One on One With Janelle Wiley


Thanksgiving Centerpieces- By Gina Dostler

The Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar is a place where plants take up special residence on the 2.2-acre grounds, and visitors become momentary guests amid their beauty. 

Seasonal gardens and water fountains provide the perfect setting for a lovely cup of tea or special events. The Library itself acquires, organizes and preserves all kinds of materials pertaining to the history of the Pacific Southwest.  As the holidays approach, you can find at the Gardens classes such as how to make lush living wreaths, Thanksgiving turkey for kids or fall-inspired garlands, all a part of their yearly curriculum.

Janelle Wiley has been a floral designer for more than 20 years, just recently retired from the Sherman Gardens as a color plant specialist. She had been responsible for designing and implementing the annual and perennial color schemes displayed in beds, pots and baskets and had supervised many volunteers.

Janelle still can be found at the Gardens teaching classes on floral designs and with the holidays on the horizon it would be a good time to check in on her to learn a few things. In  her busy schedule Janelle graciously found time to speak with me on setting a beautiful centerpiece for the holidays. Her wise and creative ideas inspired me to consider making my own centerpiece with her informative tips to help guide my hands.

Q:  Why should I consider a Thanksgiving centerpiece?
A:   Centerpieces make a table more focused, bright and inviting. They also give the table more height where the initial focus lands on the attractive arrangement. With a beautiful sumptuous feast abounding it’s fitting to have a beautiful art piece to center the table. Flowers bring life so it’s natural to collect them into one place for vibrancy with color and textures. Plus they are fun to do. The easiest floral arrangements to make are the ones that look like you lifted them right out of the garden.

Q:  What kinds of seasonal arrangements are making the rounds?
A:  Anything eye catching whether it is with colors or interesting designs, the centerpiece calls out its prettiness to everyone. I love using fruits along with flowers. Right now pomegranates set with limes, surrounded by sunflowers, red gerberas, and alstroemerias are all wonderful to arrange for a colorful setting.

The pomegranate is considered a symbol of love and what better centerpiece to use when having loved ones over for Thanksgiving. I also like to also use red hyperium berries right alongside roses, and tulips. Waxflowers can even be used – even though they’re normally white and pink, they can be dyed to Fall colors and inserted in the mix.

I always like to use foliage such as scented geraniums and huckleberry greens to set off any arrangement and create a bit of a different look. Always use a blend of greens, never just one.

Q:  What about using vegetables?
A:  Sounds silly, but mini-artichokes, broccoli, asparagus, endive and kale can truly become a lively display maybe choosing some orange or white tulips or whatever flowers you choose to accent around the vegetables. Pears, oranges, green apples and grapes are wonderful as well. Grab a floral stick and an oasis sponge and choose to display it in a container of your choice.

Q:  Throw some ideas out for containers that I can use.
A:  How about using a treasured family vase or bowl? This can surely set the tone of a family gathering with a family heirloom centered for all to gather around. A unique shape baking dish or a clear fluted bowl filled with cranberries or whatever you want to fill it with to accent the table. A hollowed out pumpkin or a traditional cornucopia-shaped basket brings a more traditional theme. Sometimes a container isn’t need with just a garland of leaves and branches down a runner with acorns and gourds around candles can be used to set a warm ambiance.

Q:  What can I do to keep my arrangements as fresh as possible?
A:  If making your own, for flowers look for healthy blooms. Of course what type of flowers and when they were cut. Farmers’ market flowers are a lot fresher because chances are there’s a grower that’s coming to the market.

So they should be freshly cut. Make sure the flower looks sturdy and securely attached to the stem. The condition of the foliage is really the key to it all. Make sure they look really bright green.  Also shake the bunch just a bit. If they start to fall apart, chose another better bunch. Also be sure to take leaves off before putting into a vase or oasis so no foliage goes below the waterline.. And always diagonal cut for more surface area to absorb water and feed the head of the flowers. When the water looks cloudy, change it and give the ends a fresh cut at that time too.



Janelle Wiley

The Sherman Library and Gardens

2647 East Coast Highway

Corona del Mar, California  92625