How to Forage for Winter Decorations
Autumn produces a wonderful array of colourful berries and foliage that can be combined to make beautiful (and free!) Christmas decorations, bringing the beauty of the natural world into your home during the dark winter months. “From October onwards I always pop a pair of secateurs in my pocket as I set out on my dog walks,” says our founder, Rosebie Morton. “It’s worth remembering you have to be quick off the mark, though, because by next day you might find the birds have made off with the berries or the leaves have blown away!”
Obviously, foraging has to be done responsibly, ensuring that you do no damage either to individual plants or to the local eco-system – you can find our guide to responsible foraging here. But if you keep your eyes open and plan ahead during autumn, you can amass a wealth of berries, grasses and even flowers that can be preserved to decorate your home. Read on for Rosebie’s top tips on what to look out for and how to keep it looking its best.
October and November
You may still have roses in bloom, but now is the time to stop dead-heading and allow the plants to develop hips – and of course, hips are plentiful in the hedgerows, out of the reach of meddlesome gardeners! To preserve the plumpness of the hips, cut off lengths of stem, strip off the leaves then store in a cool, dark, dry place to discourage them from shrivelling. My favourites are the miniature pumpkin-shaped Rosa rugosa hips and the star-like clusters of our Hip Hop rose hips.
Hawthorn (Crataegus) berries are another glorious feature of the autumn hedgerow. As with rose hips, I recommend cutting off lengths of stem, removing any leaves and then storing in a cool, dark place to dry.
I love bright orange Spindle Berries because they bring so much vibrancy to our arrangements. We grow Spindle Berries (Euonymus europaeus) on our farm and they are one of the highlights of my autumn.
Field Maple (Acer campestre) turns spectacular shades of flame in early autumn. To preserve the leaves, place them in a dish and fully submerge them in the solution of glycerine and hot water described below. Weigh them down if you want to keep them completely flat then leave them for four to five days before patting them dry. I often use Field Maple leaves as individual place decorations by putting a preserved leaf on top of a napkin with a guest’s name written on it in silver.
Hazel is looking fabulous at this time of year, with the dangling catkins that provide so many arrangements with a sense of movement. Plus, the shiny stems can be bent into a frame for your Christmas creations. Cut the stems now while they are still pliable and bend them into a circular shape. By attaching a few stems together using floristry wire you can make a beautiful frame to use as a base for other foraged items.
Old Man’s Beard
Old Man’s Beard (Clematis vitalba) is so aptly named – and at this time of year you can find the long, silky, hair-like strands formed by its seeds. Cut off lengths of stem, remove any seeds that are still attached and then spray the tufted balls with hairspray to make them last.
Like Old Man’s Beard, grasses add texture and movement to any arrangement. We cut grasses on our farm throughout autumn and if you have grasses in your garden, it’s worth experimenting to see which ones look good when they are cut and dried.
Bracken is just going brown at this time of the year. It really lends itself to inclusion in a wreath or other decoration because its curling fronds add so much movement to your creation.
If you are lucky enough to have Hydrangea – and especially Hydrangea paniculata – in your garden, you’ll know their ivory flowers fade into a wonderful antique hue. Either dry the flowers using the glycerine method described below or place in a vase with just a little water and leave to dry out.
November and December
Holly and Mistletoe
If you find Mistletoe you can reach, it’s worth picking it early as it lasts really well. And the same goes for Holly with its vibrant red berries – which, of course, epitomise Christmas. Store both in a cool, dark place.
Ivy is another traditional winter evergreen – and ivy with berries works particularly well in winter arrangements. You have to cut it as soon as you spot it, though, because as with Holly, the berries are very popular with birds, who often beat you to it.
Also known as Cornus or mountain ash, Dogwood produces masses of black, white or bright red berries. You can preserve them using the glycerine method described below.
Yew, Box and Fir
All these families of evergreens will give your home a traditional Christmas feel. Store branches in a cool, dark place to keep them looking their best.
The grey tone of Eucalyptus leaves provides a welcome contrast to much winter greenery. Eucalyptus dries beautifully, either using the glycerine method described below or left in a vase with a small amount of water.
Phillyrea and Viburnum tinus
If you have either Phillyrea (also known as Mock Olive) or Viburnum tinus
in your garden, then use them as a filler for winter arrangements. Both make a striking alternative to more traditional Christmas staples.
How to preserve flowers and berries using glycerine
Use glycerine (available from chemist’s shops or online) to preserve berries and flowers, preventing them from becoming too crisp and helping to maintain their soft growing texture.
- 1. Leave your stems overnight in water to have a good drink
- 2. Give them a fresh cut and then gently crush the ends
- 3. Fill a jam jar with 1cm of glycerine and 2cms of hot water (filtered is best)
- 4. Leave the stems in the mixture until it has all been absorbed or evaporated (about two weeks)
The florists on our farm and in our London shops at Parsons Green and Chelsea Green are experts in producing seasonal wreaths and arrangements. Why not take a look at our Christmas Collection.