May 2nd, 2013
When we first moved into our house twenty years ago one of the delightful aspects for this gardener was the full, warm attic. Perfect for drying the flowers I was intending to grow. Papery statice, hydrangeas, and more. Now mind you, though I’d been a gardener for many years, I’d never dried or preserved flowers, but I figured it was about time. So that first year I grew gomphrena, love-in-a-mist, and celosia and tried my hand at baby’s breath and datura. At harvest time I gathered the bounty in bunches, tied their stems with string and hung them from the rafters in that attic.
They’re still there.
Oh, I had great goals. I was going to make potpourri, fashion dried bouquets to give away and maybe brew herbal tea. Such plans! Life intervened, and I never got around to doing any of it. But I still dry flowers. The difference is now I use them in arrangements. And why didn’t I use my flowers in the rafters? Turned out that though the attic offered perfect drying conditions, it wasn’t easily accessible. For a busy mom, the effort required to pull down the steps and harvest the bounty, while keeping little kids from climbing up where they didn’t belong, was too much. So I’ve devised easier ways to extend the growing season with dried flowers.
First, I stick to easily dry-able material, and I make sure the blooms are thoroughly dry. Though there are other methods of preserving plant material, such as immersing in sand and employing various chemicals, I stick to the simplest— air-drying. Take hydrangea, for example. The best way to preserve this old-fashioned stalwart is right in the vase. I find the older cultivars such as ‘Preziosa’ and especially ‘Glowing Embers’ dry better than the newer ones that flower on new and old wood. Gather cut stems in the cool of the day, and simply place in a vase of water positioned out of the sun. Enjoy the fresh blooms for as long as it takes for the water to evaporate and voila! You have dried hydrangeas.
Yarrow and allium both dry nicely. (here’s a tip…once ornamental onion has lost its color, leave the seedheads standing and get out the spray paint. No one will ever know the difference!) Amaranthus, the old-fashioned love-lies-bleeding preserves well, as does pearly everlasting, though I like to leave that in the garden for the butterflies to lay their eggs on it. Artemesia not only dries admirably but smells good too. Astilbe is easy to grow in shade and simple to dry
Joe-Pye weed, that late-season statuesque purple-flowering perennial, is irresistible to butterflies and lends charm in a dried arrangement. Also try gypsophilia, lavender and liatris for their blooms; money plant and baptisia for their seed heads, sedum, filipendula for their large flowers, and grasses for their wand-like flowers. For annuals, give gomphrena, celosia, strawflower and nigella a whirl.
Other materials lend themselves well to drying. Consider seed pods on plants such as coneflower, Siberian iris, grape hyacinth, and poppy. Ostrich fern fertile fronds stand tall, and if you’re fortunate to find a shrub or tree branch with an abandoned bird’s nest, that will provide a large-scale outline for a big arrangement. Also search out interesting galls, lichen-covered twigs and corkscrew willow.
I like to gather what I call the “last bouquet of autumn” with sedum, astilbe, perhaps some annual salvia ‘Victoria’ which will retain its lavender-blue color, and hydrangea. A vase or two of these beauties keeps the garden alive all winter.
A caveat: Don’t ever use bittersweet. That invasive vine is murdering our forests. The orange fruits, pretty as they are, can easily escape a wreath or garland and become a huge problem in the landscape.
So give your green thumb a go at drying favored garden flowers. It’s an easy way to lengthen the season through our northern winters. Just don’t leave your bounty in the attic!