Create A Winterthur Inspired Everlasting Christmas Tree

A tour of Henry Francis du Pont’s former extraordinary home was my destination this year to enjoy holiday style decorations. An eighteen room dollhouse, fully decorated with Christmas treasures and other handmade pieces was also one of the draws for me.

Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur

Another was the large fir in the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of multi-hued dried flowers or “everlastings” that looked as fresh as if just picked. The iconic ‘Dried Flower Tree” is a tradition for Winterthur and people are amazed when they see it.

Dried rose and statice on the tree looked fresh
Dried rose, Chinese Lantern, and Statice on the tree looked fresh

Arrangements are placed throughout the house all year-long with fresh flowers, and after they have done their duty in the floral designs, the flowers are taken to the basement of a cottage on the property. There, they are dried in the room dubbed “the drying room”. Serving double duty, these flowers arranged on the tree create a multi-hued rainbow effect that is stunning.

A single rose hangs from the tree
A single rose hangs from the tree, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For the actual process of decorating this tree, which started in 1986, look at this video.

Most of the flowers are picked on Winterthur’s property throughout the year and either air-dried or dried with silica gel, a  crystalline dessicant. Starting in March/April with the daffodil, any flower that can be dried is used for that purpose.

Some of the dried flowers used
Some of the dried flowers used

Everything is then packed into a fumigant tent for three weeks, starting in early October, to kill any pests. In late October, the flowers are brought out and organized by color into long boxes. Starting with the topper, the staff works all around the tree, bunching many of the flowers for a bigger impact. Special flowers like peonies and roses are placed singly on the branches, wired for stability.

Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Love Lies Bleeding drapes from the tree top
Dried peony
Dried peony

Queen Anne’s Lace, peonies, daffodils, and zinnias are dried for ten days with silica gel as these don’t dry well with air drying. Others like larkspur, yarrow, billy balls, safflower, cockscomb, money plant, hydrangea, and Chinese lantern are air-dried in a dark place for about a week and then are packed away until ready to be used.

Grasses are also used
Grasses are also used
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice
Yellow billy balls, peony, and statice, photo by Amy Sparwasser

For hours and more information about Winterthur, go to Yuletide at Winterthur.

Make Your Own Everlasting Tree

You can hardly see the artificial tree for the flowers!
Miniature dried flower tree in visitor center at Winterthur

Seeing the miniature tree at the visitor center got me in the mood to create one at home. A small artificial tree is all you need, preferably one with lights already loaded. I had plenty of dried flowers that I picked and dried throughout the summer months. My list included sunflowers, statice, roses, cotton, allium, strawflowers, globe amaranth, nigella,  salvia, hydrangea, cockscomb, and orange slices.

I used silica gel to dry my roses
A dehydrator came in handy for the orange slices and large flat flowers
Air dried sunflowers
Lay out your materials
I decorated a small artificial tree with lights already loaded

A pick machine with steel picks is the easiest way to make small bunches of flowers, but if you don’t have the luxury of this great tool, you can simply gather bunches together and wire by hand.

An old pick machine
Using a pick machine is the easiest way of making small bunches
An alternative is to use small wooden picks with wire to bunch the flowers by hand
I bunched up globe amaranths by hand with a wooden pick
Insert the bunches into the tree and fasten with hot glue
You can hardly see the artificial tree for the flowers!
Dried flower tree at Winterthur
Dried flower tree at Winterthur- picture by Amy Sparwasser

Thanksgiving Succulents

Decorating for the fall season is always top of my list of feel good things to do. The variety and colors of pumpkins and gourds that are outside of the normal fall color range is exciting to arrange with. Also, succulents that have grown like crazy all summer need to be pruned, brought in to warmer temperatures, and are a perfect partner for fall arranging.

Hanging baskets of succulents ready for taking cuttings and prunings
Succulents come in an array of sizes and shapes

 

With my Deck the Halls-A Succulent Christmas post getting tons of views all year long, succulents are maintaining their popularity and usefulness in all kinds of ways. Pumpkin decorating with succulents has reached mainstream audiences and many decorators are using these for their table centerpieces. Go to Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats to see the variety of things that you can do with the combination of pumpkins and succulents for a long lasting table and unique arrangement.

Pumpkin decorated with succulents
Top of pumpkin covered with succulents

Succulents on pumpkin

Picking up an old fashioned wicker cornucopia on my travels inspired me to decorate it with the succulent/pumpkin/gourd idea.

