By Kate Ladd, www.greeneryflowers.co.uk
Just a few of my favourites in July: Licoricey Agastache, pre-flowering Sedum, vibrant Spearmint, glossy Pittosporum, soft Brachyglottis, mighty Oak, spicy-scented Pelargonium, frosted Elaeagnus and the pink tipped buds of Snowberry.
Seasonal foliage only! August
While there are many florists' favourites out there, your own garden, hedgerow or woodland offers up a world of leafy material for people looking to bring the natural world inside.
Foliage isn't just 'greenery'. These photosynthesis factories are so diverse in colour and form, that you can sometimes do without flowers entirely: emerald, lime, olive, silver, variegated, viridian, red... matt, glossy, spiky, feathery, linear, bushy... the variation is endless.
Whatever your preferred hue, green is the neutral colour in floral design. Adding foliage to your bouquets gives you extra drama for your dosh, filling out between other more expensive stems. It offers structure, interesting textures and sometimes trailing lines to an arrangement, and separates and supports the flowers so they can be appreciated individually, rather than a block of monochrome with indefinable edges, or a riot of colours fighting for attention.
We live in a relatively 'green and pleasant' land, so there are plenty of places to find rich pickings. Once you're sure you have permission to forage (great advice here https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/things-to-do/foraging/foraging-guidelines/), two key questions are 1) Is the material safe to handle? 2) Does it last well in a vase?
Research the former, and always wear gloves/ wash your hands after handling plants. And while foliage often stands a better chance than flowers at 'holding up' in water, it's important to pick it at the right stage in its life cycle.
Eucalyptus for instance, a go-to florist foliage, is generally not cut between May to July when it is putting on new growth, as this needs to strengthen.
When cutting, look for woody rather than fleshy green stems, and don't pick foliage with newly unfurling leaves as they will be too soft to hold and the entire stem will likely wilt.
Whether for larger venue decorations, or homegrown bouquets, some of my favourites are tree foliages: Hazel in the Spring, Oak in the summer months, delicate Birch and beautiful shining Beech in early autumn, and traditional Holly and Ivy in the winter months, the latter of which also features gorgeous plump berries.
For those without extensive shrubberies, don't overlook the obvious. Privet and Laurel, both common hedging plants, have a brilliant vase life, offering a glossy green base with leaf sizes on different scales.
Rosemary, commonly used to signify remembrance (and with scientific evidence backing up the symbolism that it boosts your memory https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/rosemary-sales-surge-herb-boost-memory-holland-barrett-a7745231.html too) is available year round and offers incredible scent.
Many other herbs make great foliage. I wouldn't be without Mint, for its unmistakable fresh scent, and of which there are many subtle and less so variations, pineapple, apple and chocolate among them. I also use Sage, Fennel, Lemon Balm and Lemon Verbena. Their scents are usually released when crushed, or if you're feeling delicate, 'brushed past', rather than how perfumed oils evaporate from flowers.
Useful flowers for greens too
An extra category of 'foliage' that I use makes the most of the green stage of certain flowers before they bloom: Sweet Williams' mossy tufts; feathery Nigella, Toadflax, with its amazing linear stems of spiralling leaves, fleshy Sedum and frothy Alchemilla mollis (aka Lady's mantle) all act as a great looking 'filler' in the same way I would use true foliage.
When to cut
To make the most of your foliage, and as a general rule for cutting any plant material, cut early in the day before moisture has been lost through the leaves. Transpiration weakens the cells, making your plant soften and less able to cope with having its life force cut off. Remove any leaves below the water line as this causes bacterial build up, and if possible, leave your stems to drink in deep water in a cool dark place for at least a few hours before handling. Cut stems with a sharp tool on a slanted edge, and do so each time you refresh the vase water.
Foliage by season
So here's a quick round up of foliage varieties loved by me and other Flowers From the Farm members for each season: