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Ready, Get Set, Forage!

Three florists have one morning to assemble the most arresting wild bouquet imaginable. May the best picker win.


All in a morning’s work: A smattering of the wild flora plucked by our three competing florists.

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The winning bouquet, by Matthew Drewry Baker of the Hanged Man Co.

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“I choose to forage, despite its labor and time intensity, because what it gives me in return is priceless. It keeps me sensitive and aware of my natural surroundings, the natural cycle of the flowers, and how all the weather conditions interplay.” —Matthew Drewry Baker

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Bouquet by Alethea Harampolis, Studio Choo West

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“There’s so much good stuff out there that people don’t even know exists. When I drive, I’m constantly looking at the sides of the road for materials to forage.” —Alethea Harampolis

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Bouquet by Haia Sophia, Canopy Floral and Botanic.

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“I am all about what’s beautiful and blooming right here, right now in Northern California. I look for the showstoppers of the season and the traces and harbingers of seasons past and future.” —Haia Sophia

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Editor’s Note: This is one of many stories about our relationship with the natural world, which San Francisco is publishing over the next month as part of the May 2017 Great Outdoors Issue. To read stories as they become available online, click here.

There is no better time to be a foraging florist. Record rainfall has resulted in a rash of wildflowers exploding throughout California, and our urban streetscape is no exception. Untended open spaces—from highway medians to abandoned parking lots—have become fecund with flora, while many a weekend gardener can’t keep up with their own backyard supply. With this insane bounty in mind, we sent three seasoned Bay Area florists—Matthew Drewry Baker, Alethea Harampolis, and Haia Sophia—out one morning with a challenge: They had three hours to scour their local secret spots and (legally) forage everything they needed to assemble a showstopping arrangement. The results were exceptional, and exemplary of why there is a growing trend toward caring as much about the origin of our tulips as our tomatoes. While California is the country’s biggest producer of cut flowers, a majority of our blooms—79 percent at last count—are imported from other countries, from Colombia to Kenya. That seems a shame. We’ll take these wild arrangements over a bundle of air-mailed roses any day.


Matthew Drewry Baker, the Wild Child
The Hanged Man Co.

Personal style: “I would describe it as a wild faerie interpreting classical Flemish floral paintings: layered and lush, but a little wonky. I like things to be disorienting and never too perfect.”

Miles traversed on foot while foraging: 3.1 miles; 8,379 steps

Hunting grounds: “San Francisco. I started at a friend’s garden in Glen Park, and from there continued into the northern parts of Bernal Heights leading up to the freeway, where I source a lot of nasturtium. I then dipped into the southern part of the Mission for some wisteria that grows along a parking lot fence that’s falling apart. I visited another spot in Potrero that buffers a freeway that has some funny roses, and had a surprise when I spotted in a liquor store’s disheveled parking lot a lilac shrub, blooming for the first time in years with this lovely rain.”

Species foraged: Wisteria, lilac, rose, bird of paradise, hollyhock, jasmine, cherry blossom, nasturtium, fig

Tools of the trade: Handheld garden clippers, extendable loppers, Ikea bags

Professional uniform: “Old jeans, T-shirt, a sweater, and my dad’s old military field jacket. It has a lot of pockets—good for clippers and tiny saws. I think my wild, disheveled appearance keeps people at bay, and I’m OK with that.”

Occupational hazard: “I do most of my foraging early in the morning, sometimes before dawn. I interact regularly with foxes, deer, owls, raccoons, and, of course, skunks. I’ve dodged that bullet a couple of times. I encountered a pretty menacing dog while foraging near a homeless encampment. But the scariest was when I was cornered by a soccer mom in a minivan who was very concerned about my cutting some dates from a palm tree in an abandoned lot.”

Why foraging beats the flower market: “Using flowers that you source yourself ensures that you are not supporting the evils that stem from agribusiness—flowers sprayed with toxic pesticides and fungicides, which poison both the land and the underpaid workers, who end up having serious health issues. The flowers on your table should reflect the season and its subtle, provisional beauty the way the delicious vegetables and fruit we consume do.” 


Alethea Harampolis, the Minimalist
Studio Choo West

Personal style: “My foraging style is very minimalistic—I choose to use fewer items in order to showcase each individual stem. I think the beauty of layered greenery and branches is mesmerizing. You really don’t need any flowers at all sometimes.”

Miles traversed on foot while foraging: 3/4 miles; 1,500 steps

Hunting grounds: “Mostly in the Novato area of Marin County. It’s the town where I grew up, so I know a ton of secret spots. I’m super careful to never forage from a person’s garden or land. I mostly stick to service roads, empty bank parking lots, and places like that.”

Species foraged: Plum, honeysuckle, spirea, rose, Banks’ rose, potato vine

Tools of the trade: Bucket of water, ARS cutters, small handsaw, leather gloves

Professional uniform: Jeans, Blundstone boots, long-sleeved shirt if she’s around poison oak or thorny rosebushes

Most underappreciated wild plant: Giant honeysuckle bush

Why foraging beats the flower market: “You get to choose exactly what you need and the quantity—that one beautiful branch of plum to complete your arrangement—and there is no waste. You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of something when you only need one or two stems. I’ll stare at a tree for a while before I make a cut so that I can choose the perfect branch for what I’m making.” 


Haia Sophia, the Forager Next Door
Canopy Floral and Botanic

Personal style: “My style is lifted from the wild beauty of Northern California. My aim is to make stunning and unusual mash-ups that showcase the moment that is growing around us.”

Miles traversed on foot while foraging: 3.3 miles; 8,807 steps

Hunting grounds: “East Bay. Residential areas in south Berkeley west of Adeline, where my neighbors are happy to have me help them maintain their overgrown plants; along Ashby in central Berkeley, where the vegetation is so thick presumably to block out the traffic; the hills of Orinda and Canyon; Temescal and West Oakland, where the city can never keep up with all that’s growing in the medians.”

Species foraged: Plum branches, fremontia, freesia, euphorbia, dried oak leaves and branches, Dodonaea viscosa (purple-leafed hop bush), wisteria, pine, Arbutus unedo (strawberry tree), honeysuckle, fuchsia, pieris, Acanthus mollis leaves (bear’s breeches), huckleberry branches, photinia, budding maple branches

Tools of the trade: Pole pruner, hand pruners, loppers, bucket with water for cuttings

Professional uniform: “I often wear a construction vest and hardhat when I’m taking down big branches for safety—and it also makes me look legit.”

Occupational hazard: “I have had some near injuries climbing on the side of the embankments, shimmying up tree trunks, or balancing on top of my car to get that perfect branch. And a few more ticks than I care to remember.”

WINNER: Matthew Drewry Baker, the Hanged Man Co.


Originally published in the May issue of San Francisco

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