I first heard the term foraging related to floral design a few years ago and honestly didn’t really get it. You mean you just get stuff on the side of the road? It surprised me that high-end designers were traipsing through the woods, stopping at islands on roads, and wandering abandoned industrial parks to gather (semi-legal) product for designs. One designer I met at a design conference who did holiday florals for the Obama family in the White House actually injured her eye getting an apple tree branch for her demo. Dedication to the trade!
Foraging is a mainstay of most modern designers in this era of nature-inspired florals. If you see huge installations with branches or find seed pods in your wedding bouquet, a designer or assistant probably collected these castaways in some (hopefully legal) way. Today most floral design books include foraged finds too.
My naturally anxious and rule-following nature has made me slow to embrace the foraging phenomenon in floral design. But over the last several months I’ve come to really appreciate what the natural element adds to cut flowers: a connection to the seasons and a sense of life (or death) that you just don’t get the same way without adding found materials.
In October I did on-site floral design at a retreat hosted by Sarah Jenks on her beautiful property, Hawthorn Farm. I set up a makeshift studio in her backyard woods in Medfield, Massachusetts. I had acres of land to source from and free rein on what I could create…a dream come true for my public foraging-shy self.
I used grasses, wildflowers, pods and branches to create a fall look inspired by the land. These found materials transformed what would otherwise have been simple white rose and dried eucalyptus designs into etherial late fall still life pieces captured in a photo shoot with my friend Katie Lenhart.
Photos by Katie Lenhart
If you are curious and want to play with foraging yourself, go for it! Get outside and find materials with textures and shapes that inspire you. As you design florals at home, you can add your natural finds to more traditional flowers to make them come alive with the season.
When you start foraging, there are three main things to keep in mind: pests, problem plants, and local laws.
Pests: Be sure to wear gloves, watch where you step, and let product sit for a couple hours outside after you pick it to encourage insects to wander off.
Problem Plants: Watch out for plants like poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac. If you are at all unsure about these, get a refresher before you head out to forage. This guide is really thorough.
Local Laws: I was lucky enough to forage recently on private property with the owner’s blessing. But, if you are foraging on public land or on the side of the road, learn the local rules (or decide for yourself how much you don’t want to know). Definitely don’t forage from protected parks and forests. And never pick fruit from trees you don’t own without permission.
Who doesn’t love sage? The piney, peppery taste, soft color and feel, and decidedly fall vibe make this herb my top pick to kick off my new herb series! Let me take you on a tour of all things sage…it’s history, tips to grow your own, and inspiration for how to use it all season long (and not on your turkey)!
Salvia is the botanical genus name for a group of sage varieties. I use common sage, salvia officinalis, in these examples, but you can use other (edible) varieties too. Salvia comes from the latin word salvere, meaning "to be saved," and has been used medicinally for centuries. In the middle ages people used to say, "Why should a man die when sage grows in his garden?" Sage was used to fight all types of infections and ailments, particularly tooth decay, colds, hot flashes, and even sweat. Sipping sage tea was an early form of deodorant! Today sage is still used medicinally by herbalist and is also recognized as a good source of vitamin K, which supports blood and bone health.
This hearty, drought-tolerant and forgiving herb is easy to grow indoors or out.
Here are the basics to start growing sage yourself:
Start with: Plants. Seeds are tricky to start.
Variety: There are many varieties to choose from. For cooking, start with common sage and then branch out to tricolor sage, pineapple sage and all the rest. Ambitious? Pick 3 and grow a variety pot or patch.
Soil: Needs well-draining soil.
Sun/Light: Sage does best in full sun, but can be grown indoors if it gets a lot of light near a window.
Water: Sage is drought tolerant and doesn’t like to have wet feet (roots). Water thoroughly and let dry between waterings.
Harvest: To encourage growth and preserve herbal oils, in the morning clip just above a bud, where two leaves meet.
Cold: A hearty perennial, sage is cold tolerant, will last through late fall and come back year after year outdoors in most zones.
Lately I’ve seen sage smudge bundles everywhere! Between my recent trip to Massachusetes to do on-site florals for a retreat (you can read more about the trip here in the Found Beauty article), more than a few episodes of Grace and Frankie, and a lot of #witchy going on in my Instagram feed, sage sticks are having a moment.
Have no idea what I’m talking about? Sage bundles, also known as "smudge sticks" are used for smudging. Smudging is an ancient practice of energy clearing. By burning what are considered sacred plants (and sage is at the top of this list), you clear away the stagnant or negative energetic gunk lingering around you, your home or environment. It’s like a #goodvibesonly reset stick. You can smudge after a big clean-out, before you start anything new in a space, or before a ceremony or holiday. New pre-Thanksgiving dinner tradition?
