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Friday, July 25, 2014

Gray Matters: Roadside Bouquets

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

As autumn approaches the changing colors along the highways and byways always attract our attention.

This reminds me of an interesting query made by a busy young mother some years ago. "If you love to arrange things but have no time to grow flowers, what can you do?" she asked. I had a ready answer from my own experience.

It had been born of necessity back in the years when I was too busy with family to find time for flowers.I called it the Roadside Bouquet.

For the first one I remember, I used a big black pottery piece filling it with milkweed pods and bright orange-red bittersweet.To do this you first locate a sizable stand of milkweed in a road ditch, then wait patiently for the first frost which is what it takes to pop the pods open.

Then scurry out with strong snippers and a can of cheap hairspray.Cutting choice specimen you spray them immediately and liberally. This catches the fresh-blown look and keeps it for the entire season.I had a dear friend who had a generous hand with her lovely bittersweet. It was a great combination.

If you haven't access to bittersweet, there are other choices. Replace the black container with a rustic earth-toned one.In a dark pot the golden "innards" of a few choice pods, completely freed of their fuzzy contents, offer a nice contrast. In a lighter vase those dark brown stalks of steeplebush, which are so common, do beautifully.

Other possibilities for wild arrangements are dried Queen-Anne's Lace, goldenrod or coneflowers.Then, of course, there are cattails and the splendid plume grass which abound, if you train your eye to spot them.The native grasses now used for Plymouth County planting offer all sorts of choices. In these areas, particularly, be sure not to disturb the roots of these very special plantings. It's a matter of personal taste, but I'm not much for spray-painted natural materials.

I find that the straw flowers, available in many flower shops are great brighteners in grass arrangements, along with garden-grown yarrow. Hopefully, you know someone from whom you can beg, borrow or--well, at least beg or borrow a bit.

There are some real tricks to gathering these wild materials. First, you spend all summer watching the roadsides carefully so you know where to go when the various plants have reached maturity. It's best to do this when you are a passenger.It gets a bit treacherous if you get too zealous when you are behind the wheel. When the time is right, you line the car trunk with newspapers, pick up your sturdiest snippers and start out.

You always feel a little silly when people come along, invariably slowing down to see if you are in trouble. If you wave and smile reassuringly, they usually just drive on.It helps if you have a collection of grasses in one hand and snippers in the other to reinforce the idea.

Of course, you often get a fleeting glimpse of a tolerant, "well-it-takes-all-kinds" look as a neighboring farmer drives by.So be prepared for a bit of that.Selecting little-used, off the beaten path back roads is a good idea.

Have fun and enjoy your Roadside Bouquet.