My faithful dog, scrap, is lying in my lap as I write this.
Her name is Scrap, and she’s a Chihuahua / dachshund / terrier mix. She weighs 17 pounds, not an ounce of fat on her perfectly athletic and graceful body. She is perhaps the most intelligent animal I have ever rescued and I’ve been bringing home strays since I was four. She is unusually swift of foot and can jump almost five feet from a standing position. She obsessively hunts rats. She is inquisitive, charming, elegant, and sassy enough; possesses a healthy soft coat; is clear-eyed and obedient to a fault; loves cheese more then she loves me, and, I think, is perfect.
Why am I going on about my dog?
Because she’s a rescue from South Central LA.
She’s not a Labradoodle from Australia bred to be hypoallergenic, nor a sleek but high-strung-sensitive pointer meant to work game birds in a field for pleasure. She’s not an imported Irish terrier, or a Norwich . . . or a French bulldog that to my mind mostly serves as a design statement.
She’s a “mutt”—do people still use that word?
From a rough part of town with a rough start, who found us through friends and has made our home complete.
I love her dearly.
This is how I approach my floral life and work. Indeed how I have since I was that same four-year-old girl bringing home strays and blooms for my mom.
There is endless beauty and bounty all around us, right in front of us, waiting to be seen and embraced and taken into our homes, if we can only see it.
I am fortunate enough to now live in California, a place of astonishing fertility and abundance. At any given time in the calendar year, in my very modest cottage yard, or on the paths my daily life takes, I see flora that beg to be seen and or brought inside.
Pick Me Please.
I don’t want to list these now, that’s some of what this book sets out to do: Record just a fraction of what is abundantly growing, blooming, fruiting, and even elegantly dying in every month, in the ecosystem I inhabit.
Why on earth would I desire peonies flown across the oceans from New Zealand (out of season)? Why would I wish to purchase winter narcissus in July, or lilacs in September? Or why would I want poppies in NYC in the early fall? Or exotic Japanese ranunculus flown to my floral shop in California?
Why, when the earth always offers something perfect right here, right now?
I strongly believe this desire for the “exotic,” the unusual, the rare and difficult to cultivate, the bloom from the “Orient” or another continent, arose in eras and civilizations now long past and, I hope, beliefs long past.
It was a display of wealth and power to give one’s chosen lady a heavily scented gardenia from another land, another season. It was a luxury that few could obtain or afford. (I believe we as a planet can’t afford these luxuries anymore.) There was less romance and prestige in an apple blossom from the kitchen orchard or forget-me-nots gathered by the stream. A sweet bunch of fresh nasturtium blossoms held less import, as did wild heirloom roses gathered with your own hands, and no gentleman would offer bright blue borage blossoms or thyme gone to seed, bunches of fennel mixed with Queen Anne’s lace, or even a perfectly formed magnolia branch.
I think this is all backward. There are miracles of the natural world around us daily. Romantic, unexpected, and overlooked, beguiling, elusive, and sometimes “invasive” flora that we can and should bring into our homes and environments and offer each other with love.
I am discovering more and more as we live this way—as we eat almost all of our fruits and vegetables from a 20- mile radius, in season, and as I create floral work with the same ethos—that what is most beautiful and most fitting is what grows together in the same time of the year, even of the month.
I notice the blackberries tangled with the ‘Cecile Brunner’ roses, and then (thanks to a long-ago human hand) a stray hydrangea with perfect antique patina. I cut them as they grow along the road and create an arrangement that closely honors how they grew. I might add jasmine if it’s looking healthy and vibrant; it will look and smell sweet in the house.
As I drive north through the Olema Valley on a winter errand, I see in the fields bright red, yellow, and saffron willow growing wherever there is water, striking against the emerald bay trees and the haunting usnea lichen– covered oak, with their silver-gray mantles. Some years if we are lucky there are bright red toyon berries. I’m not a holiday person, but I can’t help but think this is where solstice and then Christmas garlands and decorations stem from—the land— and how perfectly divine it is to me in these fields and valleys I call home.