The larger one which measures about 18″ long works better with large gourds and succulents; the smaller cornucopia which measures about 12″ long works with tiny pumpkins and hen and chick succulents
Place bubble wrap in the cornucopia and gather your materials.

Placing some bubble wrap in the cornucopia to support the arrangement was the first step and then gathering my materials. I used fresh/dried gourds, dried pomegranates, air plants, cotton bolls, okra pods, oyster shells, and lots of succulent cuttings. The cuttings will last a long time through Thanksgiving and then I will recycle them into pots to root for next years succulents. Adding dried ornamental corn and baby pumpkins to the mix completes the display. No glue or oasis was used, I just inserted the materials into the bubble wrap.

Place your largest items in first; in this case, the gourds

Add your succulents, pomegranates, and other pods
This cornucopia is a little different the addition of oyster shells; See my post on a Williamsburg Christmas

Other Succulent Ideas

Here are some other succulent Thanksgiving ideas for centerpieces.

Top of a large pumpkin had small pumpkins attached
Houseplant succulent candle centerpiece
Pumpkins, succulents, and air plants on a side board
Table setting of pumpkins and succulents
Succulents and Pumpkins as a table setting

Foraged Outdoor Arrangements

Baby, it is cold outside….
Those popular lyrics say it all. We are warming up inside with a glass of wine and enjoying ourselves. But if you entertain or just bring in the groceries, you need some holiday arrangements to greet your guests or lift your spirits. Here are some ideas on doing outdoor arrangements in your old containers that held overflowing annuals which are now toast. Remove those old plants and transform your pots into something magical and stunning. Add mini lights and you have something incredible to greet your visitors as they drive up to your house and enter.

Light up your arrangements with spotlights
Red twig dogwood branches, fresh eucalyptus, greens, nandina berries, gold tipped arborvitae

Foraging

Forage in your garden and on the roadside and at the local store to pick up some treasures. Shopping at a local Wegman’s, I snatched up some gold painted huge pine cones that were fabulous!! Trader Joe’s is also a great resource, perhaps for Eucalyptus and other treasures, like Winterberry. For my post on foraging on the side of the road, check out Foraged Foliage and Berries for Fall.

Laying out the goods
Some foraged lichen covered branches
I grow this gold tipped arborvitae especially for Christmas decorating
Simple but effective vine ball full of tiny lights on a bed of greens

Choose the Right Plants

Growing the right sort of plants in your garden is the first step. I just planted an evergreen Magnolia tree, Brown’s Bracken, so that I can use the branches in future projects. I have started to trim it sparingly, but it is growing pretty quickly and I intend on trimming more in the near future.

Browns Bracken Magnolia on my property

Using the greens and berries from your own property is very satisfying and you can be sure they are fresh. Contacting my neighbor who has a huge stand of juniperus chinensis that rings around her property produced a tub full of juniper branches. She allows me to cut at will and it is a great blue grey-green for Christmas decorations.  Any blue berries are a bonus.

Juniper berries

Also, I grow red and yellow twig dogwoods and curly willow, just for the branches that I use for drama and height in my containers. All of these are easy to grow  and harvest for your projects. Winterberry in both red and gold are another shrub that is easy to grow and important to add color to arrangements.

Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow Twig Dogwood
Yellow twig dogwood along with birch logs and cotton branches add drama to this container
Winter Gold Winterberry growing in the garden
Harvesting the bounty of my trees and shrubs in November; the blue black berries are privet
Harvesting gold Chamaecyparis
Dwarf Thujopsis dolobrata, or commonly known as Hiba Arborvitae is a wonderful addition to fresh green arrangements
Closeup of Thujopsis
My red Winterberry in my garden; ready to be picked
Dried hydrangea flower heads are ready to be picked
Incense cedar drapes over the edge of a container
Dusting of snow frosts the surface of this container

Blooms & Bamboo at Longwood Gardens

Visiting Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA is always a pleasure and one I try to do several times a year. Fortunately for me, it is close by. I made a day trip which included a visit to Terrain, a destination nursery/garden center that is worth a trip on its own. For other posts on Longwood, go to- Longwood’s Summer of Spectacle and Christmas at Longwood.

I had never been to the fall Mum display and last week made the hour and a half journey to take it all in, and was blown away by the artful mums and stunning bamboo constructions. Blooms & Bamboo: Chrysanthemum and Ikebana Sogetsu Artistry is the official title, and features masterworks of Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging, and bonsai. For more information on the behind the scenes, go to The Making of Blooms & Bamboo.

