Thanksgiving Place Cards, Pumpkins, Flowers, and Plates

So I woke up about 4 this morning – did not get up, mind you – but woke up to this conversation with myself. Self, I said, I have good news and bad news. The good news is Thanksgiving is here. You are sort of organized. You’ve done the place cards and are rather pleased with them if you do say so yourself, with apologies to René Magritte...

Thanksgiving at Rancho La Zaca - place card
With apologies to "Man in the Bowler Hat" artist Rene Magritte, my version in pilgrim form. These will be our place cards, with the names lettered on the collar at bottom right, like an 18th-century nametag.

The bad news is Thanksgiving is here and there is still to decorate this Temple of Dendur that you now call home, with apologies to architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen… The next time I speak to Mr. Jacobsen I’m going to ask him if, when he designed this house at Rancho La Zaca, he thought about decorating it for Thanksgiving.

Hydrangeas, eucalyptus, and peonies from Florabundance in Carpenteria, CA
Hydrangeas, eucalyptus, and peonies from Florabundance, one of the many flower markets over the hill from us in Carpenteria.

The good news is I have a carload of flowers and $45 worth of pumpkins I picked up at Dale’s Nursery and Summerset Farm stand down the road… Dale also sells olive trees,, and you can find Dale’s Nursery on Facebook.

Summerset Farm - Dale's Nursery
Summerset Farm stand, Dale's Nursery, and Dale himself.

His Grace pointed out that in New York $45 might get you two small pumpkins. The day after Halloween. But believe me in southern California $45 goes a long way in the pumpkin department – more good news.

Summerset Farm - Dale's Nursery
Summerset Farm - Dale's Nursery

The bad news is I have no idea what I’m going to do with them. No. Idea. I reckon I could start by getting them out of the car.

Pumpkins and corn stalks
Pumpkins and a few corn stalks for good measure, but lord they make a mess.
More pumpkins
More pumpkins
Goblin eggs
These are goblin eggs. I bet you did not know that. Or maybe you did. My step-grand-chillens appreciate these kinds of nuances.

Good news is I’ve shipped out here my vintage Johnson Brothers Windsor Ware plates, which I love, in the Harvest and Wild Turkeys patterns, filling in with a few from eBay and from Replacements, Ltd., which is a wonderful resource.

Johnson Brothers Windsor Ware, Harvest pattern
Johnson Brothers Windsor Ware, Harvest pattern
Johnson Brothers Windsor Ware, Wild Turkeys pattern
Johnson Brothers Windsor Ware, Wild Turkeys pattern

So it is now about 5 and time to get up and figure out what the heck I’m doing.

And then I say, Self, you know what, it’s hydrangeas, not heart surgery. It’ll be all right. The point is your family and friends are coming, 7,000 of them (okay 28), and you’ll all have a grand time and that’s what everybody cares about – not the place cards, pumpkins, flowers, and plates. So you might as well relax…

I’m so glad we had this little talk. I feel much better. There is much to be thankful for.

Hey readers – what are y’all doing? Do you have  a go-to TG decorating scheme? I’d love to hear. Can I call you? Could you come by for a few minutes this afternoon… You’ve got your hands full, I know. Don’t worry about me and the pumpkins… we’ll be fine… really…

More pumpkins
...and more pumpkins



  1. Today I took a little short cut, bypassed Thanksgiving design, and followed the lead of retailers all over the country; I decorated for Xmas with the exception of the tree, (a minor project given the total trajectory.)
    Up went my handmade magnolia wreath, the swags over the door, the antique urns with more magnolias and lurking pomegranates, mantle decor, swags hanging from sconces, and a final tribute to James McNeil Whistler in the forms of two golden peacocks, ( a $4 Target find,) perching atop a bowl filled with pomegranates , the higher peacock, Whistler, the lower, Frederick Leyland, the Liverpool merchant who besmirched Whistler’s brilliant creation, now blissfully at The Freer in the Smithsonian.
    I confess to a tiny twinge of guilt, but somehow, it’s liberating ! I’m so over orange.

    1. Dianne, this is sheer genius, and beautifully written to boot. I am so digging those peacocks and your Whistler references, and what all. Thank you, F

  2. I love the way you just threw the pumpkins all over the car!!!!!Enjoy the day.Happy you have your lovely plates…..and that you organized yourself well enough to find them and have them sent in time! Congratulations.

