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Embracing autumn's bounty: Mindful foraging at Green Farm

Achillea - yarrow

After a summer that seemed to linger, our once-vibrant blooms have gracefully bid farewell as autumn descends upon the Green Farm Garden. With the season’s arrival, the air turns crisper, invoking the nature lover in each of us. Whether you're a seasoned forager or an enthusiastic newcomer, there’s a distinct delight in exploring, foraging and gathering foliage during this time of year.

We witness an enchanting transformation in the foliage palette—shifting from lush green to warm russet, shimmering gold, and vibrant red. Alongside this change, nature brings us rosehips, berries, and the intriguing structures of old seed heads from the previous summer.

Though our much-loved cosmos and the vibrant nasturtium display have faded, remnants like the striking skeletons of poppies and the evergreen foliage persist, promising ample materials for creativity. Yet, before yielding to the urge to snip and collect, there are considerations worth noting.

Preserving the ecosystem

The garden's ecosystem, a delicate dance of give-and-take, demands our attention. Understanding this balance is crucial to sustaining the natural order. Berries and seed heads are lifelines for birds during the quieter winter months, while foliage serves as multifunctional support—providing shelter, sustenance, and nesting grounds for a diverse range of creatures. Even the smallest insects call these foliage-covered nooks home. Mindful foraging ensures we relish autumn’s offerings without disturbing these vital resources for wildlife.

Here are some practices we follow to forage responsibly and so can you.

  1. Harvesting sparingly: Take only what you need and avoid stripping entire areas. If there are several areas, try taking a little amount and move onto the next area.

  2. Be gentle: When picking leaves or branches and avoid pulling. Use clean, sharp tool to make good clean cuts.

  3. Avoid protected areas: Respect any signs and regulations in nature reserves or where foraging might not be permitted.

  4. Mindful footprints: Stick to designated paths or trails to avoid trampling on delicate ecosystems.

  5. Diversity matters: Gathering a variety of materials from different species to ensure a balanced habitat for wildlife. Stick to plentiful species like maple, oak, or birch, which can usually be gathered without harming the ecosystem. Rare or endangered plants should be left undisturbed to safeguard biodiversity.

In our garden, a convergence of purpose—productive, communal, and wildlife-friendly—is central. Experimentation thrives as we explore techniques like drying foliage, flowers, and seed heads to extend their allure through winter, while making sure there still an abundance left for the wildlife. From Achillea ‘Summer Berries’ to Allium ‘Sphaerocephalon,’ each offering unique hues and textures, we've created everlasting displays illuminating indoor spaces with an autumnal glow.

Drying materials isn’t just a creative pursuit; it’s sustainable in multiple ways. It aligns with the season, harnessing what nature provides. Economically feasible and eco-friendly, once you’ve finished, composting enriches future plants, closing the cycle.

Encouraging a sustainable approach to flowers and foliage means understanding our local climate’s offerings rather than solely relying on store-bought finds. It can start small—collecting leaves, acorns, evergreens during weekend walks. The world of foraging and drying is open to everyone, and the truth is nature does most of the work for us.

So, step outside with wonder, tread lightly, and embrace autumn's generous offerings. With mindfulness, we can relish fall’s essence while ensuring our foraging practices positively impact the wildlife that calls these natural landscapes home.

Ideas for this winter

Beeswax preserved leaves

Using fallen leaves from oak, field maple, or sycamore, using a responsibly sourced beeswax. Melt, dip and lay to dry results in clear preserved leaves ready for hanging garlands or get creative and make a leafy bouquet.

Drying fruits

Drying fruits can be a perfect way to add a pop of colour, texture, and shape into the space. Best when dehydrated. You can use the oven on a low heat. If you can collect local apples, quince, or pears these work well. However, you can forage for crab apples and other berries. These can be used and incorporated into any decorative pieces. Or try punching holes and hanging on some twine for the Christmas tree. You can use oranges and their peel to make twirls however these will be shop bought.

Twig displays

Gathering anything that catches your eye, you can create bundles that can be worked into vases creating a naked display. If you can source some environmentally friendly paint to give them a festive twist, or you could simply carve back areas to the natural wood.

Conifer foliage

Wreathes, garlands and table runners using pine, cypress, or fir. Garlands can be used as stair runners, woven in and out which may take some time, or using some twine to help hold it together. Table runners can be lay on the table and worked to your liking. You could even use whole fruits like red apples and clementine to break it up and give some contrast. You can also collect ivy, holly to add however take sparingly as these are both beneficial to wildlife.

Acorn and pinecone bowls

Simply take a bucket and collect when the weather is dry. These can be used in smaller jars, or larger bowls and baskets as a centre display. You could decorate these but always avoid anything with glitter as this cannot be composted.

Evergreen sprigs

Sometimes, simple is most effective. Taking a small jar with a spouted top, collect evergreen foliage on branches. Removing the lower greenery, place a single sprig in a jar. Maybe collect jars of different shapes, sizes, and different sprigs of foliage as a group of five. This could create an interesting centre piece for the dinner or coffee table and fireplace.

Field grass bunches

If you are lucky enough, and the weather has been kind, their may be areas where you can collect bunches of field grass and seed heads of achillea. If you want to create dried bunches for your winter displays, start this task in the end of summer and beginning of autumn to ensure the condition of these seed heads and grasses look their best. Field grass can be abundant if you find the perfect area, so carefully forage a pocket, and keep in a dry space. These can be used weaved into wreathes and garlands or simple places in vases.

This article was written by Emma-Louise Tozer

The Garden at Green Farm's apprentice - Level 2 in Horticulture and landscaping.

Emma also says:

‘In 2019, I began gardening in my home garden and it's become a vital source of both physical and mental well-being for me. From initially struggling to differentiate between weeds and plants, I've progressed significantly in the field of horticulture, thriving and continuously learning along the way. With a background in graphic design, I aim to seamlessly blend my creativity with gardening to craft something beautiful in my professional life. Embracing each day, the tranquil space of Green Farm has enabled me to envision and construct a future that not only sustains me but also fulfills my passion. The transformative power of plants and nature has offered me a fresh start, something I deeply cherish’.

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