Bamboo archway

The bamboo structures were massive

Bamboo

Created by Headmaster of Sogetsu, Iemoto Akane Tehsigahara, the exhibit features two large-scale displays of bamboo and natural elements showcased in the Longwood Gardens Conservatory. Featuring 635 rods of bamboo manipulated into spiraling, twisting, and intertwining natural works of art that were over 15 feet high, these works of art towered almost to the roof of the conservatory.

If the bamboo exhibits weren’t enough, thousands of blooming chrysanthemums trained into imaginative forms and shapes by Longwood’s own horticulture masters were on display.

Mums

My daughter and I posing in front of the massive single chrysanthemum plant that features over 1000 blooms

The first thing you see entering the main conservatory is the massive Chrysanthemum plant that was started in the Longwood’s greenhouse 17 months ago. Beginning more than a year in advance, thousands of chrysanthemums are nurtured and trained meticulously into giant spheres, spirals, columns of cascading flowers, and pagodas. To appreciate the many different types of mums, go to Chrysanthemums: A Class of Their Own. 

Each bloom is supported and tied in
Cross section of the sphere showing how one mum plant is trained
Masses of unusual mums were placed out in the conservatory
Spider mums
Labeled types of mums
Mum pagoda
Mum fan
Smaller mum sphere from one plant
Football mums line the conservatory passages
Mum growing up a wall
Cascading mums draped the conservatory columns
I loved the lavender colored corner of the conservatory
A free form mum

Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage, complemented the mums
Cuphea ‘Candy Corn’
Cuphea ‘Candy Corn’ set off the yellow orange corner of the Conservatory
Sabra Spike Sage was a great autumnal color

Ikebana 

The Japanese art of flower arrangement, Ikebana, was showcased in the Sogetsu school which is one of the styles of Ikebana. The Sogetsu School focuses more on free expression and is based on the belief that Ikebana can be enjoyed anytime, anywhere, by anyone. From the number of people who were exclaiming over them, there were plenty of admirers. For more information of Longwood’s Ikebana, go to Art For Anyone: Sogetsu Ikebana.

Bonsai

Numerous examples of Bonsai featuring miniaturized mums were my favorite. Bonsai is the Japanese art form of cultivating small trees or plants that mimic the shape of scale of full size trees. Through different techniques, such as wiring, shaping, and root pruning, these are amazingly like their full size plants. For more information on these, go to Character Development of a Bonsai.

Pomegranate tree
Different mum bonsai

This mum was growing over a small boulder

You can still see the exhibit now until November 17 and you can buy your tickets at Longwood Gardens.

Foraged Foliage & Berries For Fall

Porch pots are an old fashioned way to decorate a deck, porch, or other entrance to greet people with something colorful during the fall and winter season. Burning bush, dogwood, viburnums, hydrangea flowers, and other fall colored branches are available for the taking along road sides or your property.

Spicebush on the edge of the woods
Blue Amsonia, a great perennial for fall color is the yellow in this arrangement

Foraging in the Wild

Burning bush has escaped to the wild as an invasive and you can spot it a mile away on the side of the road with its flaming branches.  Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, a native, shines with a yellow light through the woods and Bittersweet, another invasive, tangles through trees.

I found this abandoned hornets nest
The nest is really beautiful!

Rose hips, wild Hawthorne, Jack in the Pulpit berries, Sourwood tree foliage, and Kousa Dogwood foliage and berries- the list is endless. Just walk down your neighborhood streets with pruners and start trimming off some branches. Be sure to be careful where you trim. If it is a neighbor’s property, ask permission first.

Jack in the Pulpit berries

I gathered bittersweet and also the lichen covered branches of this dead tree
The lichen covered branches are really interesting in porch pots
Japanese Maple, Hairy Balls, lichen covered branches, burning bush, blackberry lily berries, winterberry, and nandina

Christmas Porch Pots

Porch pots are an easy inexpensive way to dress up your entrance and they are especially valuable for Christmas entertaining. For my recent article on Christmas porch pots in The American Gardener, go to;

Porch_Pots_TAG_SO19

Christmas porch pot

But in the mid-Atlantic, our fall has been such a long Indian summer, the fall foliage is waiting for me to pick and use it.