    1. Dear Carol, and what is worse, the pumpkins refused to wear their seatbelts. I am lucky I did not get a ticket… F

  3. Dear Self, you said it, it’s flowers and pumpkins, not rocket science! Relax, sing a few bars of “We gather together…”, stagger some of those fab, California cheap, pumpkins around at different heights, hollow a few out for gourd-geous vases, et voila! What does Mr Jacobson know about Thanksgiving decor anyway? And do you, Queen of Tasteful Decor Frances, care? Have at it, do your thing and have fun!

    gobble, gobble – S

    1. Thank you fabulous Sarah – you are onto something with the hollowing-out thing – I just have seen that on a few other blogs – thank you, and Happy TG! x, F

  4. You make me laugh! I am having 24 for Thanksgiving and I KNOW my place settings will not look as FAB as yours!!!

  5. i, too, LOVE the plates. May have to buy some for next year…i share TG with a very big birthday so my kids and grandkids are taking care of me and hubby…..can’t wait~ HAPPY TG TO EVERYONE…and TY Frances for your cute words and sharing your concerns….No doubt, your celebration will be magnifique~~!!

  6. Did you make the placecards….I love where you will put the names.
    Is there a store that sells them?
    Thank you for a great blog.

    1. Hey Mary, thank you for writing! Yes I drew and painted the placecards. Feel free to drag the image to your iPhoto or just copy it flat out. Highest form of flattery. Happy TG, Frances

    2. Yes Mary, I made them – and you and anyone are welcome to copy and use! I look forward to the royalties! 😉 kidding of course. Enjoy, F

  7. Fances…when in doubt spray em gold..or copper!! Any spray paint will do..just leave time for them to dry..which is quick!! You could also have a family contest and decorate them with a winner getting a whole pie!! Hmmm….another crowd pleaser..trace your hand like a turkey, cut out and write what you are most thankful for. Then hang it on a branch that is in the arrangement on at the to see what others write! Also cut off the stem of artichokes and hollow out the middle..great for votive candles. Asparagus tied into a bundle with pretty ribbon with stand up and great to stick a candle stick into! A few of my favorites from my Southern Living days! So happy for you!! I know Bee Cottage is missing you but what a wonderful new chapter you have embarked on! May blessings abound! xo Mary Mac

    1. Mary Mac these are all such great ideas – DANG I wish I had asked earlier. Thank you thank you – I will file away for future. You were and are such a star. Great to hear from you and many thanks for your kind words. Love, Frances

  8. Hey Frances, in 2010 The White House had stacked pumpkins from large to small- all colors and placed them on either side of The North Portico. They had sort of a pumpkin topiary/ totem pole look. I recreated a smaller version with white and green pumpkins for a centerpiece and it was gorgeous. Please let me know when you come to Washington. I would love to see you. SPARKS

    1. SPARKS, HEY! So good to hear from you – thank you so much for writing and for filling us in on the White House decor – it does sound beautiful – and I bet your version was just as grand – send a photo if you have one? Would love to see you in Washington… xo Frances

  9. Your watercolor place cards are fantastic! How clever and creative!!! I am not worried about you finding fabulous places for the pumpkins! As always love your post – they bring light humor beauty & joy into all our lives!!
    Have a wonderful Thankgiving with your family!!

  10. OK it’s going to be hard to top Diane but here goes. You could go in a Bob Dash direction and pull out all your old Pewter fill it with nuts, goblin eggs (clever), dried seed heads, scatter a few of the small pumpkins, maybe some lemons (cut?) around etc. You’d end up with a Zubaran effect which could be beautiful. Kendell and I were in the Cotswolds last week visiting our friend Jimmy Topping and he goes to the market every day and buys all their squashes and pumpkins. Note there are not a lot for sale. Then he simply piles them up by the front door as if spilling from an imaginary cornucopia.
    Last month Kendell and I did a shoot at Ina’s for the magazine. Annie Casale the florist (and a childhood friend!) did a “living” runner down the center of the table with hydrangeas, artichokes, adult ivy, etc., complemented with aubergine linen napkins from Sferra (they come in 105 colors…you might want a house account!). I thought the best part were the napkins folded in big rectangles on the left with silverware and the place card above the silverware with a teeny nosegay of micro-greens peeking out above the card.

    Wishing you a very happy and successful Thanksgiving!

