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Styling Hack: How I Stopped Spending Hundreds on Flowers For Shoots (& Instead Spend $0)

Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Portland Project: The Entry & Staircase Reveal

We are back with another Afternoon Snack! Not sure what we’re talking about and waiting for someone to pass the popcorn? Well then sorry to say there is no actual food…but welcome to our new, regularly scheduled second post of the day (head here to read this morning’s post). These are meant to be a quick, fun article that can serve as a helpful afternoon pick-me-up. Now, let’s dive in…

Oh, what value being desperate can bring to your life. Historically, I have spent probably $300-$500 a month on flowers from the flower market for photoshoots. Sure, I’m likely over-spending because once I’m there I’m highly inspired by one of my favorite things in the world—FLOWERS—and need to hoard all of them. It was an expensive habit and one that was hard to break. But with both the mountain house and Portland projects, we didn’t have access to the flower market; plus we were shooting for weeks and weeks for both, so even when we did buy them, they had to be replaced often. While there is a flower market in Portland, it was far from where we were staying (and the house) and we didn’t have a license to get in. Could we have used a florist? Yes, but florists are quite expensive (understandably, they have to mark up to profit) and we didn’t have the budget for what we would have needed. So we took to the streets, well…the woods, and with the abundance of greenery in Portland we foraged and clipped.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Blue Bedroom1
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: 14 Rules for How We Style the Perfect Bedroom + 3 Reveals

Obviously, it was on our property or literally in the middle of the woods and we took from trees that needed the trim, perhaps doing them a favor, really. *No plants were permanently damaged in the making of these photos. I don’t need to say this but I will: don’t steal your neighbors’ branches, don’t trim in a way that disfigures the one bush in the front yard, and I’m not here saying that we should stop buying flowers and chop down our trees instead.

So let’s go through the whys and hows:

Why the branch? Not only is it free, but it’s very high impact and sculptural.

How do you choose what to clip?

  1. Go for one branch that has an asymmetrical shape, not a perfect line of leaves, but instead does something interesting sculptural.
  2. Clip much longer than you would initially think. This is something I’ve had to teach to assistants. Make sure you are getting enough stem because you can always go shorter.
  3. If you can’t find that one amazing branch, get two but ensure that one is shorter and that they don’t look symmetrical. You are going for a sculptural effect, not a semi-circle of leaves coming out of a vase.
  4. One weird big branch off to the side works as long as it’s facing the right way (like the branch below).
Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Upstairs Hallway19
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Portland Project: The Entry & Staircase Reveal

In Portland, there was a plethora of maple which is gorgeous since it’s sculptural and graphic but not too visually “heavy.”

Emily Henderson Invitation Home5
Photo By Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: A Budget and Renter-Friendly Makeover

For the Atlanta project, also in the suburbs, we snagged that large weed which did in fact die that night and had to be replaced the next day, but worth the extra foraging time for such a large impact for free.

Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: The First Mountain House Bathroom Reveal: Our “Quiet Drama” Powder Bath

The mountain house has a forest behind it full of manzanita and maples so we carefully clipped some (and hot tip: manzanita lasts for months and looks GREAT dried).

Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: The Mountain House Master Bath Reveal

Maple branches last for at least a week, two weeks if you take care of them and keep them watered.

Emily Henderson Portland Traditional Dining Room19
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: The Portland Dining Room Reveal
Emily Henderson Moutain House Living Room Lores4
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: Our Light Filled Neutral & Textural Living Room

It doesn’t just work for the big “moments” guys. Nope. Smaller weeds or just a clipping from bushes/trees work for smaller vessels, too:

Emily Henderson Second Day Post Styling Braches Side By Side 1
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: The Upstairs Guest Bath That Used To Be A Closet
Emily Henderson Second Day Post Styling Braches Side By Side 2
Photo by Sara Ligorria-Tramp | From: Mountain House Reveal: Our Soft Yet Secretly Sultry Downstairs Guest Bed + Bath

Now, a lot of these are more for shoots, we don’t keep branches in the shower for real life but you get the idea. If you have a guest coming over and want last-minute flowers but don’t want to buy carnations from Albertsons? Get your clippers and head to your backyard.

If you love branches but want the ones that actually dry the best (and therefore last for months), then let me know in the comments because there are a lot that we buy (I wish we could just forage and pick) that have literally looked almost as good months later when dried. We walked into the mountain house recently thinking we were going to need to refresh some, but nope, they looked great after 2 months. Let me know and I can write a quick post about my favorites because I LOVE A STYLING HACK. Especially ones that save me time and money. 

