Side of the Road Summer: Curating Your Own Beauty

I had a friend in grad school who had a beautiful aesthetic (you can see it here.) When our class would go on field trips this friend would return with armloads of branches, leaves and mosses. I loved going to her for critiques a) because she was talented and b) because her desk felt like a piece of the forest.

Back in March the Creative Somerville Series that I curate hosted Rose Mattos and Erin Heath of floral and event styling studio Forêt Design Studio. The duo was asked by an audience member how to start with floral arranging and they were given a simple answer: Find things you love and practice by arranging them in your own home.

There’s a lot of reasons why we have the selection of flowers in our lives that we do–and I know this from being in the landscape architecture business. We generally don’t plant Shagback Hickories because their taproot makes them too hard to transplant (although there’s hope!) We don’t plant Tree of Heaven, because even though they were hip in the 1800s, we consider them weedy and invasive now. I don’t know much about the floral nursery trade, but I assume similar factors apply there–a combination of shelf-life, transportability, and taste concerns determine what’s commercially available, and by the time you’re a regular jane stopping in her local florist’s shop, there’s only so many options.

But the thing is, there’s natural beauty around us–and somehow we think we should fill our houses with flowers from someone’s refrigerator (on special occasions only.)

Local Greens Bouquet
Local Greens Bouquet by Tricycle Gardens for an event I ran for a client this summer. And yes, it’s in a sugar canister.

We’ve stopped being the curators of our own beauty from the world around us. We play by the rules of what should go on the mantle, what should go in a vase.

A former professor of mine wrote a book on wild urban plants of the Northeast. It’s basically a compendium of what we call weeds (he prefers to call them spontaneous vegetation, ahh wordsmithing.)

But the thing is, some of them are quite gorgeous, and many of them have ecological roles they play, and they are all part of the changing scenery of fullness and color that tells you ‘midsummer has arrived, live it up!’ and ‘summer is waning, harvest joy while you can.’

Items from nature are beautiful. They teach you about form, they teach you about pattern, they teach you about color, visual transparency, scale, multitude, curve, angle, brightness and darkness, contrast. I read a graphic design book and it was broken into sections on visual concepts such as these.

I could have taught an entire graphic design course drawing on examples from the natural world.

Smokebush. An Object Lesson in Transparency.
Smokebush. An Object Lesson in Transparency.

As Rose said in her Creative Somerville talk, “If you understand the principles of design you can transform them into another medium.”

I spend this summer looking, capturing things I liked through my camera, my pen, my memories. I stopped at the side of the road and gathered things I thought were lovely and then gathered more that would look nice with them. I didn’t worry about convention–an overgrown lot filled with grass was as gorgeous as a manicured front yard. My room was filled with flora (and sometimes even flowers.) I documented it on Instagram with the hashtag #weedsareplantstoo (well, they are.) And it’s been fun to realize I’m not the only one using it.Weeds are Plants too-01

Sometimes my arrangements only lasted a few days, sometimes they left fine powder on my shelf.

And sometimes they dried into fine structured skeletons that reminded me to enjoy the summer while it passed.

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