    1. Well Alejandro you did a pretty good job – your suggestions are most inspired… and omg the shoot at Ina’s sounds amazing. (Not to drop names, but he means Ina Garten, a friend of Alejandro and his partner HC & G editor Kendell Constrom, who all live in East Hampton) Happy TG to you all – xo F

  11. What a great post. It certainly brightens up my day here in Western Massachusetts.

    I love your Magritte-inspired place card—-oh, and those plates!!!

    We’re off soon to food shop. Susan just promised me she would shower now and then we can get going!

    Tomorrow will find us at a relative’s house. Susan is making a mushroom dish people crave and I’ll be baking some fig & fennel bread.

    Speaking of fennel; tonight I am making a pork tenderloin with fennel sauce. I found this in a cookbook I picked up late week at a used book store. It is BEAUTIFUL. It’s called “Florentines” by Lorenza de-Medici and paintings by Giovanna Garzoni—you would LOVE these paintings!!!

    Also, I bought some “limited edition” pumpkin English Muffins which are a bit disappointing to this chef so I am going to make a stuffing with them tonight. Stay tuned!

    Happy Thanksgiving Frances!

    I’ll conclude with this place card my sister prepared for a Thanksgiving a few years ago:

    “In early New England at Thanksgiving time it was customary to place five grains of corn at every plate, a reminder of those stern days in the first winter when the food of the Pilgrims was so depleted that only five grains of corn were rationed to each individual at a time. The Pilgrims wanted their children to remember the sacrifices, the suffering, the hardships which made possible the settlement of free land. They did not want their descendants to forget that on the day on which their ration was reduced to five grains of corn only healthy colonists remained to nurse the sick, and nearly half their number lay in that windswept graveyard on the hill. The use of five grains of corn placed by each plate was a fitting reminder of a heroic past.”


    1. Bruce, what a wonderful comment, thank you! The mushroom dish as ignited my curiosity, as has your fig & fennel bread – I might have to beg these recipes… I bet the muffins will be good in the stuffing… and what a lovely passage and poignant reminder of the meaning of this wonderful holiday and tradition. Best to you and Susan, Frances

  12. Frances – Happy Thanksgiving!

    After years of hosting Thanksgiving and giving it my all with table settings, I am happy to say my son now hosts Turkey Day in NYC!

    But I love your artwork and photos – so talented! So I wish you Frances, a most memorable feast. Thank you for inspiring us all!
    P. S. By the way, I’m sure Rene M. would approve!

  13. Following you since months, and with the level of your taste and class, I am sure you Will have a marvellous and special thanksgiving. That festivity we do not have in Spain. Enjoy and relax!

  14. Such a great POST! with such fabulous comments. You have talented friends Frankie. I love to see what you are doing and am excited for all 28 that they are spending their Thanksgiving with YOU!

    Always remember…… Melanie Wilkes could have never pulled it off with such style.

    I am very Thankful for your friendship.

    God is Good! Its really all about the pumpkins after all.

  15. I will feel like you did yesterday on Christmas Day. That is when I do it all and already I’m worrying. Yesterday was a relaxing and happy day with family and friends. My contribution was the stuffing, a recipe that I never reveal for fear of not being invited again. I love the china and glad it survived the trip. We have many things to be grateful for this year and you are just one of mine.

  16. Happy day after Gobble!! Your place cards are to die for…I can’t imagine how long you had to paint!!! But worth every second. Wish you would take orders for next year!! I want two dozen!!! MaryMac beat me to the punch with spraying your pumpkins gold and copper, now maybe silver and tote them into Xmas decor…have you seen the little book The Oficial Guide to Christmas in the South or, If You Can’t Fry it Spraypaint it Gold? by David C.Barnette. Ditto your plates- years ago my Mother had turkey plates and dumb,young me didn’t want them back them. Duh- once again, thanks for sharing with us and your conversation with self I will remember during this hectic,retail overwhelms us,season..can’t wait to hear what the Mister Husband says about Christmas decor and fixings!!! Y’all passed your first Thanksgiving as MR. & MRS.. Cheers.

  17. Love pumpkins, gourds and oh, goblin eggs! Who knew? Those photos are great, love all those flowers,how beautiful! The placecard, plates, so much eye candy! Filing away the five grains of corn for next year. I am leaving my lovely Harvest decor up until the very end of the month. Christmas decorating starts on the 1st of December, with the tree going up on the 12th, old family tradition. Isn’t this time of year the absolute best?

  18. Happy post Thanksgiving. Thankfully you didn’t have to cook or GOSH knows what would have happened. You made a beautiful holiday for all.

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