with maidenhair vine, which grows invasively behind my home.

Next up, flooring. Normally, there’s not much to be done about the floor at an event venue, but with only a single table, I had the luxury of covering it with my design. Using bracken and eucalyptus leaves, I bundle-dyed a large natural canvas drop cloth to create a portable forest floor, which I laid out under the table to visually separate the space from the nautical-themed carpet all around.

The centerpiece of the design was a spectacular floral table runner made almost entirely of St. Catherine’s lace, inserted into a sculpted length of chicken wire. The blooms cascaded down one end of the table like a wave unfurling and ended in a splash of dried bracken.

In the other direction, the floral runner wound back and forth, gradually narrowing into a whorl that rose up into the air—I wanted it to swirl upward, the way leaves blow around in eddies in the fall. At the very tip, a single birch leaf fluttered on a short piece of vine.

Meanwhile, the curves of the table runner created alcoves to tuck in fall leaves, candles in glass, vases of dried oak and manzanita leaves, quaking grass, and other native treasures. (When it comes to grasses and seed pods, I’m extremely careful never to forage invasive species, since transporting them disperses the seeds even further—even though some of our invasive grasses are gorgeous!).

The menus were designed to show how upcycled materials can fit right into an extravagant, formal setting. I cut paper grocery bags into a chic tall rectangle shape, hand-lettered the word Menu onto each one, and sketched buckwheat foliage between the printed details of each course.

It’s a special kind of delight when a design you’ve imagined for so long comes to life, and this one turned out exactly as I’d hoped. In the middle of a glamorous ballroom filled with imaginative, eye-catching tables, this woodland glade offered a twinkling invitation to step out of the ordinary for the space of one magical evening.

…And when the guests had gone home, I simply rolled up the chicken wire for the next event and spread St. Catherine’s lace around the hill behind my home, where it will feed the soil and wildlife and maybe, if I’m lucky, grow some more flowers to enjoy next year.

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