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4 years ago

Ha I know you probably think this is common knowledge, but yeah…I’ve never thought to just go outside and forage. I just go to TJs and buy cheap eucalyptus, but this looks so much more…organic? “editorial” is the word I know you like to use, and yeah. Like it should be in a magazine. Love a styling hack. THANK YOU.

4 years ago
Reply to  GG

I’m also a fan of TJ’s eucalyptus! It smells delicious and dries well. Plus I think I’d get in trouble if I started wandering my “backyard” with a pair of gardening shears since it’s also known as Central Park. Don’t think I haven’t been tempted though 🙂

4 years ago
Reply to  Kristina

HA! This made me chuckle.

4 years ago

My style hack: as much as I love sculptural pottery, a simple glass vase with a single bloom makes a great statement and it doesn’t have to be store bought. I always choose balsamic or other kitchen essentials sold in an interesting shape bottles, to use them later as small vases. Round and stocky ones are my favorite as long as the neck is narrow to hold one stem.

4 years ago

Yes plz! Would love a post about dries branches!

4 years ago

Hi! I’m sure you’re aware but just in case… I’m seeing this as the morning post and I saw no post yesterday afternoon. Just FYI!

4 years ago
Reply to  Lo.

Hi Lo! We didn’t have an afternoon post yesterday, but this morning’s post was this:

4 years ago

You’re spoiling us with the afternoon snack…and like my three year old, once you gave it (an afternoon treat) to me, I immediately began to expect it.

Could you let us know somehow (maybe just put up a quick note and/or favorite link of the day and/or warn in the morning post) if there isn’t going to be an afternoon snack? Otherwise I refresh a bunch and start feeling like one of those mice experiments with only intermittent rewards and then start having an existential crisis about what am I doing with my life. SAVE ME FROM MYSELF.

4 years ago
Reply to  Annie

I thought I was the only one!

4 years ago
Reply to  Kim

HA. sorry guys. For some of our posts with large produced shoots that we put so much resources into and are so proud of, we want all eyeballs on that post, so we were going to put up a second post and then said ‘no – this one should stay all day’ (target didn’t ask us to, it was my call). So i’d say MOST days there will be two posts, just like for HUGE reveals we might stick to one, but we are also still learning because its digital media so we stay nimble.. .. hell, maybe we’ll go to three 🙂

4 years ago

Love it!

I was inspired by you and last week cut off a magnolia branch from our tree in the back yard. I put it in a wood vase (wedding gift crafted by a family friend) on a credenza I recently painted: I’m happy. 🙂

4 years ago
Reply to  Liz

That looks SO great!! That lamp is so much fun and the blue is ::heart eyes::.

4 years ago

Tip! In the early spring, arborists often trim up branches in our neighborhood. I’ve had great luck bringing in branches with tight buds and forcing a bloom. You need to cut up on the bottom of the stem and even try to flatten it out if you can. It often takes up to two weeks, but then voila, flowers while it’s still freezing out! I’ve done it successfully with all kinds of trees, but flowering plums are my favorite.

Sherri Schierberl
4 years ago

Hi – I’ve been using your idea for using foliage, but would love to know which ones last. The current branch (alder?), that I used, didn’t even last half a day. Thanks, Sherri

4 years ago

I’ve been doing this for a couple years and it is so easy and so much cheaper. For greenery, I love any evergreen, Olive tree branches, Mexican orange blossom, camelias. I also love using Hellebore flowers in bud vases in the winter. I imagine a fig tree branch or ginko would be quite beautiful in spring thru Fall but I don’t have any of those in my yard…yet.

Shannon Olson
4 years ago

In California, I do that with my foliage too. One big leaf looks great in a vase and no one notices it missing from my front yard 🙂

4 years ago

Could you do a post about vases that can comfortably hold a branch?

4 years ago

Love this tip. I have a eucalyptus tree, so I use the branches in vases, to make swags, garlands (great for running the length of a holiday table), etc. and they still look pretty good when they dry out. I suspect olive branches would hold up well also? I recently discovered that Billy buttons (the flowers that look like yellow pom-poms) are also SO great dried – they look so cute in bud vases and give a nice pop of color! I bought a bunch in May and they are going strong 6 months later – I just move them around to different areas of the house. I’ve also become obsessed with houseplants and use them in places where I used to use vases of flowers – even if they don’t survive my not-so-green thumb, they always last much longer than cut flowers, so I figure it’s all good 🙂

4 years ago

I have a few holly bushes in my yard and always reserved the clippings for the holidays, but this past year I cut some on the spring and they looked gorgeous mixed with other foliage. And holly lasts for MONTHS!

