APRIL IS FULL of promise: I watch and wait as stems push through the soil and buds begin to burst open. And at this time of year, I wake up every morning hoping for a clear, warm spring day. But nature doesn't always cooperate - across the country, it may be warm enough for a picnic or cold enough to gather in front of the fire.
Regardless of the weather, most of us are ready for spring and in the mood to celebrate. Here are some ideas for setting a table - for Easter, Passover or any other occasion - in keeping with the spirit of the season.Fern print linens
Transfer the delicate shape of ferns to table linens. Begin with plain white linen or cotton napkins or a tablecloth. Place on a smooth floor or other sturdy work surface, and slip a piece of heavy paper underneath.
Arrange the fern fronds on top, and cover with another piece of paper. Hold the paper in place so the layers don't slide about, and hammer firmly along the lines of the ferns. The pounding releases chlorophyll into the fabric to create the image.
The linens can be washed and ironed; over time, the vivid green will fade to a lovely brown.
Guests will be delighted to find cut flowers tucked into their napkins when they sit down for dinner.
To form a pocket for a flower, lay the napkin on a flat surface, and fold in half so folded edge is near you. Bring the top layer back down halfway, and turn the napkin over. Fold left and right edges to the center, then fold napkin in half.
Tuck the stem of a single bloom, or a tiny bouquet, into the pocket; insert the stems of more delicate flowers in little vials of water (available at floral shops) first, to keep them fresh.
A crisp cloth napkin takes on the shape of a flower in bloom with a few easy folds.
Start by ironing your napkins well. Place a napkin on a flat surface, and fold each of the points to the center, creating a smaller square. Repeat, folding points to the center again. Turn the napkin over, and fold points to the center a third time.
Smooth and straighten the folds, and press the napkin flat with your hands. Reach under the napkin, and pull the flap at each corner partway up, creating a petal with a small peak in the center. Reach under at the sides, and pull the corners of the napkin out.
Place one on each plate.
With a sprig of greenery encircling the lip, a jelly jar makes a charming, informal lantern.
Snip lengths of flexible greenery, such as ivy, from your garden, or buy some from a florist. Wrap one around a jelly jar, just below the lip, and secure the ends with a bit of floral wire. Place a votive or short pillar candle inside.
These lanterns are also perfect for outdoor tables, since the jars protect the flames from breezes.
Pretty pats of butter are ideal for a spring brunch. To make them, you need only butter and plastic chocolate molds in flower shapes, which you'll find at baking- and candy-making supply shops. (Molds are also available from Martha By Mail. Call 1-800-950-7130 for details.)
Let butter soften a little at room temperature, then use a small spatula - preferably an offset spatula - to press it into the molds and smooth the tops. Refrigerate for at least one hour, then pop the chilled pats of butter out onto a plate, and serve.
Just the right size for a few spring blooms, eggshells make sweet little vases.
Start by poking a hole in the top of an egg with a large pin. Carefully chip away at the shell, enlarging the hole, until the top of the egg is completely open. Pour out the raw egg, and rinse the shell. If you wish, you can dye these shells as you would Easter eggs.
When dry, place each shell in an eggcup, fill with water and arrange flowers inside.
Lush green grass says spring like nothing else, and a flat of grass makes a simple but dramatic table decoration.
Fill a planter (with drainage holes) with potting soil, sprinkle generously with grass seed or clover, and shower with water. Leave in a warm sunny spot, and the seeds should sprout in a week to 10 days.
If you wish, transfer daffodils or hyacinths already in bloom to the indoor garden: Use a spoon to make a hole in your little lawn, then add the bulbs.
Tulips are available in an amazing variety of strong colors. Emphasize them in single-color groupings: Make lots of small arrangements in tumblers or little vases, with just one color or kind of tulip in each. Dot them across the table, even throughout the house.
In clear vases or glasses, the stems add a striking architectural touch. Tulips are wonderfully abundant - and relatively inexpensive - for a short time each year, so take advantage of them while you can.