Inspired by a Japanese custom, ask guests to tie their sentiments to tree branches with ribbons. Here, stems are adorned with crepe-paper buds and blossoms and placed in a porcelain vase. Expressions like "Prosperity" and "Good Marriage" are written in Korean and Japanese and hung ahead of time to decorate the branches.
Diminutive gum-paste birds, their markings painted with petal dust, search for treats -- flecks of vanilla bean used to flavor fondant snow. Birch twigs circle the cake, their tips wrapped in floral tape. A cake board concealed by fondant sits between the bottom tier and tree-trunk base. Make sure to remove birds and twigs before serving.
Let guests' well-wishes take flight on paper doves. These birds are traditional symbols of love, happiness, and harmony. Anchor bare branches (these are manzanita) in a large, sturdy vessel filled with stones or gravel. Use wire to secure nests, available from crafts stores, to branches. Set dove cards -- available precut -- in a dish. Place pencils alongside your tree with a sign asking guests to inscribe a card and to place it in a nest.
Manzanita branches, with berry clusters attached, were sprayed gold and hung from ribbons. Threaded over them are wide ochre ribbons that hold calligraphed seating cards in place. The contrasting gold ribbon is anchored at intervals with fabric glue. Glittering millinery flowers add the final touch.
Calligraphy by Maria-Helena Hoksch.
You wouldn't want to gild the lily, of course, but a leafy branch? An altogether different matter. "Gold can add glamour, but it's easy to go over the top with it," says designer Matthew Robbins, who created the arrangements here. Juxtapose opulent gold branches (in the form of faux bay-laurel twigs) with the humble grace of wood (apply gold Rub 'N Buff and drill holes) for a decadent yet simple centerpiece.
Limbs from a Japanese maple tree inserted into a tall vase are almost as good as the real thing. Keep branches tall and stems visible, and place a leaf beside each name card for pure visual poetry. (Crab-apple branches are another option for fall; use quince and birch in winter and olive branches in summer.)
What could be more romantic than saying "I do" beneath a tree? Bring the garden fantasy indoors with urns filled with arching Bradford pear branches; gold leaves here and there add a fairy-tale sheen. A cluster of lily of the valley secured with gold double-faced satin ribbon speaks the same language: nature's beauty.
Tiny terra-cotta pots with a dome of velvety moss are spare yet elegant against a pristine white table. To make, start with a two-inch-diameter terra-cotta pot, place a small piece of crock, fill with potting soil, and top with a mound of moss. Insert a birch twig into center of mound. Secure a name card to the twig: Slip the card behind a twig node, or make a horizontal slit in the twig with a utility knife, and slide in the bottom edge of the card.