Forage your own floral arrangements!

Down in the Lowcountry last weekend, I happened upon a giant, 6-foot tall American Beautyberry bush in a harborside wild spot -- it was positively popping with gleaming little purple berry clusters.

Thanks to Amanda McNulty ("Making It Grow"), who used it in her inspired, all-foraged arrangements for the 2010 CVSC Green Tie Luncheon, I'm kinda crushed out on purple beautyberry right now.

In a major way.

Since the beautyberry bush in our front yard is a tad spindly, I retrieved my pruners from their permanent spot in my car and clipped a few branches to bring home and add to an arrangement I'd done for the SC Small Business Chamber's networking seminar last week -- making sure to leave the bush looking balanced and still full of berries despite my little harvest.

Beautyberry is an important winter survival resource for birds.

(I really want to learn more about which wild plants and flowers are endangered or rare, so that my increasing forays into roadside greenery cutting don't inadvertently screw the pooch.)

Meanwhile, I'm really enjoying using wild, native, and "weed" plants, as well as bits from friends' yards (and my own) in floral arrangements -- not just because they save a great deal of money when it comes to an event budget's bottom line -- but also because there's some really cool stuff out there!

Image: The Shop Tart
This was fun; I did a bunch of dining table centerpieces for Tom and Julie Hall's big wine dinner with NYC/CHS authors The Lee Brothers out at SMOKE this past May.

I found those rad little ball-on-a-stick alliums and some lavender-colored spray flowers on the roadside near Heathwood Hall; noticed the dark pink wild roses in a mini-forest near Owens Field; took Julie's recommendation that I clip rosemary from their yard; and followed up on Tom's text message tip-off that there was a whole mess of light pink wild roses on the road shoulder near their farmhouse in Blythewood.

All I bought for these 30-odd arrangements were a few dozen roses to fancy things up a bit. ('Cause fancy is fun.)

This was a fun project, too! I had the best time gathering wild greenery for the recent "Green is the New Pink"  benefit at Momo's, for the Share Our Suzy breast cancer charity.

Shani Gilchrist (a.k.a. Camille Maurice) is such a lovely hostess!

I bought a few dozen roses and some gladiolus for something hot and bright and showy, and that's where the financial outlay stopped.

I found these big sprays of hardy, lime green, pre-bloom goldenrod (or ragweed?) to use as fill, again on the roadside near Heathwood Hall. Why pre-bloom? The flower buds were such a cool shade of green, plus I wanted to avoid triggering party guests' allergies! (Although I just read somewhere that the ragweed/goldenrod allergy thing is actually not true?)

I also found wild, ferny, dilly-smelling dog fennel; super-tall, graceful grasses; and these delicate little light pink accent flowers on a roadside near a feed & seed warehouse. Had a great conversation there with one of the distributors about how his wife likes to gather greenery for arrangements from the roadside, too!

Then I cut a few wide, dark green fatsia leaves from our yard; despite its unseemly name, fatsia is one of my new favorite decor tools. The SC Arts Commission's visual arts director, the amazing Harriett Green, taught me the wonders of using long-lasting, dramatic-looking fatsia leaves -- as well as spiraling, striking curling willow -- in her arrangements at 701 Center for Contemporary Art.

All that remained was to jam in a few sprigs of purple beautyberry and a big branch of dried okra, all of which I had recycled (with permission, of course!) from the remains of Amanda McNulty's all-local arrangements for the Green Tie Luncheon.

Oh, and a few pears that one of undefined magazine editor Cindi Boiter's friends had brought from his tree to one of her fab little country gatherings.

Pop those bad boys onto bamboo skewers, and voila!

Similarly, you can stick bananas, citrus halves -- whatever -- onto bamboo skewers (or whole pineapples on bamboo sticks!) and jam them into a floral arrangement for a luscious effect.

Just watch out for drippage when it comes to those pineapples -- if they're super ripe it can get really really sticky, really really fast.

I learned that one while prepping this centerpiece for the Free Times' 2010 Best of Columbia party. My event planning colleague, the awesome Debi Schadel, was very patient with me while I figured out how to mount the pineapples without making a giant mess and toppling the whole thing. Pineapples are heavy!

I had a real blast doing arrangements for master gardener Jenks Farmer's recent nutrition soiree at the historic Seibels House, which I just learned is the oldest house in Columbia! 

Lucky me: I had the great pleasure of clipping treasures for the party from Jenks' glorious yard! He's all about perennials, which is inspiring; his perennials blog is fantastic and full of practical advice (as is his monthly Columbia City Farmer blog on The Shop Tart!)  I plan to plant more perennials over time, so that my yard becomes a year-round cutting bonanza.

That's right. A bonanza!

(Thrift store containers like this vintage coffee pot thinger make nice, inexpensive vases, btw.)

I bought some roses and glads for the Seibels event, but the financial outlay was truly minimal. There are so many groovy -- and sustainable -- ways to do floral decor without breaking ye olde banke.

You can put together an entire arrangement, in fact, with zero dollars -- like the centerpieces I assembled for SMOKE's Andy Friedman wine dinner at Momo's Bistro earlier this summer. I wanted to try to do the whole thing foraged; it was challenging but very fun!

Again I clipped some rosemary, as well as magnolia leaves & seed pods, baby figs & fig leaves from Julie Hall's yard. (I love your yard, Julie!)

I then found these wild white hibiscus-looking flowers with groovy pods out by the water treatment plant; and I collected orange trumpet vine from a railroad right-of-way. Boom! Done.

Granted, it will consume a fair amount of your time -- many hours, often of the sweaty, suncreen-slathered variety -- to hunt these things down, harvest them, and remove their many scraggly, unappealing bits and bottom leaves which could, if submerged, not only look yucky but also poison your arrangement from below.

Each project is a welcome reminder for me that there's a *really* good reason florists charge a bundle for those pretty, perfectly processed, ready-to-go flower bunches and arrangements, and it's not just because shipping cut flowers from Ecuador is pricey. 

Word up to professional florists, especially those like local star Floral & Hardy, who take a sustainable approach to growing, cutting and arranging flowers!

But when I have the time, I totally enjoy rambling around country roads and wildflower-strewn industrial areas with my water-friendly sandals, bramble-resistant knee boots, a panoply of gardening gloves, pruners, scissors, bath towels, and my sweetheart's Corona saw (pilfered and as yet unreturned to him!), as well as giant water buckets, bungee cords galore and NPR blaring from the open car windows -- on a hunt for something strange and pretty to use in an arrangement.

What do you do to be green, save money, and jack up your creativity when it comes to decor? I would love to hear about it.

Til then, happy autumn, and see you on the roadside!


  1. Have I mentioned lately how amazing you are? LOVE this woman!


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