Floral Designer Chelsea Fuss Found a New Life (and Beautifully Foraged Arrangements) in Europe
In her new book of projects, Field, Flower, Vase, she uses natural ingredients like greenery, branches, and flowers.
The idea of foraging—whether for edible plants, dye plants, or just decorative ones—has had a resurgence in recent years. But what is it? Isn't it just a funny excuse for stealing your neighbor's flowers?
Foraging is, at its essence, about searching: searching for herbs, berries, blossoms, and fruit for decorating or eating. Perhaps it is the search that makes this practice so intriguing in our modern world, forcing us to slow down and notice every nook and cranny as we scour the landscape for ingredients. Searching was exactly what I was doing when I left a settled life in the United States to traipse around Europe with a backpack, working on organic farms for ten months, at an age that seemed too old to be doing such things. Looking back, I remember searching for flowers and plants all along my travel route, among all the other things I seemed to be searching for involving every cliché of home, community, love, and self. I gathered bouquets wherever I went, whether it was saving rose blossoms from the compost on a Brittany farm, scouring a Gotland forest for autumn berries, or clipping olive branches on the outskirts of Beja, Portugal.
In my search for home, I eventually found Lisbon and after a false start at settling, relocated to a small village outside of Sintra, a forty-minute train ride from Lisbon and a place Lord Byron called "the most beautiful village in the world." But it was more than that. Always a gathering place for artists and mystics, Sintra holds intrigue with its microclimate, encouraging vegetation of all varieties to prosper there year-round, resulting in verdant hillsides accented with crumbling stone walls and abandoned villas that feel worlds away from the intensity of Lisbon.
In a small hamlet outside of the village, I found a plaster-walled, cottage-like home inside of a little cluster of stucco dwellings by a creek, with a large meadow in the back. I secured a garden plot in the idyllic pasture after negotiating with the landlord, making a promise to maintain an organic garden on the property as her grandmother had always done. It was in that rustic little cottage and garden where I turned to flowers for meditation, play, and a sense of grounding while so far from home. Though I've worked with flowers as a florist and stylist for over twenty years, this relationship with flowers was different. Foraging for wild stems offered the healing that I'd been craving during that time.
Whether in the garden harvesting tiny strawberry flowers, out foraging elderflower on the trail, making simple handheld bouquets from sidewalk-crack weeds, arranging discarded tomato branches for my entry, in the kitchen concocting new recipes with homegrown marigolds, or creating restful rituals with rose petals, I began to cultivate a new life with flowers at the center. I fell in love with a trail where I would lose myself on my hikes in and out of the village, searching for small stems of Spanish daisies, vines of passionflower, Queen Anne's lace, and wild grasses. I brought them home for arrangements, woven wreaths, and recipes, all made with what I had available right there in the village. This book is a way to share this unhurried, floral-focused life with you with the hope that you'll be inspired to create your own flower-filled days.