Christmas eve is finally here. We are preparing our traditional family dinner but decided to do something non-traditional for our holiday florals.
Instead of buying industrial farmed poinsettia plants, the ubiquitous symbol of the Christmas holidays, we were inspired by Louesa Roebuck to forage for our holiday florals in our yard. Roebuck is a floral designer who started her professional life at Chez Panisse where she developed a deep sense of the importance of sustainable food which she continues in her floral work.
“All of our choices have human and environmental consequences,” explained Roebuck, who warns that when you see cheap grapes in the grocery store, we should know that somewhere along the production line human beings are paying for that cheapness.
Roebuck stays away from any florals that are grown as a massive monoculture agribusiness product like holiday poinsettias. She tries to avoid florals that have been raised with pesticides, wrapped in plastics and shipped across the country or the world, all of which add more carbon pollution to the earth.
Instead she thinks we should use what’s around us locally and we should re-think our idea of what is beautiful. Roebuck believes seasonal, local plants are perfect for holiday decorations. She likes to forage and glean from local farmers she works with in Ojai where she lives part-time, sometimes she barters with local growers who let her collect unsold produce to incorporate in her arrangements. In her book, Foraged Flora, she invites readers to “train your eye to the beauty that surrounds you, attune your senses to the seasonality and locality of flowers and plants, and to embrace the beauty in each stage of life, from first bud to withering seedpod.”
Once you start to look around and see things differently, there are lots of beautiful leaves and seeds that make lovely arrangements.
Roebuck collected end of the harvest persimmons, branches of California bay and magnolia leaves, and toyon berries to make garland for a client. She also bundled heirloom roses that she dipped in beeswax to preserve them for several months with seed pods and tied to the Christmas trees as ornaments.
Roebuck knows that only a small percentage of people will take her message to heart and change the way they purchase flowers but once they do, she’s convinced it will spread starting a powerful change in flowers like what we’ve seen in food.
Since meeting Roebuck last spring, we’ve been much more aware of the issue. So this holiday, instead of buying poinsettias, we decided to forage for our table decorations. We started with extra branches from our Christmas tree, which didn’t seem quite that large when it was on Wilshire Rotary Christmas tree lot, then added some red berries from our Toyon tree, sometimes called the Christmas berry, and finally some purple basil to add some color. We filled small glass bottles because they are easy to use and when clustered together, cover a lot of table, and since they are small, they don’t get in the way of conversation across the table.
Foraging our own flora was also a nice multi-generational family project.