As the leaves have departed from the giant oak hovering over my front stoop and the temperatures have dropped to freezing putting all but my most stalwart perennials to sleep for the season, I have been taking this time to reflect on abundance.
Early winter is an excellent time to sit and feel gratitude for everything we have been given; our friends, our family, the roof over our head (no matter how modest), and maybe a few of the things we own that have true meaning. Mine is the heirloom quilt that keeps me warm in the evening after a grueling work-day, once lovingly stitched by a long passed relative, maybe unaware of the impact it would have for generations to come.
It’s also the best time to go outside, in the afternoon, while the sun is shining and still high in the sky, bundled and warm to explore the foothills and forest and remnants of your garden for what might be gathered - and remember the natural world has not closed up shop.
A hand gathered arrangement, no matter how simple, offers so much love and warmth to the table around which your friends and family will gather over the holiday season.
WINTER FORAGING STEP 1. Gather Supplies.
Here’s what you’ll need for your own winter foraging adventure:
WINTER FORAGING STEP 2. Venture Outside.
The main thing to remember about winter foraging is to be open to anything. While evergreens are on the forefront of everyone’s mind this time of year, consider focusing instead on the rich gold and blonde of things available in November like dried Rabbitbrush, Grasses and Wildflower Pods.
Spend some time considering each item available where you are foraging. A clump of dried grass or lacy wildflower seed pods may at first glimpse seem unworthy of a formal arrangement but remember these things taken out of their natural environment take on a spirit of their own once placed on a table.
Grasses can be gathered in your hand in clumps and clipped at the base. You may take as much as you like, grass loves to be cut and will come back strong in the spring. Tuck them away in your gathering bag. Remember, when foraging, volume is everything. Choose one or two things of which there is plenty and gather more than you think you will need.
Wildflower pods may also be clipped at the base. These tend to be more fragile so gather them in a loose bundle, maybe secure with a bit of twine at the base and just carry them in your hand for the duration of your trip.
Don’t discount the beauty of bare tree branches like oak or the lovely golden pods of a winter Locust. As these are living plants, use care to clip only as far back on the branch as you need, and up to the next branch at an angle with a sharp pare of pruners.
*A note on evergreen branches.
Branches from evergreen trees and pine should be taken sparingly as they are slow growing and, in the case of Pine, will not regrow from the original cut at all. If you are gathering from an evergreen, use care only to take branches from the base of the tree in more hidden areas unless the tree is specifically grown for cutting - to avoid an unattractive bald spot that my linger for some time. Pine branches should be cut at the base of the branch up to the trunk - being careful not to clip the bark. Evergreens like Spruce and Fir should be clipped far enough back to get a substantial branch, but not to the trunk, to allow for regrowth. Clip at the next segment of the branch to allow buds to grow and replenish the branch. If you need a large volume of evergreen branches, consider visiting a local tree lot and purchasing a full tree from which to make cuttings.
As always, never gather wood, branches or wildflowers from State or National parks but only where you have permission, or have obtained a special permit from the Forest Service.
Once you have gathered what you like, I always recommend going back and gathering about 25% more of each of your three favorite things. The best table arrangements are comprised of two to three ingredients at most so having enough of what you want at your fingertips is key.
There shouldn’t be anything gathered at this time of year that will need water with the exception of evergreen branches and holly. If you are gathering evergreen branches, remember you can fill your Harvesting Bag liner a quarter of the way full with water (either before or on arrival if there is water nearby) and keep your branches hydrated for the trip home.
If you are driving, remember to wedge the bag carefully between the back of your passenger seat and the rear seats to keep it from tipping on the ride home.
WINTER FORAGING STEP 4. Arrange.
There are two ways to arrange with your dried foraged finds. I happen to think that dried things completely on their own are exceptionally beautiful. Gather up some really unique vessels and place handfuls of your dried seedpods or grasses in them. Use a low bowl with Pin Frog and make a really stunning arrangement using the three ingredients you’ve gathered (Rabbit Brush, Grass and Oak Branches are a lovely combination). Or even consider placing individual branches along your table with just a series of pillar and votive candles for a lovely minimalist feel.
My favorite way to arrange with dried foraged finds is by adding just a touch of vibrance and life in garden flowers and seasonal fruit. Even in November, I was able to find a bucket of Iceberg Roses, still happily blooming despite the frost and some pretty white Astrantia at the flower market. Paired with seasonal fruit like golden Bosc Pairs and a few additional bunches of roses from Rose Story Farm in California, as well as bits of luminescent garden Lunaria, we end up with a soft, beautiful natural look.
For our table, I paired bunches of dried Wildflower pods, Garden Roses and Astrantia in a low bowl filled with water for the center table (and focal point) of our row of three.
To that I added a series of hand made ceramic Floral Frogs and smaller vessels each filled with a handful of a single item. Either seed pods, grasses or roses. Scattered together along the table, these little arrangements make for what is called a “Tablescape”. This means your table is considered as a sum of its parts from minimal arrangements to candlesticks to pretty wooden plateholders and lovely folded linen napkins - all working together as a chorus. We worked in all the colors we found around us from gold to white to grey to the blush rose of that evening’s sunset and the maple leaves at our feet.
WINTER FORAGING STEP 4. Enjoy.
Every foraged arrangement I make is an opportunity to enjoy the inherent beauty of the place and the season in which I find myself and this tablescape was no exception. From a lovely foraging trip with Breanne Ogden of Barebones Living to the early afternoon working with friends to bring the evening together to that evening gathered around the fire watching Sam Starr and Brendan hard at work preparing our incredible meal and Ryan Manning making the most extraordinary cocktails with pan seared Cinnamon and fresh squeeze Orange Juice, the entire day was a reminder of how beautifully abundant my life is and how much gratitude I have in my heart.