At Home Now Confessions of a Springtime Scavenge


I have a long-time friend that lives alone in a beautiful house.  He’s got great taste, and his house is nicely decorated with a sort of masculine starkness.  He does this by design, not because he’s a cold person.  

But there is something about that starkness that makes me show up on his doorstep with something alive in my hand.  And it can be anything.  A pumpkin, some grass in a pot from the pet store, some evergreen clippings in a jar.  I’m not being critical when I do it—it’s just an offering.  And I’d never really given it much thought until he mentioned it to me.  But I now see it’s a pull I have that runs deep.

Which brings us to spring.  After a long winter of store-bought orchids and pre-potted succulents I can finally return to my first joy which is foraging outside.  And oh yes, the season has begun. I’ve got some early shell-shocked forsythia already in a vase near my radiator.  So far, they are still just a humble pile of sticks, but I root for them every day.  And those brave crocuses?  I’ve already snipped a few for my windowsill.  I try to be respectful.  I don’t hack off an entire grouping in a prominent location.  But, hey, those little guys growing

under a bush or in the odd parking lot?  I think they’re fair game, and I’ll thin out that cluster a bit. 

I’ve realized my foraging instinct is pretty deeply rooted.  As a teen, on Mother’s Day, I once brazenly pulled my car over to hack off handfuls of daffodils from someone’s front yard.  From someone’s front yard!!  I left the motor running and clipped haphazardly, like it was a crime scene.  Which I guess it was. Yeesh, so embarrassing.  

I remember a couple a cars honking as I did it, but I just gave them a big, entitled, what’s-your-problem glare—like only a teen can do.  (Oh, the karma!)  My mother seemed to like the flowers though.  (I think she knew better than to ask too many questions.)

So, I know it’s spring when I slip a pair of scissors into my glove compartment.  (Don’t worry, I’m reformed.  Your daffodils are safe with me.)  But I have been known to pull over on a dirt road to clip a few daisies or, my favorite, Queen Ann’s Lace.  I’m in the woods a lot with my dog, but I clip a humble harvest there.  There are so many brave little sprouts that I just can’t bear to disturb.  For instance, pretty soon these beautiful flowers that look like nature’s orchids will appear. I don’t know if they are officially protected or anything, but I do my part anyway.  And those unfurling ferns are another miracle.  So much power and beauty packed into that tight little spiral.  I can’t quite believe people eat them. 

So, I guess mostly I like to enjoy my nature in nature.  But I’ll still clip a few branches here and there and see if I can force some greenery at home.  Flowers are great, but even just forcing the leaves brings me joy. 

I also can enjoy the more traditional route of a store-bought plant.  And with these early spring months we get a wonderful new in-flux.  Those mini hydrangea bushes pack a big punch.  And even the common pansy makes me smile.  Pussy willows can make an appearance near the checkout at Trader Joe’s, as well as sometimes cherry blossom branches.  Bring them on, all of them.  It’s been a long winter. 

What to do with all this bounty when you get it home? 

Well, for starters, come to my house and use one of my gazillion vases.  I’m not much for clutter so I keep culling that herd, but it relentlessly multiplies despite my efforts.  I’ve got pitchers, antique glassware, dollar store hurricane glasses, and murky bottles unearthed from my garden.  

It’s an equal opportunity obsession and I really like to think that I need them all.  So, I put the little ones on my sill.  I’ll mix and match the medium ones in a line down my dining room table.  And I’ll put those architectural branches from the woods into a large pitcher.  The store-bought plants?  I’ll strip those of their tinfoil lining and plop them into something prettier too.

But does all this talk of “foraging” make you a little uncomfortable?  Does it make you feel like you should bring your annuals in at night?  And that really, I should be leaving nature in its untouched state right where it is?  Well… that would be fair.  My sister is sort of in awe of my habits, and also a little horrified.  I collected a pinecone off the pavement while visiting in San Diego and she was worried about me getting through TSA with it.  For real. 

So, we all have our stuff.  We all have our own standards of risk versus reward.  My foraging tips me solidly into the reward category, so I’m going to keep at it.  Go ahead, call me a rebel.  But if you do, you might want to lock up your daffodils. 

Jen Coles is a professional home designer and mother of four who lives in Manchester. 

jen coles, large pitcher, professional home designer