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;


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

Monkshood- Deadly Blue Beauty

Monkshood in the garden
Monkshood in the garden

True Blue

On the constant search for the perfect azure blue perennial, Monkshood is always near the top of my list with its intense indigo color that seems to glow in the autumn garden. Shooting up 4 feet high in the fall, the flower has unique blue ‘hoodies’ arranged down the stem.  It also happens to be one of the most toxic plants known to man. According to Wikipedia:

Aconitum, also known as “the queen of poisons“, aconite, monkshood, wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, women’s bane, devil’s helmet or blue rocket, is a genus of over 250 species of flowering plants belonging to the family Ranunculaceae.

Monkshood in a perennial border
Monkshood in a perennial border


This plant has a long storied history. Going back to medieval times, it was used in medicinal gardens and even further back, Romans used it to poison wolves, thus one of the common names- wolf’s bane. Native Americans used the poison to arm their arrows when hunting game.  On the flip side, the plant has also graced English cottage gardens for centuries, becoming a stalwart fall performer. Because it is extremely poisonous, deer give it a wide berth, and I have never found any evidence of deer browsing.



Here in Maryland, the plant starts to bloom in late September and continue until a killing frost much later in the fall. The stately spires of hooded blue blooms resemble delphiniums, but are much easier to grow and longer lasting. Hardy as far north as zone 3, this is a tough plant that is hard to kill.

Monkshood growing up through’ Michael Dodge’ viburnum
Monkshood with yellow twig dogwood in the fall
Monkshood with yellow twig dogwood in the fall

Monkshood flowers come in a veritable rainbow of blues; indigo blue, icy blue, lavender blue, and deepest purple-blue blooms in clusters at the top of stems. There are even some cultivars that come in white, pink, yellow,  and bi-colors, but I much prefer the indigo blue, Aconitum carmichaelii ‘Arendisii’ that populates my garden. I dug up mine from an older garden, finding that the root is a fleshy tuber that reminded me of bearded iris. Planted just a couple of inches deep in the soil, the plant sends up a four foot high plant of leathery glossy leaves that can flop if they are not staked or supported by surrounding neighbors. The foliage is a handsome addition to your summertime perennial border.

Northern Blue Monkshood (Aconitum noveboracense)

A prime spot for situating these vivid blue spikes is at the base of Japanese Maples, witch hazels, fothergillias, or any showy fall foliage, to provide a colorful contrasting backdrop.


A word of caution is in order, for all parts of monkshood are considered poisonous. Be sure to wear gloves when handling the plant and keep it away from children and pets who might be prone to consuming plants.  Many plants in our gardens are poisonous, such as Datura, Castor Bean, and Digitalis, so Monkshood is not unique in this regard. Treat all plants with caution unless you are sure something is benign.

Place Monkshood at the edge of woods in dappled shade or part sun with medium moisture and they will reward you for years to come.

Monkshood growing up through Kousa Dogwood
Monkshood growing up through Kousa Dogwood
Monkshood with Honorine Jobert Anemone
Monkshood with Honorine Jobert Anemone
Autumn colors

Autumn All-Stars, Part 2

PicMonkey Collage fall

The nights are chilly, the bees are still flying and gathering nectar, but definitely slowing down. After some travel this fall, I did a tour of my property to see what is still blooming and available for my bees in mid to late September. I don’t want to have to feed the bees their sugar water, but want to make sure there are enough bloomers out there for them to gather nectar from. Sugar water is a supplemental feeding for bees when the nectar sources are scarce. After taking a census of what was blooming, I am satisfied that there is enough “flower power” for the bees to coast into the winter.


Dahlias are the clear winners in the “bang for your buck” department for blooms. Spend a few dollars for a fleshy root or tuber in the spring and you are set for blooms August through October. And these are “big” bloomers! This pink dahlia measured 8-9 inches across and will bloom for weeks.509

Giverny dahlias in France
A luscious candy striped dahlia in my garden
This purple dahlia is my favorite
This purple dahlia is my favorite

Flowers attract the insects with nectar. Nectar is the all-important food, rich in carbohydrate, that is the insect’s reward for visiting the flower. Pollen transfer is what the insect gives back which perpetuates the flower species. Insects seem to be attracted to purple, pinks, blues and pinks. Also, the simpler the flower, the more accessible the nectar is to the bee.

Blue HorizonAgeratum

'Blue Horizon' Ageratum
‘Blue Horizon’ Ageratum

This beautiful blue annual is so easy to start from seed that I am sure to have it gracing my flower beds every year. ‘Blue Horizon’ is the more unusual tall variety of Ageratum, about 18″ tall as opposed to the squatty, gnome-like shorter variety which tops off at 6″. ‘Blue Horizon’ is a graceful mingler that plays well with others.  You can spot this Ageratum throughout the garden to add splashes of pastel blue accents to your perennial mix for months-long color.  A great cut flower, I like to use it in arrangements as a contrast to the oranges, reds, and yellows of fall.

"Blue Horizon' Ageratum adds a much-needed color accent to the fall palette of reds, yellows, and oranges
“Blue Horizon’ Ageratum adds a much-needed color accent to the fall palette of reds, yellows, and oranges

Other Fall Bloomers

Tropical Hibiscus come into their own in the fall
Tropical Hibiscus come into their own in the fall

Cockscomb or Celosia
Cockscomb or Celosia
Brugmansia or Angel's Trumpet
Brugmansia or Angel’s Trumpet
Sunflowers started in late June are still blooming for me
Sunflowers started in late June are still blooming for me