Orange Fothergillia makes this porch pot stand out
The Oakleaf Hydrangea leaves and Winterberry make this arrangement

Safety Tips

Be careful as your forage for fall materials. Poison Ivy also turns a beautiful color!!  When stopping on the side on the road, pull off far enough that you don’t stop traffic. I always wear gloves, long pants, and good sturdy shoes.

Poison Ivy turns a great color, but beware!
My blueberry bushes turn a brilliant red in the fall
The large yellow leaves are Calycanthus or Carolina Sweet Shrub

Top 10 Materials for Fall Arrangements (Mid-Atlantic Region)

Gather materials and plunge them into a big bucket of water

1 Viburnum foliage and berries-the berries come in red, yellow, pink, and blue

2 Blueberry-flaming red foliage

3 Dogwood-foliage and berries

4 Maple-Japanese Maples and Sugar Maples have awesome colors in the fall

5 Oakleaf Hydrangeas-turning a burgundy color, these are long lasting for foliage or flowers

6 Sassafras-brilliant orange and red foliage

7 Nandina-berries and foliage

8 Fothergillia-beautiful burgundy and oranges

9 Grass Plumes-adds great texture

10 Burning Bush-flame red colored foliage with berries

Variety of fall berries that you could use
Fothergillia turns a brilliant orange color

The Process

Begin with a tall well formed branch as the backdrop

Starting with a pot of soil left over from  your dead annuals, simply insert the cut branches into the soil which will hold everything in place. Soil is better for these large pots rather than floral oasis as it holds up better and the large branches stay firmly in the soil.

Dogwood and Burning Bush branches with Viburnum berries are stuck in a container that had annuals all season
The addition of the yellow and red Viburnum berries add texture and color
Nandina berries draping over the edge adds dimension
Finished container measures 4′ x 4′
Japanese Maples turning color
Color spectrum of Japanese Maples

For the western part of the US, quaking aspens, Salal, and Eucalyptus are valuable additions to your tool box of foliage.

In Colorado, Quaking Aspens are great for yellow and orange foliage colors, photo by Amy Sparwasser

Making Your Fall Pumpkins Last

With Halloween around the corner, pumpkin carving skills need to be honed and executed on the most perfect orange sphere that you can find in the pumpkin patch. If orange isn’t your thing, there is a rainbow of colors to choose from. Check out my post on Decorating Pumpkins-Pumpkin Eye Candy.

 

White pumpkin owl family
Artistically carved pumpkin at Ladew’s Garden Glow
Use black paint to make your design stand out
Love the floral hat!!
Closeup of hat

Making Your Creation Last Longer

  1. Make sure you thoroughly clean out and scrape the guts. The cleaner and drier you get with the gooey pumpkin innards, the longer it will last.
  2.  Rinse the entire pumpkin in cold water and dry.
  3. Spray the pumpkin insides with a solution of  1 Tablespoon of peppermint soap or bleach to a quart of cold water. The peppermint soap acts as an anti-fungal and the bleach kills any organisms that lead to rot and decay.
  4. Apply a thin coating of petroleum jelly to the outside to stop the pumpkin from drying out.
  5. Place pumpkin in fridge in a plastic bag to store overnight or place outside in the cold. The colder it is (not freezing!) the longer it will last.
  6. Rehydrate with a spray of water when you take the pumpkin out of the bag.
  7. Don’t use real candles as the heat and melted wax will hasten the demise of your pumpkin. Use small small floral votives that last for hours.
  8. To last the longest, paint your pumpkin.
Tools for carving-the wooden handled tool is for paring off the skin

For the best tutorial on carving pumpkin faces, look at Carving Pumpkin Faces.

Decorating a Whole Pumpkin

If carving a pumpkin is too much trouble for a pumpkin that lasts for about a week, consider decorating your squash with succulents which will last for months.

Green pumpkins look good with succulents
Use drieds along with succulents
Spraying your pumpkin gold adds some glam
Wisps of grass add a good design element to this pumpkin

For how-to on decorating pumpkins with succulents, check out Succulent Pumpkins For the Fall and Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents.  

Picking the Best Pumpkin

When you are at the farm stand picking out your perfect specimen, be sure to look it over for soft spots and gouges into the outer skin. If either of these are present, your pumpkin will likely rot before you can start decorating it. Poke and prod the pumpkin all over to make sure it is healthy. Have a plan of what you would like to carve as that determines the shape, size and orientation(sideways, upright, upside down) of your final creation. If you want the pumpkin at its best on Halloween, don’t carve it too early. One day ahead or the day of is perfect so that the pumpkin holds up.

