Chatting with Flora Forager: How Bridget Beth Collins Transforms Plants Into Art
You know her as Flora Forager, the botanical artist and Instagram sensation. But Bridget Beth Collins is truly defined by her insatiable desire to wonder. She’s the kind of person that stops to smell the roses, lingering longer than most to pick up the petals that have fallen by her toes. Pinecones, branches, berries, and other pops of color from blooming flora, are her medium: Collins uses plants to form everything from whimsical landscapes to wings of a peacock, dinosaur teeth, the sails of a ship, and even Marilyn Monroe’s lips.
When she’s not pulling from her overflowing postage-stamp sized garden behind “the burrow”– the name her family has assigned to their home, Collins carries a “foraging bag” everywhere she goes, a satchel she uses to gather art supplies that she finds along the highway, in meadows, and in local gardens throughout Seattle. “My husband came up with the name but our home looks like a hobbit house!” she giggles infectiously. (A trend, mind you, that commenced on both of our behalves throughout the interview, as we devoured pizza at University Village in Seattle and discussed our favorite sci-fi books).
“I’ve gone into my garden and the flowers speak to me. We’re still growing, we’ve died, and we’ve come back. We can do that too. Flowers and nature mean everything to me.”
After our digression, our conversation reverted back to ‘the burrow’, where you can find Bridget past a rounded, bright red front door carefully laying out plant and flower particles that will soon define people, places, and things upon her canvas. Here flower petals and other garden elements are not glued down; she simply arranges and photographs them before sprinkling them back onto the soil. “I get so many inquiries for the actual works of art,” Collins tells me, “But no matter how you try to preserve flowers they’re not going to have that fresh and alive look. If I put them behind glass and they die it just wouldn’t be Flora Forager. Our printer in San Francisco uses photo paper that gives each image that 3D look like the flowers themselves.”
Since launching Flora Forager one year ago, Collins has been re-grammed by Martha Stewart Magazine, Design Sponge, and countless other Instagram heavy-hitters. She’s collaborated with the New York Botanical Garden, Stella McCartney, Cleobella, Urban Outfitters, Alison Lou, Attributes, and most recently designed the cover of Danny Seo’s Naturally Delicious cookbook. In Seattle, Collins sits down with GC to discuss her foraging, her art, and what’s next for the garden-inspired artist.
GC: What was your relationship with gardening growing up?
BBC: My mom has 70 roses and she’s always in the garden. I don’t have a biology degree or anything like that, but I grew up interested in learning the names of flowers. I was just in that atmosphere I guess… My mom has videos of me at five or six reciting their scientific names.
GC: What are you growing in your personal garden?
BBC: Sunflowers and roses. I have a couple of dogwood trees, we have lilacs. I live in the city and have a really small plot but I stuff it full. Pansies, violets, and violas. It’s been such a hot summer…I have lots of dandelions in my grass. I have this really cool Honeysuckle Rhododendron [she let’s the Latin roll off her tongue with ease]. I also have bamboo and hydrangea. The person that lived in my neighbor’s house before them was a gardener; they have all these exotic flowers that I had never seen before. My neighbors are so sweet, they say “take whatever you want for your art”. I have a little herb garden too. Bluebells… that’s my stone dragon [she points to a photograph on her phone and smiles].
GC: When did you begin Flora Forager?
BBC: Seven years ago, when my little boy was one, I made a fish out of silk petals and that remained on his wall for years. I made a few fish at the time, actually, and took pictures of them on canvas. I went into this coffee shop [with them] and the owner said something like, “You need to work on your white space. I would never sell this at my shop.” I felt really discouraged and didn’t do anything commercially with my art for several years. I was making mandala’s and uploading [various work] to my personal Instagram when a friend of a friend, who’s an editor at Chalkboard Mag, recommended that I become a pro-Instagrammer. She said just have your floral art; it will blow up! On a whim, I made up the name Flora Forager and within a week I had 1,000 followers and it hasn’t stopped. It’s been social media wildfire! All of Flora Forager has white space– go figure!
GC: How do the seasons influence your work?
BBC: Last Fall I was using a lot of berries and mushrooms. I made a mandala with nine different kinds of mushrooms I foraged. I was also doing leaves, red to green, the transition of color in a circle. In Winter I found myself doing silver foliage for snowflakes. Some materials like holly can be found in the Northwest year round, but my work is not intentionally seasonal. I find myself doing tropical things in the Winter because I’m attracted to the bright hues that oppose the rain in Seattle.
On the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, my family always throws a tropical party. From that day on the days are getting longer, so I posted a flamingo with a fruit hat last year. I break the rules with the seasons. I actually just had this conversation with my editor because I’m working on a seasonal journal.
GC: What is the most underrated plant or flower?
BBC: Rhododendrons! At least in this area. I love them! About 50 years ago people all planted the same ones, but there are hundreds of different kinds. Scented ones that look exactly like bells, other varieties that are humongous, like the size of someone’s face. Some Rhodi trees grow 30 feet high. There are two rhododendron gardens in this area, yet people are like “I hate rhodi’s…” They’re totally underrated.
GC: How has the botanical world impacted your life aside from your business?
BBC: One of the reasons I like doing Flora Forager is because naturally I think life is kind of bleak. I have a lot of fear of people and circumstances. But you can walk into a garden and flowers are beautiful; every season you can always find something to give you light. I think throughout the years, with different struggles, I’ve gone into my garden and the flowers speak to me. We’re still growing, we’ve died, and we’ve come back. We can do that too. Flowers and nature mean everything to me.
GC: Do you have a favorite flower?
BBC: Garden roses but not just the long-stem kind: the heavily scented garden rose that’s rambling with flowers all over it. I’ll look at those and my heart breaks. I’ll have an ache in my chest! They’re so beautiful. Like my mom’s roses, for example, I grew up with those. My favorite flower in my garden is a rose called Evelyn. I treat her like a person. She just bloomed, and it’s kind of late in the season, so I’ll say Evelyn, look at you!
“I have a lot of fear of people and circumstances. But you can walk into a garden and flowers are beautiful; every season you can always find something to give you light.”
GC: Do your kids collect things for you?
BBC: One of the very first things I did for Flora Forager was a berry rainbow. We were driving around the neighborhood looking for different colored berries and they found them all. But usually it’s like “mom and her flowers….” it’s never cool when it’s your own mom. But if we go on a walk through the woods they’ll say do you want this for your art? And it will be like a dandelion… I did a post with a huge dandelion in my hair [one day] and I wrote “where do you call these where you come from.” I got responses from over 30 countries. It’s called a “Goatsbeard”. I found it on a freeway exit actually. I saw it while I was driving and I thought, “I’m coming back for that”.
GC: Do you have a dream project?
BBC: I want to be a modern day Beatrix Potter. Yes, she did Peter Rabbit, but she was a philanthropist, she did beautiful drawings, had a garden, loved nature. She did scientific paintings with mushrooms and bought up all this land in the lake district of England, just to preserve nature. I just love that she’s a whole person. When I’m in my 80’s, I’d love to feel like I’ve created books, art, and be known for an all encompassing body of work. My next step is writing children’s books. I’m working on a middle grade book and the main character’s name is Flora…. It’s a good thing we have lots of time in life.