Cutting flowers and weeds from the side of the road for a wildflower arrangement is as simple as taking a walk down a country lane, armed with sheers and a bucket. But more often, I am driving down a rural lane and see something interesting and slam on the brakes and try to find a spot to park.
There is no need to plant a cutting garden on your property, just explore the outdoors. It is healthy to get outside and walk and be with nature, so here is your chance to bring something home from one of your strolls.
Where to Look
I live in rural Monkton, Maryland, which I describe to people as a twin to the Cotswolds-winding narrow country roads surrounded with farm fields, stone walls, and horse paddocks. I spot lots of specimens that are ready to be cut and used in a flower arrangement. Occasion or not, I really just want some cut flowers to brighten up my house. If you are on the side of a county owned road, you don’t need permission, but if you forage onto someone’s property, you need to ask. I was driving down a road and screeched to a halt when I spotted crimson clover. I got out and approached the farmer nearby to make sure it was OK to cut a bunch. Better safe than sorry.
The best time for foraging is in the morning but the best time for me is when I am actively looking!
But if I am on a hike with my dog, I am looking for things to cut. I always carry pruners with me just in case. I try to do a woods walk a couple of times a week to get away from the stresses of my job and often head to a local ‘hike and bike’ trail. Here I can de-stress and often find plant material to bring home.
There are tons of health benefits from “forest bathing”. Lowered blood pressure, decreased cancer risk, and mental health boost are all claimed to be part of being out in nature. Go to Health Benefits of Being Outside to see more information.
Sometimes I score big with blue cornflowers or red poppies
But I can see that if you have a huge dinner party coming up, that you would scout out your locations in advance, and the day before go on a “fishing” expedition. I use “fishing” because you never know what you will find and you might land a whopper of flowers, or they might not appear at all.
Here are your pointers for plant foraging:
Safety & Sources
- Learn to identify what you are collecting as you don’t want to pick anything poisonous or on the endangered/threatened list. Wear long pants and closed toe shoes to protect against ticks and poison ivy.
- If you don’t know what poison ivy looks like, just google images of this lethal plant before venturing forth.
- If collecting by roadsides, wear protective gloves. Do not park or stop on the side of a highway! I try to find smaller rural roads to do my collecting. Always put safety first and park only where safely off the road.
- Follow the principles of “Leave no trace” and leave your collecting area the same or better than when you entered it. Don’t strip it clean! And don’t dig up roots.
- Do your research and don’t collect from the threatened or endangered plant list. Go to the USDA website at https://plants.usda.gov/threat.html for a state by state list. In my home state of Maryland, I don’t collect things like partridge berry, wild orchids, or ground pine, as many of these are on the endangered list.
- Armed with bug spray, pruners, scissors and collecting buckets and bags, I troll the sides of the roads for likely prospects and always have a “foraging kit” in the back of my car.
- When you get your treasures home, strip all the lower leaves off and plunge into water filled buckets in a cool spot for several hours at a minimum. I add some packaged flower sachets to the water. Conditioning your fresh cuts in this way will greatly prolong the life of your flowers, sometimes up to a week!
- Know your areas for particular plants. There are some wet boggy areas around me that harbor the invasive pink lythrum and when it is blooming, I take advantage.
- Dried seed heads and berries are great for arrangements. Also interesting twigs, lichens, and, pods are excellent.
- Don’t forget greens. Contrasting with your flowers, greens make an arrangement stand out. Wild asparagus, ivy, ferns, conifers, deciduous tree branches with fall color. All these bring a lot of color and texture to an arrangement.
Putting It All Together
There are huge differences between a florist arrangement and a foraged one. Foraged ones are usually a bit wilder looking and have things you would never encounter at a florist, like dock, seed heads, and wild asparagus. I much prefer the wild foraged arrangements to the static florist arrangement and it doesn’t cost you a dime.