4 years ago

love how organic and effortless the greenery looks. I have often foraged in my yard for filler stems to stick in with floral arrangements but never thought to go big. Also, a word of caution about eucalyptus: it can be toxic to cats (as can the diffuser oil type) if they lick or chew the leaves. Nandina berries are also poisonous to cats.

4 years ago

Love the look of the branches! Big impact. The price is right. I’m no arborist but I’m thinking those branches in the mountain house are oak. The Portland house branches in the bar look like a type of Japanese maple. No idea what species is in the black bathroom. 🙂

4 years ago

Sorry to be the tree police, but manzanitas are a protected species in CA…unless I’m mistaken, it’s not ok to harvest the trees/branches. Something to be aware of.

4 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

Ah this is true! Careful what you clip!
“Killing or possessing manzanita trees is illegal under the California Endangered Species Act. It is unlawful to harvest anything but the fruit of a manzanita tree without a permit, and owning any other part of a manzanita tree is also against the law.”

4 years ago
Reply to  Ashley

I was thinking this too, I lived in CA most of my life and I remember it being illegal to trim or cut anything but fruit (which I’ve never seen any actually) from a manzanita tree.

Elly MacDonald Design
4 years ago

I couldn’t agree more! Working as an interior designer in Singapore, I was lucky enough to be able to forage oversized tropical leaves (like papaya) for my shoots. Loved the drama and scale of them…and the price point :).

Loving these afternoon snacks too, great idea!

4 years ago

I read Erin Benzakein’s book (She runs Floret Flower Farm – google it, most gorgeous flower photos ever) and she mentioned that some flowers and woody branches need to be dipped in boiling water before being put in a vase to extend their life- this blew my mind!

4 years ago

I’ve often used hosta leaves. On a smaller scale, clippings in water from my indoor zz plant last months that upon months!

4 years ago

Definitely want that post referenced at the end 🙂

4 years ago
Reply to  Amanda

YES!! Me too!

4 years ago

This is exactly the kind of mind bendingly simple, yet worth-its-weight-in-gold styling advice that makes this site my first stop, every day. ILY.

4 years ago

Absolutely would love your list of ones that looked great dried!

4 years ago

I always stop and ask people cutting trees if I can have some of their branches. They look at me like I am a bit crazy, but they always let me take as many as I want! I will also pick up small branches if I find them on the ground. Walks after windy days are always fun! This is a good way to forage if you live in a leafy city, but don’t have a lot of your own trees! If you want the branches to last even longer split the stem a bit by cutting up the middle with gardening shears.

4 years ago
Reply to  Kathryn

I wish we could just forage and pick

4 years ago

would love to know which plants you think dry best and any tips you have for drying them.

Catherine Cullen
4 years ago

What about the mechanics? The clear floral tape works well for me, as a grid or actually wrapped around the branch and then taped to the container. Or a really sharp frog (my strategy is to jam the branch onto the frog and then drop it into the container). I think normal non-stylists will try this and then be disappointed when they can’t get the branch to face the right way or it is top heavy.

4 years ago

Please do share your list. I have what I think is Israeli ruscus in a vase in my kitchen. I often forget to add water, but it seems to thrive on neglect. It’s the only thing left from a bouquet my husband gave me in March. Eight months later, it’s still looks great!

4 years ago

Love this post! I’d love a list of your favorites 🙂

Leslie Testa
4 years ago

I would love to know of any plants/trees you have tried that will last between two and four weeks for home staging.

4 years ago
Reply to  Leslie Testa

I love how pussy willow dries! You have to catch it when the buds are fuzzy and they keep a long time. Mine are about a year and look great.

Home Cleaning
4 years ago

I like how you deal w/ those beautiful plants. I couldn’t shot like that in my backyard but you made it too easy to do it. I love plants and love how you made all your designs. Love your posts!

Melissa H
4 years ago

This is me every year for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Quick neighborhood walk to get fallen leaves/evergreen branches and the decorating is done, fresh and free 🙂

Jennifer Laura
4 years ago

As a past florist, I can say that we do this all the time- we call it “foraging” and it’s one of my favorite ways to incorporate organic greenery. I am in FULL support of this 🙂

4 years ago

Great ideas. Do you add water to the vase? Or dry?

It's Ok Clay
4 years ago

Love this! I am a ceramic artist and always staging my planters and vases with interesting plants. Would LOVE to hear what dried branches work best for you!

Dana Leigh Lyons
4 years ago

Oh, just thank you for this! It may seem simple and obvious, but it was exactly what I needed to start adding fresh green to my place again.