One of my favourite things about floral design is the foliage. I know, the flowers are the main event, and I grow them so, well, they're important! But foliage is the "spice" of an arrangement. It can make or break a gorgeous bunch of flowers. Not to mention the incredible colours and textures of foliage! So I love foliage ... I love the foraging, the discovery of a new bush or tree that has fresh new growth just begging to be picked and admired. I love the colours - think of the purplish blues of some new eucalyptus growth, or the incredible teal blues of some of the conifers and junipers. Rich burgundy, pale yellow, silver, soft green, dark rich green - oh the possibilities! And I love the textures - soft and silky, feathery, wide and structured, spiky, curly, neat, unruly!
Its the variety that appeals. Foliage is not just "greenery". It can be so much more. Some of our australian natives produce some spectacular foliage. Grevilleas often have amazing leaves, and are often on sturdy long stems. I use grevilleas growing around my home to provide the structure for a bouquet. I have some maroon and orange flowering hybrids the have wonderfully shaped leaves. As a bonus, they often have a flower or two on each stem, adding more colour. Look for leaves that have new growth that's firm, not floppy. Pick them as long as you can, following the stem back into the bush to find where it joins onto the branch. Put them in water soon after you pick them and they'll stay fresh for weeks. (You'll know if you've picked too soon - the smaller leaves at the end of the stems will wilt.)
Sometimes, when foraging for foliage, you need to be selective about stems that have insect damage. I personally don't mind a little bit of damage - I think it adds charm. But on the whole, it's good to select the stems with the cleanest, freshest leaves. Putting foliage in a vase or arrangement shines a spotlight on it. It comes under more scrutiny than it would on a bush or tree. It's easier to make the selections out in the bush and leave the damaged leaves to the insects and wildlife that clearly love it too!
These Banksia Grandis leaves are just spectacular, aren't they! They are quite large - around 30 cm long and 5 cm wide, and deeply zig-zagged. There are a number of Banksias that have leaves like this, but varying in size. Speciosa has long slender zig-zags. Banksia Baxterii has less curled and scaled down versions of these incredible shapes. And Banksia Brownii has long, fine zig zags. They're incredible to use in an arrangement.
Even grasses can be used as foliage. At this time of year with grasses full of summer growth and setting seed, they can be really gorgeous in an arrangement. I love driving along country roads in summer and seeing the incredible variety of colours and textures just in the roadside grasses. Purple, yellow, pink, white - and all manner of shapes and textures.
I have a number of favourite foraging spots on my property. One of them is at the top of a steep rise where you can glimpse the town, the bay and the little local islands through the incredibly tall eucalypts that have been untouched for 50 years. In the undergrowth on the edge of the bush there are some fabulous native plants growing. One I discovered not long after we moved here, really caught my eye. I looked it up and found that it was actually sold as foliage for the export market! And here it was growing wild in the bush. It's called Pimelea Nivea.
My "Plants of Tasmania" book tells me it's common name is Bushman's Bootlace. I found out why it got this name the first time I tried to pick it. The bark or outer coating of the stem is incredibly strong and fibrous, and when you try to snap a branch the bark won't break, instead coming off in long, seemingly unbreakable strips. Next time I used my shears! The leaves are small and richly green and glossy. The growth habit of the plant is long and slender, with lots of long upright branches covered in the green leaves.
Underneath, the leaves and stem are white and softly sueded. The contrast is really charming. Pimelea Nivea also has lovely flowers in spring and summer. Clusters of dainty white flowers appear on the very ends of the stems. I love using this foraged foliage whether its in flower or not. And the adventure of picking it in the "wild" adds to my enjoyment of it!
This is a recent vase of flowers I made for my house, using entirely foraged foliage and a few of my summer pincushions. It was such fun to combine the colours and textures of the foliage, and highlight them with the simple orange pincushions.
I couldn't do a blog post about foliage without making a special mention of eucalyptus foliage. Our own australian gums provide some of the world's most popular foliages. Again, the variety of colour, texture and shape is almost dizzying. Some eucalyptus foliage has that incredible silvery white bloom that, combined with the colour of the leaves underneath produces some spectacular colour effects. This basket above is filled with foliage from a medium sized gum behind my house. People often ask, "what is that flowering tree?" when they see it from a distance The foliage is almost iridescent, glowing purple. I'm not sure of the type gum, but I find myself coming back to it again and again for inspiration. Silver dollar is one of the most well known eucalypts sold as foliage. But considering we are surrounded by them, why not experiment! Have a look in your back yard and see what you can create!