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.