This makes a great sideways pumpkin
Consider carving your pumpkin at a different angle
Make it simple

Picking out from a local market means you won’t get a bruised and battered pumpkin that traveled far from the farmer.

An outdoor work area is preferable as the job can get quite messy. Using brown/butcher paper or a trash bag underneath makes cleanup a snap.

 

Carefully paring away of the skin adds to the expression of this face
Draw from a template if you want an elaborate design
For elaborate designs, artists uses templates
Attach accessories to make your pumpkin unique

 

Group your pumpkins for a bigger impact

Easy Fall Centerpiece Ideas

It is time to start thinking about your fall holiday table and entertaining for Thanksgiving. Here are some ideas below.

If you want to see me decorate for the fall season with pumpkins, succulents, and other naturals, come see me at The Baltimore County Cockeysville Library in Maryland, where I will be creating and demonstrating centerpieces. I will be demonstrating for about an hour and a half starting at 7PM on Thursday evening, on October 24, 2019.  And you might go home with an arrangement!

If you can’t make it, check out my posts on how to design with succulents and pumpkins at Pumpkin Treats-Decorating with Succulents, Succulent Pumpkin Centerpieces, and Succulent Thanksgiving.

Hairy Balls & Pollinators

I love arranging with “Hairy Balls” for a unique centerpiece
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers like the common Milkweed

Visitors looking over my garden in the fall, always ask what the strange-looking plant is that is forming large spiny pods. Growing in my veggie garden, because of the amount of space the plants take, my Gymnocarpus physocarpa, or “Hairy Balls” are a conversation starter. A Milkweed family member, another common name is Balloon Plant. Native to South Africa, this plant is an invasive in tropical climates, but in my zone 6-7 area, winter cold keeps it in check.

Hairy Balls in full glory

Here are some facts about this amazing plant:

  • Fast growing annual Milkweed, hardy in zones 8-10
  • Can sustain lots of munching monarch caterpillars late season
  • Nectar source for monarch butterflies
  • Long stems with pods make beautiful table centerpiece
  • Last viable Milkweed species before fall frost
  • Start seeds at least 6-8 weeks inside; easy to germinate in about a week
  • Flowers aren’t super showy, but still attractive
  • Fewer pollinators use this than native Milkweed
  • Pinch back the plant to make it bushier and with a stronger stem
  • Place in the rear of a border as it can top off at 6 feet and may require staking
  • The pods become ripe when they turn a tan color and burst open with the fuzzy seeds
  • I save some seeds for planting in early spring in my greenhouse
The single flowers are pendulous instead of a large ball of flowers in the common Milkweed

Monarchs!

Though some people have told me that monarch caterpillars have ignored their Hairy Balls, I found at least a dozen of them on my plants at once.

You can see the white substance on the pod at the bottom which is why these plants are called Milkweed

When all of my common Milkweeds are done, Hairy Balls Milkweed is going gangbusters into October and ending with our first hard frost. I have had these plants look good up to Halloween with active caterpillars. But be aware in colder climates, you need to start the seeds early.

The ripe balls turn tan and burst open with seeds
The flowers are not showy

Starting these seeds in my greenhouse in early March is essential to Hairy Balls producing the balloon shaped pods by the end of the summer. For most of the summer, these plants grow up and branch out and then August/September hits and the pods start to appear after a flush of small dangling flowers. I love watching the pods form!

The nondescript flowers start forming pods in September
Split a hairy Ball open and you will find hundreds of seeds

For my monarch populations, this Milkweed is important as it still is standing with plenty of foliage late into the summer/early fall. My other common Milkweeds are totally denuded and finished when Hairy Balls hits its stride. For my post on other milkweeds, go to Got Milk….Weed? and Plant Milkweed for Monarchs. 

Common Milkweed has very different flowers and pods
Common Milkweed have long narrow pods

Starting From Seed

I start my Hairy Balls from seed inside around mid-March to get a head start. The plants take a long time to form their wonderful seed capsules and I usually harvest from August on as they form.

Starting Hairy Balls in my greenhouse
To plant, I separate the brown seeds from the fuzzy fibers

Plant the seeds in good potting medium and cover about 1/4″ deep and the plants emerge in about 10 days. I keep them in the greenhouse until they reach about 4-5 inches high and the weather is warm enough- about the same time as tomatoes.

