“There is endless beauty and bounty all around us, right in front of us, waiting to be seen and embraced and taken into our homes, if we can only see it.”
— Louesa Roebuck and Sarah Lonsdale, “Foraged Flora,” 2016
In “Foraged Flora,” Roebuck and Lonsdale argue that our penchant for exotic floral arrangements has made us blind to the aesthetic value of common flowers and plants growing in our backyards. The authors attribute such shortsightedness to a bygone era when it was fashionable to display one’s wealth by growing and/or giving rare flowers that originated in faraway places.
It was a luxury only a few could afford back then, and Roebuck and Lonsdale note that transporting flowers across continents is a luxury “we as a planet can’t afford” today. Accompanied by exquisite photographs from Laurie Frankel, the two professional designers describe a year of foraging in gardens, fields, roadsides and alleyways and, from their findings, creating fabulous floral arrangements and other items for home décor.
Roebuck and Lonsdale say showcasing local plants for home decorations is complementary to a lifestyle that includes eating locally grown food in season. For many gardeners, it’s part of planting native and other locally grown plants that support pollinators and biodiversity.
Yet, I have to admit that even though I enjoy arranging a few cuttings from my flowerbeds for my home, every year I dutifully drag out the container labeled “Fall Décor.” Maybe I’m not sure if the flowers and plants I grow and see every day are worthy of special holiday display simply because they are so familiar.
Not to worry. “Natural simplicity is the look of today,” says Suzie Penwell, co-owner of Penny and Lulu Studio Florist in Medford (Suzie is Penny). Suzie and her business partner, Carol Lowenberg (Carol is Lulu) have been collaborating on floral and interior design projects for the past 27 years, and they’ve run Penny and Lulu since 2011.
You’ll find a copy of “Foraged Flora” in Suzie and Carol’s office, and their studio is full of inspiring examples of how they use local flora to create simple, elegant arrangements.
Fall in Southern Oregon is a great time to forage in our gardens and neighborhoods for home décor because there’s such a plethora of flora available — fall-blooming flowers, fruit hanging on tree branches, leaves turning fall colors, grasses with feathery plumes, perennials with interesting seedpods, tree limbs with attractive bark, and shrubs bearing vibrant berries.
“It’s really amazing what can be discovered just by walking through your garden,” Suzie told me. The key is to think outside of the box, and don’t shy away from using plants that aren’t “florist perfect” or those that are past the fresh-in-bloom stage.
After talking with Carol and Suzie, I felt motivated to forego the holiday container and try foraging for my fall home décor, instead. I started in my vegetable and flowers gardens and then foraged through the fields, orchards and gardens at Hanley Farm (thanks, Kristin and Judith!).
The best time to gather flora is in the morning when the plants are at their freshest from nighttime moisture and cooler temperatures. Use a clean, sharp pair of clippers to cut the plant stems, and watch that your cuttings will not impact the health or shape of a shrub or tree. Don’t forget to leave some flowers and seedheads in the garden for foraging wildlife. The stems of blooming flowers and greenery should be placed in fresh water, and everything should be kept cool until used as soon after gathering as possible.
I gently rinsed off the plants and produce I gathered with the mister setting on my spray nozzle, and then I laid everything on newspaper out of direct sunlight to dry. I sorted my found flora into different arrangements, trimmed off unwanted leaves, and cut down stems and stalks to varying heights.
Then I started with the first arrangement and let my imagination go. I enjoyed experimenting with mixing floral colors, shapes and textures for a fall arrangement in a tall glass vase and a harvest basket that I set by my front door. I’ll also scoop out the pulp and seeds from a few of the pumpkins I foraged, place a vase filled with water inside the pumpkin, and add fall blooming flowers and grasses for table centerpieces.
Searching for the flora made me more aware of the beauty of plants at different stages during this time of year, and gathering the flora made me a participant in the changing of the season. Seeing, smelling, touching, sometimes even tasting the flora while I worked with it artistically provided a multisensory experience that I want to turn into a fall ritual.
The fall décor I designed from my foraging exemplifies not only my perception of fall, but my involvement with it, and that’s something I can’t create from the contents of a storage container.
Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. Email her at Rnowak39@gmail.com. For more about gardening, visit her blog at http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.
Results of my foraging for fall décor
Lavender blooming flowers and seed heads
Verbena blooming flowers and seed heads
Purple and green grasses with feathery seed heads
Dried cornstalks with tassels
Faded sunflowers on stalks
Faded purple artichoke flowers on stalks
Crimson barberry stems
Viburnum branches with red berries
Holly branch with green and orange berries
Walnut branch with green walnuts
Fig stem with green figs
Grapevine with purple grapes
Garland of dried hops and leaves
Dusty Miller leaves
Pumpkins and squash
Dill blooming flowers and seedheads
Goldenrod flowers (blooming and faded)
Maple leaves turning red
Magnolia leaves and seedpods
Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’