Floral Designer Louesa Roebuck and Design Editor Sarah Lonsdale Create Natural Backdrops for the Holidays

Magnolias dress a table.In their new book, Foraged Flora, San Francisco floral designer Louesa Roebuck and design editor Sarah Lonsdale create natural backdrops for the holidays. Even in the leanest time of the year, there is plenty to glean from a garden or forage from a hillside. To celebrate your holiday season and honor the winter solstice, draw on the spare beauty of the season to create poetic arrangements. Here, a few sensory touchstones to guide your gathering.

An installation of California Holly.Fragrance: California Bay Laurel has aromatic leaves that infuse a room with a fragrance that lingers for days. Wrap it into large bundles to hang from a rafter or make wreaths and garlands to hang over a door. Toyon is an evergreen native to California and Mexico dubbed the “California Holly” for its bright red berries. For a recent installation, Louesa hung branches from the roof beams and let gravity hold them in place.

Color: Placing one or two vivid blooms—like burgundy-red magnolias—on a table that is mostly green or earthy in tone can have a powerful impact. Hydrangeas, picked in summer and dried, also have a lovely hint of faded color. 

Texture: Wilder elements like smokebush and cardoons add texture and an unexpected moodiness to a tabletop. Smokebush cut from a big branch has a spooky, wispy look, and dried cardoons, from the thistle family, are both feathery soft and spiky.

Louesa Roebucks' fantastical arrangement of local, natural elements.Local Bounty: If you source close to the nexus of your event, your chances of flora, food, ceramics, textiles, etc., feeling organic and of that place are vastly higher. Usnea longissima (old man’s beard), a silver-gray lichen, was the original tinsel used by Scandinavians, and we are fortunate that this uncommon and graceful species grows on the northern coastal ranges. It can be draped across trees or used to add texture to an installation. Remember to only harvest lichen that has fallen to the forest floor, as opposed to pulling it from trees. Lichen is a fragile, important and protected part of the ecosystem.

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of SFC&G (San Francisco Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Winter in Bloom.