As we enter a new year, the yard becomes alive with brilliant acid green nasturtium leaves, wood sorrel with electric yellow blooms, and huge borage leaves and peppermint-scented leggy geranium. There is always a rose survivor or two that I can add to the bedroom mix. And I am always ecstatic to see the year’s first magnolia blooms! Deep magenta or, close on their heels, the magnificent Campbell magnolias with their huge cup-and saucer-blooms, pale cream tinted the palest pink imaginable. We may even have some cobaea vines producing moody deep-purple flowers.
February brings redbud, more magnolias, and plum blossoms everywhere with their sweet happy scent. March brings lilacs and wisteria, and on and on and on.
Several years ago we collaborated on a few articles featuring flowers and plants Louesa had foraged from backyards and roadsides near her home in West Marin, California. Her installations and arrangements were very organic and free form, dynamic and fun. Foraging is an ancient practice, but despite this history, her work felt ahead of its time, radical even. It was something Louesa had been doing for years.
Observing and gathering what is around us is a natural extention of the concept of eating seasonally and locally, a belief we both subscribe to, and we wondered what it would look like to document a whole year of foraging flora. We were interested in the concept of hyper-seasonality, but we wanted to articulate it in a much deeper way, working with and photographing what we found throughout the year, utilizing only what was at hand.
We set out to create this year of arrangements, limiting ourselves to materials either foraged— flora gathered from open, public spaces—or gleaned—flora gathered from the surplus harvest from a garden or agricultural land. We reached out to friends and acquaintances whose homes and creative spaces would best reflect what was in season. This allowed us to illustrate how responsive and aesthetically connected the work is to each unique environment.
This book also comes out of a deep love and gratitude for California. We are both transplants to this state and greatly appreciate its temperate climate, and rich, fertile, and expansive land. The state’s natural abundance offers a wealth of resources for foraging and gleaning—even in year three of a historic drought. But the philosophy that underlies this book is universal and can be applied wherever you live—the idea of truly seeing and thus better understanding the landscape.
As a child in England, walking to and from school I would award points to gardens in my city neighborhood (apparently editing was in my bones from an early age). When I was eleven, our family moved to the country, where, much to my horror, my urban landscape was replaced with a view of rolling hills and sheep in the far distance. Yet the memories that have stayed with me most are of the thick English hedgerow, picking wild blackberries at summer’s end, and dodging nettle thickets at the bottom of the garden. For all the experiences we may accumulate in life, I think these primal memories are the ones that root us most to our past.
In my twenties I lived in Tokyo for almost a decade. I had yet to visit the United States, and Tokyo was my introduction to towering skyscrapers. The city was a wonderful mix of dense, modern concrete urban jungle and traditional wooden houses and neighborhood temples, the old and new packed together so tightly and physically so close it required a different form of seeing, a more micro view of the world. Several pots lined up outside a house became a garden; a single blossom heralded spring. The Japanese celebration of the four seasons only heightened this way of viewing the world; across the culture, small cultural signifiers greeted each season’s arrival. The minutiae of everyday life were rife with poetic overtones.
When I later moved to the U.S. West Coast, the scale was jarring and, after Japan, completely disorienting. Everything was so big—the food, the cars, the people, the homes. Suddenly the micro was meaningless and often felt ugly. It was the big vistas that were beautiful: the large swaths of landscape, the long sandy beaches, and the endless horizons, revealing the curvature of the earth. I had to step back and literally see the bigger picture. California seemed to be all about scale and the macro.
I got to know Louesa through years of living in the Bay Area—I still own several cherished pieces of clothing she sold me—but our first collaboration was decorating an event space several years ago. She trucked in piles of foraged bay laurel and fennel; I knew them by sight, but in working closely with them, I slowly began to notice the smells, the textures, the forms. After the event, I started to see fennel and bay everywhere—in gardens, in fields, lining the roadside. This was neither a micro nor a macro adjustment but simply my visually tuning in to my environment. I could just see more.
When we later worked with magnolias, which once had seemed so awkward and unattractive, they now seemed extraordinary—and like the bay and fennel, they were everywhere. How had I overlooked them before? It wasn’t just seeing up close that had changed for me; it was my new ability to step back and see the full landscape not only in its natural, geographical context but also in the cycle of the seasons. This was a much more holistic, primal way of seeing. The more Louesa and I worked together, the more I learned to see and appreciate flora that for so long had been right in front of my eyes, but invisible.
Copyright © 2016 by Louesa Roebuck and Sarah Lonsdale. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.