By: Elisabeth Ginsburg
Flowers are nature’s most beautiful and ephemeral gifts to us. But for gardeners, especially those living in cold-winter climates, the gift is seasonal. Winter comes, flowers fade, and the bright colors of spring and summer are just a memory.
Everlasting blooms can save you from a winter of flower-free discontent. With a little forethought and minimum time and effort, you can harvest all kinds of dryable flowers and preserve the summer garden to enjoy right through the cold months and beyond. But no matter where you live, in Maine, Hawaii or anywhere in between, dried arrangements and decorations will give your indoor décor a natural lift.
How do you get started? The easiest way is to plan ahead when you plot out your garden in late winter or early spring. If you relish the idea of growing true annual everlastings from seed, try some of the many heirloom air-drying favorites. Each naturally dries with papery bracts, petals, or sepals that naturally retain their color. The best of these include strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum), statice (Limonium sinuatum), cockscomb (Celosia) and globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa). Drumstick flower (Craspedia spp.) and lavender (Lavandula spp.) are two other good choices (Click here to learn more about growing lavender).
Some shrubs also produce everlasting blooms. For large, papery flower heads, cut and dry stems of hydrangea flowers. Those of smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), and oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) dry the best.
Whether you start everlastings from seed or purchase plants from the garden center, performance depends on the care you give them and the growing soil or mix in which they are planted. Augment lean soils in garden beds and borders with a generous helping of rich Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Plants grown in containers always perform well in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix.
Dried seedheads also make welcome additions to dried arrangements. Remember that old-fashioned favorites like starflower (Scabiosa stellata) and the seedpods of breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum) and love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) yield interesting dried stems for decoration. The seedpod “coins” of money plant (Lunaria annua) are also classics for drying. You might even consider collecting stems of roadside teasel (Dipsacus spp.) to add a dramatic look to dried arrangements.
Flowers for Preserving
Some flowers dry well and will hold their color with a little help from drying or pressing methods (see below). This includes annuals such as “cut and come again” zinnias and marigolds and pansies. Fall garden asters strutting their stuff in borders and containers also hold their color when tried as do yarrows (Achillea millifolium), roses, coneflowers (Echinacea spp.), black-eyed-Susans (Rudbeckia spp), and many salvias.
Depending on flower type, preservation involves one of the following operations: air drying, desiccant drying (silica gel), or pressing. Air drying is the easiest and is effective for a wide variety of everlasting plants. Harvest newly opened flowers in the early morning, strip off leaves, bind the stems with a rubber band and hang for a couple of weeks in a cool, dry place with good air circulation.
Silica gel is a sand-like desiccant that you can buy from craft and hobby vendors. It is ideal for preserving plants that are not true everlastings but hold their color and shape when quick-dried in silica. To do this, fill a lidded plastic container with an inch of the gel. Position flowers in a single layer on top of the gel, and then gently cover them completely with additional silica gel. Leave undisturbed for a week; then uncover. The blooms will be dry, with much of their color retained.
Relatively flat flowers, like pansies, violets, daisies, cosmos and single poppies, are among the best choices for pressing. Many vendors sell flower presses, but you can also improvise using a heavy book, like an old encyclopedia, and sheets of absorbent paper (blotter or parchment paper). Insert the flowers between two pieces of the paper and then position on a page towards the middle of the heavy book. Close the book and leave undisturbed for a couple of weeks. At the end of that time, open the book and gently remove the dried flowers. They will be ready for use in art projects, note cards, and other decorative applications.
Part of the joy of dried flowers is experimenting. If you are not sure which drying method works best for a specific variety, try air drying first. If you end up with a handful of fluff, or petals all over the floor, experiment with silica gel.
Imagine your living space full of luxurious dried arrangements featuring everlasting flowers from your own garden. The possibilities are endless and the fun can start now.
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