I'll show you how to make your own sage stick with a little floral twist. Not into the spirit woo-woo stuff? That's okay! These are sweet, earthy florals you can dry to add a natural touch to your home for winter. They also make fun gifts for your boho-hippie friends this holiday season.
Rosy Smudge Bundle
What you’ll need:
Mini roses (optional)
Once your bundle is dry, you can use it to sage your space. The string may be loose after drying. Some people avoid the problem by drying the sage first or using rubber bands instead of string. You can play with these options or just re-tie if you have a loose bundle.
How to smudge:
Carefully light the leafy end of your sage stick. Blow out and wave the bundle and smoke around yourself, home or workspace with the intention of clearing away everything that's stale and stagnant. Always have a saucer (or traditionaly an abalone shell) nearby to catch embers and put out the bundle when you're finished.
*Traditionally, bundles are made with white sage, but I used common sage here, which is a little easier to find at the grocery store, in your garden, or farmer’s market. It still works for clearing.
With it’s piney taste, sage is ideal for late fall and winter cocktails! I came up with this sage-y twist on the prohibition era Bee’s Knees. Sage and lemon forward, it’s somehow summery and wintery at the same time, just like my home town San Diego this time of year. Give it a try and let me know what you think! Don't drink? Skip the alcohol and you’ll have a tasty winter lemonade.
The Sage Bee
What you need for 1 cocktail:
2 oz honey sage syrup (recipe below)
1.05 oz. gin
.75 oz fresh lemon juice
.25 oz fresh orange juice
Splash Belle de Brillet (I used this pear and cognac combo, but you can play with other liquors)
Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice. Shake! Strain and garnish.
Honey Sage Syrup
1 cup water
3 tablespoons honey (local, raw is the best!)
10 sage leaves
Combine ingredients in a small saucepan over medium high heat. Once honey dissolves, reduce to a low simmer and let simmer for 20 minutes. Let cool. Makes enough for 4 cocktails.
Have a question about growing or using sage? Let me know in the comments below!
The holidays are here! With Thanksgiving tomorrow and Christmas just around the corner, we are officially in the season of gatherings. Want to mix up your usual décor with some new ideas? Here are my top picks for tablescape trends to try:
1. Keep it simple with greens
In case you haven't noticed, nature is in. Stay on trend by keeping things simple (and wallet friendly) with a free-form all greens table runner.
2. Use this moody, romantic palette, perfect for late fall.
Okay, so maybe you don't look for your Thanksgiving table to remind you of a vampire love affair, but hello? Look at these colors! I love the black candles and pink florals.
I used a similar moody romantic palette in a recent still life photo shoot with Katie Lenhart and I will always come back to these colors this time of year:
3. Look to your fruit bowl for inspiration.
Speaking of the still life...try mixing in some pomegranates, or citrus with your table decor, or let your imagination run wild. Pear tree holiday table?
4. Mix in sage (and flannel too) to get cozy.
Doesn't this look make you want to grab a blanket and hot chocolate? For more sage ideas, check out this issue's Sage 3 Ways: Grow + Make + Sip.
5. Don't be afraid of a little sparkle.
No matter what's "trending," I will always be a fan of glitter. My great grandmother made tons of glittery decor we still put up around Christmas. If you're like me and will always have a soft spot for something sparkly, check out these adorable ways to add some shine to your table this holiday season.
6. Get energized with table side aromatherapy.
Get sleepy after a big holiday meal? Give the whole table an aromatherapy boost with energizing eucalyptus (and you can usually find it at Trader Joe's!).
7. Add Succulents or other botanicals.
I think this will be my route this year. Though not-your-usual holiday evergreens, succulents or air plants (especially big bold xerographica or echeveria rosettes) are surprising, creative additions to any table.
8. Rethink traditional decor.
Play with quantity and color to for a whimsical, very Martha vibe.
9. Get crafty with found objects.
Pinecones, seedpods and other foraged goods are always good decor additions. Want to learn more about foraging? Check out the Found Beauty article from this month's issue.
10. Skip to the main event.
Of course you could skip the florals all together and make one giant cheeseboard!
Want help with your holiday decor?
I'll be in Southern California for the holiday season this year. If you're in the San Diego or even Los Angeles area, join me for a holiday hands-on workshop (more coming soon) or let me know what you're looking for. I can create a custom holiday look for you and deliver it to your doorstep.
Keep an eye out! I'm creating a special gift just for you this holiday season to inspire you to create unique, plant-y projects all month long. It'll be in your inbox in December! Not on the list? Send me your email, and I'll make sure you get your guide too.
I also often travel for private making parties. If you have a group of 6 or more, contact me to talk about a customized private event.