Beg, Borrow & Forage: Floral Arrangements That Don’t Cost A Penny

by Grace Bonney

“Weeds are flowers, too, once you get to know them.”  ~A.A. Milne

In my last post for Design*Sponge I snuck into Chatsworth House and got to use the most incredible flowers from their cutting garden. The whole experience felt pretty exclusive and the resulting arrangement looked opulent and expensive. This time I wanted to try something completely different: to create an arrangement from scratch, without spending a penny!

I often forage greenery/vines/shrubbery and mix with beautiful blooms, grown or bought. I love how the odd bit of wilderness adds a natural and romantic touch to flower arrangements.

But how easy would it be to only use this collected material, rather than relying on the usual staples from the flower market? The answer was — very tricky indeed. Follow along with me after the jump as I share my tips for foraging and creating a hand-picked arrangement. —Anna of Swallows and Damsons

Photographs by India Hobson

*Note: please be sure to read and abide by all rules/laws in your area when it comes to removing any parts of the natural landscape. Many parks and public space don’t allow foraging so please be sure to double check with your local ordinances before trimming any extra greenery or removing natural elements.


My earliest gathering memory is an autumnal one. A warm, post-school afternoon, collecting conkers, acorns, withered roses and crispy hydrangea petals until our old Neapolitan ice cream tubs were full to the brim. The scent of dirt and foliage deeply ingrained into our mucky hands. For me even as a child the act was instinctual. Understanding, connecting and feeling part of the Earth.

Now that I am (reluctantly) an adult, there comes a level of responsibility and restraint when taking from nature. For example, only pick what you will use without damaging the plant, leave some for others (and the bees) and never ever take a single bloom as delicious and tempting as it may look — in a few years there might be a field full of them. It also goes without saying to have respect for what other people have nurtured and grown. That incredible flower might technically hover over your side of the fence, or obstruct the path on the way to work; but it’s good to remember that what you consider foraging, others may call stealing. If in doubt, always ask their permission – in my experience the generosity of other people can surprise you.


The Vintage rooms in Matlock, Derbyshire was the ideal space to arrange this wild and rambling bouquet. It is a treasure trove of antiques and curiosities, all haphazardly strewn in magical piles and nooks.

I had found an old rusty bucket with a hole in the bottom that someone had discarded by the side of a skip. One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. I simply placed a small plastic bucket inside and it was fit for the job.

There’s something about setting yourself a challenge where your resources are so limited that it forces you to be more creative. In choosing to use purely foraged ingredients, I was unable to be persnickety about subtle shade pairings or a list of flower heads in different shapes and sizes. These constraints were forcing me outside of the box, to think about this arrangement in a different way.


The variety of foliage, branches and berries played a huge part in the design. I collected all different tones and textures to make up for the lack of actual blooms that were freely available. Large broken branches with berries, honeysuckle vines and the hypericum leaves that were starting to turn with the season all added to the wild hedgerow look.  The roses and hydrangea that had before seemed an alarming shade of pinkest pink were now merging with the autumnal warmth in some of the leaves and highlighting the berries. The weight of the full, almost blown blooms was allowing the stems to hang in a natural painterly manner that can almost never be achieved with a perfect, shop-bought rose.

The results were really very satisfying. The worry about combining certain colors or the proportion of flower heads to seed heads and foliage was now gone. All efforts came together in an unplanned, unexpected manner. The flowers looked withered, bruised and crunchy. The raspberries were half eaten, the branches ridiculously large. But I was content and happy. I was 6 again, and I found a snail. I bloody love snails.


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  • I am so happy to see this post. That’s what I do. I do not spend a penny on any flower arrangements in my house. Simply going out to my garden early in the morning and collecting whatever is there is my way of having a piece of nature in my house. I do not have many flowers in my garden, but some herbs, veggies and shrubs and they do well in any bouquets. Take a look at my latest creation… it didn’t cost a penny, but smells beautiful (thanks to sage leaves) and greets everyone by the door, and it will be re-arranged probably many times… Hydrangea will dry out and it will be incorporated into other fall bouquets with some branches and leaves and whatever I manage to collect from my own garden, even weeds.


  • What a stunning arrangement! I love everything about it- the colors, the drape, even the snail! Actually, the snail might be the my favorite thing because it reminds me of old Dutch still life paintings. As part of a museum tour, the docent pointed out that many of the still life paintings also contained insects, spiders and the occasional salamander because the flowers and the scent of the rotting fruit (sometimes the still life was set up for many days) attracted critters. Ever since then, I have been drawn to still life paintings. And, after seeing your arrangement, I want to go out and about and see what I can gather from my own yard (I live in a city, but I have abundant wildflowers in my little plot of land). Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  • Absolutely lovely! It’s a joy to gather “found flowers” and arrange in a beautiful manner. Wild flowers, branches, the odd wild rose, they all look amazing. Thanks for this joyous post!

  • I live in Australia where it’s Winter & cold (for us – anything from about -3 to 10° celsius), but this does resonate. I too look to my garden for flowers/greenery. We are not allowed to remove vegetation from the bush, so there isn’t much foraging. However, with our garden & its gums trees & those plants that tolerate them(!) arrangements are always unique & just a bit raw. Yours is beautiful & delicate, kind of wild (in a nice way) & free. Just like you picture your childhood. ‘Flower arranging’ really is an art form that can speak of many things.

  • I love this post I just stumbled across it like you do over a morning cup of tea. I love found and foraged what a joy! x