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Foliage isn’t just ‘greenery’. The photosynthesis factories of leaves are so diverse in colour and form, that you can sometimes do without flowers entirely: emerald, lime, olive, silver, variegated, viridian, red… matt, glossy, spiky, feathery, linear, bushy… the variation is endless.

Whatever your preferred hue, green is the neutral colour in floral design. Adding foliage to your bouquets gives you extra drama for your dosh, filling out between other more expensive stems. It offers structure, interesting textures and sometimes trailing lines to an arrangement, and separates and supports the flowers so they can be appreciated individually, rather than a block of monochrome with indefinable edges, or a riot of colours fighting for attention.

We live in a relatively ‘green and pleasant’ land, so there are plenty of places to find rich pickings. Once you’re sure you have permission to forage two key questions are 1) Is the material safe to handle? 2) Does it last well in a vase?

Research the former, and always wear gloves/ wash your hands after handling plants. And while foliage often stands a better chance than flowers at ‘holding up’ in water, it’s important to pick it at the right stage in its life cycle. When cutting, look for woody rather than fleshy green stems, and don’t pick foliage with newly unfurling leaves as they will be too soft to hold and the entire stem will likely wilt.

When to cut

To make the most of your foliage, and as a general rule for cutting any plant material, cut early in the day before moisture has been lost through the leaves. Transpiration weakens the cells, making your plant soften and less able to cope with having its life force cut off. Remove any leaves below the water line as this causes bacterial build up, and if possible, leave your stems to drink in deep water in a cool dark place for at least a few hours before handling. Cut stems with a sharp tool on a slanted edge, and do so each time you refresh the vase water.

Foliage I love by season

  • Spring: Tamarix, Daphne laureola, twisted willow, hebe, choisya, honeysuckle, photinia (Red Robin), senecio, periwinkle, stachys,snowberry
  • Summer: Marjoram, physocarpus, jasmine, spirea, raspberry foliage, camelia japonica, copper beech, willow
  • Autumn: Pelargonium, green amaranth, grasses
  • Winter: Conifer, bay, brachyglottis, viburnum, cotoneaster, pittosporum, garrya.

Foliage I love by type

  • Eucalyptus: a go-to florist favourite.  It’s generally not cut between May and August when it is putting on new growth as this needs time to strengthen.
  • Tree foliage: whether for larger venue decorations, or homegrown bouquets, try hazel in spring, oak in the summer months, delicate birch and beautiful shining beech in early autumn. Traditional holly and ivy are great in winter, and mature ivy also features gorgeous plump berries.
  • Hedging plants: for those without extensive shrubberies, don’t overlook the obvious. Privet and laurel both  have a brilliant vase life, offering a glossy green base with leaf sizes on different scales.

Handy herbs

Many herbs make great foliage. I wouldn’t be without mint, for its unmistakable fresh scents of which there are many  variations: pineapple, apple and chocolate among them. I also use sage, fennel, lemon balm and lemon verbena. Their scents are released when crushed or brushed against in passing.

Woodchurch Cottage Flowers adds mint to a pastel early summer bride's bouquet with blue scabious and pinks

Mint adds the dimension of scent to a bride's bouquet by Woodchurch Cottage Flowers

A spring buttonhole with sage and rosemary and chilli with an orange ranunculus for a keen cook

Sage, chilli and rosemary are included in a buttonhole for a keen cook on his wedding day. Tuckshop Flowers.

The airy flowers of fennel add floaty height to this bright bouquet by Eileen of Tinshead Flowers. She holds it in her hands standing in the gateway to her flower field.

Fennel's yellow flowers and ferny foliage add delicate height to a bright summer bouquet. Tin Shed Flowers.

Useful flowers for greens

An extra category of ‘foliage’ makes the most of the green stage of certain flowers before they bloom: Sweet William’s mossy tufts; feathery nigella, toadflax, with its amazing linear stems of spiralling leaves, fleshy sedum and frothy Alchemilla mollis (aka lady’s mantle) all act as a great looking ‘filler’ in the same way I would use true foliage.

Frothy green lady's mantle brightens this pastel wedding arrangement by Woodchurch Cottage Flowers.

The acid green of lady's mantle adds a pop of colour to arrangements. Woodchurch Cottage Flowers.

A vibrant bouquet of summer flowers in a loose wildflower style by Camomile and Cornflowers.

Chunky glaucous green sedums add texture to this bouquet by Camomile and Cornflowers.

A wild cascading wedding bouquet with early summer British flowers by The Flower Farm

Delicate filigree seedheads of nigella in a wild wedding bouquet by The Flower Farm.