Updated: Jun 19, 2018
With top chefs such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall making foraging trendy for the foodies amongst us and many companies now offering foraging tours the sustainable food trust issued some guidelines to prevent the problem of over foraging back in 2012. This is well worth the read if you are thinking about a spot of foraging. I am lucky enough to rent an allotment plot which has plenty of foraging opportunities and in addition many of my friends seem to be quite allergic to gardening so I often find myself popping round for a glass of wine with my secateurs in my back pocket.
My love of foraging is based in a natural wildness which I love to express in my bouquets and arrangements. Just a branch here and a seed head there is enough to bring interest and I use flowers and foliage in all forms of life. I have a few favourites which I use year after year
1. Snowberry ( Symphoricarpos albus)
This can very commonly be found in hedgerows, it is very hardy and fast-growing, and although not a British native, it has good wildlife value providing nesting sites and shelter for birds. It is a good plant for both poor soil & dense shade. With its underground suckers it very quickly makes a dense bush, bearing small pink flowers in the summertime which bees & Butterflies love to visit. These are followed by round white berries in the autumn which are poisonous to eat. Berries are at their best in November but can very quickly shrivel and by Christmas time the birds have eaten most of them up. I use them in simple greenery arrangements in the place of flowers.
2. Dried Gladioli Stems
I do occasionally miss digging up a few corms and by late November the stems have completely dried out and take on a wonderful rusty elegance. These are my favourite dried stems to use but there is always a trade off to the risk of leaving them in the ground. I find that they look great as a cluster arrangement on their own or just using one stem to create height and interest works well.
3. Pampas Grass
Best known as the front garden plant of the 1970’s and their unfortunate association with liberal sexual practices has truly landed pampas grass on the compost heap. Sales have plummeted an d some garden centres have stopped selling them altogether. Love them or hate them in the garden they look amazing in arrangements. They look great both on their own and also teemed with other more delicate grasses and bold large flowers. Pampas is so hard to get rid of with deep roots almost impenetrable to all but the most determined gardener. This means that for some gardens they do overstay their welcome for a number of years. They are a foragers dream and earlier this year I happened to notice one of my neighbours grasses with plumes keeled over after a heavy downpour. Secateurs in hand and a knock on the door with a smile earner me a hoard of plumage to keep me going for a few months at least.
In all the counties I have lived in ( 5 in total) I have never come across common ferns in such abundance as I have in Hampshire. They grow wild all over the place – and I really do mean all over the place, my local forests are swamped with them and they grow so abundantly in unwanted places in my garden (through my lawn of all places) that cutting stems for use on a daily basis I do not think would even put a dent in their numbers. During summertime they are lush and green and provide a great backdrop for greenery arrangements, and in the autumn and winter time they turn all shades of beige and brown which I love to collect and use even on their own. They look great sprayed in metallic colours, especially in Christmas wreaths.
During summertime one of my favourite berries to collect are that of blackberry. They can be collected wild but the leaves are often not so mice so I also grow large numbers of these on my plot which are thornless – much better for flower arrangements! They are best picked in the green before they ripen so as not to squash the berries against clothing and furniture by accident.
My favourites being hazel as they are so abundant and I find myself gawping at their beauty whilst driving around. The hedgerows around my plot have so many of these however my joy soon turned to disappointment last autumn as they were neatly “trimmed” by the farmer whilst in full show. Note to self to ensure I really make the most of them next year before the wheeled hedge trimmers come out to play. The amount of pollen they hold can also be a problem once they have dried out as I do find great swathes of green powder coating the surfaces around them. Next year I will try to experiment with fixes such as hairspray to see if I can find a way to stop the pollen leeching from them so much.
The larger the better and fortunately have a large single flowered rose in my front garden. Because it is a single rose it can easily be pollinated by insects and has an abundance of rosehips. Double flowered blooms will not have the rosehips due to the masses of flower petals which bury the pollen so that the insects cannot get to them. They are at their best when new and fresh however if left to overwinter they will shrivel and take an another form of beauty.
Although not an obvious choice the seed heads are to pretty and skeleton like with a papery outer jacket and a dark brown, almost black circular seed casing/pod inside, the seeds are then attached in a circular form to the pod. They are very attractive and I now grow them solely for their seen heads.
Incredibly prickly so although this is one of my favourites you do need thick skin to be able to withstand the pain. The feathery seed plumage is so beautiful that once arranged the pain is worth it. (You could of course wear gloves)
I do have a great love of Ivy and I use copious amounts of it at certain times of year. I have several species in my garden and on my plot. It is commonly seen clinging to buildings and woodland trees providing great food and shelter for wildlife. Its nectar, pollen and berries are an essential food source for insects and birds during autumn and winter when food is scarce. Only mature forms produce flowers after which the black clustered small berry like fruits will form.
I use foliage berries in arrangements throughout winter and long new stems to make hoops with for Easter and Christmas time as they are very supple. I also use older stems to make more interesting knobbly hoops as they are much more brittle to work with.
To leatn more about foraging visit my blog The Beginners Guide to Foraging