Hairy Ball seedlings about a month old: they need a few more weeks before setting out

Once they are growing well in the garden, I usually pinch them to make them a little bit fuller and bushier. But if you don’t do this step, they still will grow fine.

The balls turn a tan color when mature

When cutting the stems to use in arrangements, I torch the ends with my propane torch (or use matches) to stem the flow of milky sap.

Pumpkin On a Stick

Use pumpkin on a stick in fall displays

Halloween is around the corner and people are starting to decorate with the many types of pumpkins available at the farmer’s market. The past 10 years have seen an explosion of all kinds of colors, sizes, and shapes of pumpkins, but I am in love with a diminutive one, which actually isn’t a real pumpkin, but an eggplant., specifically Ornamental Eggplant, (Solanum Integrifolium). For different types of real pumpkins, go to my Pumpkin Eye Candy post.

Pumpkin on a Stick seed packet at Botanical Interests

Ornamental or Food?

Falling in the eggplant family, the little pumpkins, Solanum integrifolium, are not really pumpkins, but an ornamental used in stir-fried Asian dishes. I grow this cute ornamental jack-o-lantern for jazzing up my Thanksgiving table and fall flower arrangements as it dries nicely and lasts a long time.

Native to Southeast Asia, it grows 3 to 4 feet tall with very large fuzzy leaves that grow from a purple thorny stem. It towers over other eggplants in my garden and the plant looks remarkably like Bed of Nails or Solanum quitoense, profiled in Plant Geek Alert.

Bed of Nails

Culture

Around for over 125 years which makes it an official heirloom vegetable, it has also been called Pumpkin Tree and Pumpkin Bush. Planted directly in full sun in your garden, the plant needs steady moisture and benefits from regular fertilizing as it grows large fast. Pretty soon, the insignificant blooms appear, followed by pale green nubby fruit that turn into their final pumpkin ribbed shape a few weeks later. Insects like to gnaw on the leaves as you can see but deer and rabbits leave it alone because of the wicked thorns.

Started from seed in my greenhouse, by early spring, the plants (with stakes) grow quickly and are ready to plant in the garden as soon as we are frost free
Pumpkin on a Stick growing in my veggie garden has thorns and can get tall (3-4 ft tall)

Harvesting

In late summer, the fruit changes to a scarlet color and when frosts start to hit, the eggplants turn their final rich orange color. You can harvest up to a dozen pumpkins on one plant. When you pick a stem of pumpkins for fresh use, cut the stems and use as is. If you want to dry the pumpkins, hang the entire stalk upside down in a cool dry location, removing leaves. This treatment prevents the fruits from sagging. Fruits will shrivel and the orange color will intensify. For eating, pick the fruits when orange and use in stir-fries.

Cutting my pumpkin on a stick plants
Remove all the leaves and hang to dry
Available in the fall at trader Joe’s

Pumpkin on a stick at the wholesale florist
Pumpkin on a Stick used in a seasonal arrangement

Foraged Flora for Seasonal Arrangements

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.

If the road crews haven’t spray things with roundup, then wildflowers flourish
Fleabane daisy is ubiquitous on our local roads

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!

The farmer who owned this field was happy to let me cut
Crimson clover

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.

I often find orange native daylilies on my strolls

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

Road crews plant wildflower mixes like these 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.

If you live in Texas, your foraging might turn up Bluebonnets
In the fall, I browse old privet hedgerows for the blue black berries: this bunch cost $20 at a high end nursery down the road!

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.
I am extremely allergic to poison ivy and I can identify it from a mile away!
  • 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.
My bucket of tools 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!
Strip off all the lower leaves: this is pink lythrum, an invasive in wet areas
  • 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.
Tiny rose hips from multi flora roses
Foraged wild ivy
Gathering lichen covered branches
Grasses are excellent foraged material
When Queen Anne’s Lace blooms, I cut tons for arrangements

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.

An arrangement of all foraged materials
Buckets of conditioned materials ready to go
Elder Flower is a great find
Here I started with a filler of Daisy Fleabane and Wild Asparagus
I added ferns and elder flower
I finished if off with brown dried dock, pink lythrum, blue cornflower, and orange native daylily
I covered this wooden bird house with foraged materials in the fall. The corn cobs were left over from farm fields and laying on the road. By spring, the squirrels had chewed it up.