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Foraged Bracken: Autumn’s Most Beguiling Floral Design Element

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Foraged Bracken: Autumn’s Most Beguiling Floral Design Element

November 15, 2022

Bracken, a coarse leafed and prolific fern, is a common site across heaths and hills and around woodland edges where it flourishes on the dry margins. Spreading via its vigorous rhizomes, it’s not a plant that you’d want too close to your garden where it would swiftly take over, but out in the wild it’s a dramatic, sometimes breathtaking plant as autumn turns to winter.

It’s also a gift for flower arrangers at this time of year, when the fronds have all turned a deep rusty brown but are still dry enough to gather. The stiff and sturdy larger branches lend themselves to impactful arrangements in urns or as hanging clouds; break them down and the smaller fronds make a beguiling backdrop to autumn flowers.

Here, we take a look at how floral designers are using this beautiful—and free—material.

Above: Bracken lining the woodland edges at the Oasyhotel in Tuscany. Photograph by Clare Coulson.

Collect bracken as it turns brown and don’t leave it too late – if it’s left damp it will soon rot. Collect it on a dry and sunny day then store somewhere dry. The leaves will eventually become more brittle but pieces can often last years and be reused in different arrangements.

Above: Yorkshire-based floral designer Sarah Statham is a devoted fan of bracken. Here bleached-out fronds chime perfectly with autumn’s late dahlias, rudbeckias, and seedheads. Photograph by Sarah Statham.
Above: Kasia Borowiecka’s work is heavily influenced by ikebana and often includes fruit and vegetables. Here autumn’s intense hues are combined to maximum effect, with bracken and dried hornbeam providing the backdrop to exquisitely pretty orchids, carnations, berries, pumpkin, and physalis. Photograph by Kasia Borowiecka.
Above: Bracken can be mixed in with fresh flowers, but it looks equally good combined with dry materials, too. Here and below, Leigh Chappell combines rusty fronds with dried lavender, dried grasses ,and seedheads.
Above: An everlasting wreath by Leigh. It can be left in situ and in the right conditions can last for years. Photograph by Leigh Chappell.
Above: In an old barn neighboring her Yorkshire studio, Sarah Statham uses single fronds of bracken suspended in the windows.
Above: No placement decor? A tiny bracken frond makes a delicate and elegant addition to any table or combine small fronds with one of two seasonal blooms and a silk ribbon. Photograph by Sarah Statham.
Above: Bracken dotted along woodland paths.

Any leftover bracken can be used as a winter mulch on garden borders, where it will suppress weeds and break down over time. While bracken is toxic to animals when it’s in its spring growth stage, by the time it’s gone over it’s harmless. In some areas it’s used as winter bedding for livestock.

For more on foraged decor, see:

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