Monday, October 13, 2014

Simple Techniques for Drying Flowers


There was a time when dried floral arrangements were hugely fashionable. Every fall I would make  up bouquets and a dried floral wreath to hang in our bedroom.

Styles change and over the years it became harder and harder to find the raw materials for my wreaths and flowers to make up dried arrangements.

Finally the habit of drying summer flowers faded altogether from the my fall routines.

Then, as luck would have it, I came across bunches of Strawflowers and Statice at the local Farmer's Market this summer. 

The fresh, new-mown-hay smell of the Strawflowers made me feel so nostalgic that I found myself wondering why I had ever stopped drying flowers.

There are a great many types of flowers and plants are suitable for drying. 

Here are just a few: roses, lavender, peonies, amaranthus, celosia, larkspur, Baby's Breath or gypsophia paniculata, hydrangea, German statice or Statice tatarica, Italian statice or Statice latifolium and a wide variety of herbs. 

Like Strawflowers, many of these flowers are actually easy to grow yourself.

Strawflowers, Helichrysum bracteatum: are wildflowers native to Australia. These sun loving flowers are actually short-lived perennials (USDA zones 10-11), but are generally grown as annuals in more northern climate zones. They are easy to grow from seed in any hot, dry site. Height: 30-40 cm (12-18 inches) Spread: 24-30 cm (10-12 inches).

Here in more northern gardening zones where are growing season is shorter, it is a good idea to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. If you are in a more temperate zone, you can plant seeds outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

The flower petals of Strawflowers have a dry, papery texture even before they are dried. The stem is quite fleshy in contrast and becomes a bit brittle when dried. (Quite often the Strawflowers heads are cut from the brittle stems and a florist's wire is inserted into the flower head to act as a stem. If you were preparing the dried flowers for sale or if the flowers are to be handled a lot, I would think about replacing the dried stems with florist's wire.)

This is the Statice, Limonium Sinuatum that I saw growing in the field at Butt's Berry & Flower Farm. It too can be grown easily from seed.

Statice, Limonium Sinuatum: There are a number varieties of Statice or Limonium. Limonium Sinuatum is an annual that has papery blooms on stiff green stems. Full sun. Height : 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches).

The best method for drying flowers varies according to the flower. Hanging flowers to dry is one of the easiest methods for drying a wide array of flowers. 

I dried my strawflowers in small bunches along with some white Statice or Limonium Sinuatum. 
While you may find it more of a challenge to find strawflowers to dry, Statice of varying kinds is commonly available most places you buy cut flowers. I have even seen it at my local grocery store in the floral department.

I was able to buy Sea Lavender or Limonium latifolia (seen above on the top right) at a local flower shop and found some pretty purple Gomphrena (seen above on the left) at the grocery store.

To prepare flowers for drying, remove any leaves and simply bind small bunches together with an elastic band. 

Make a bow with some twine and use one of the loops to hang your flower bunches. (Much to my husband's annoyance, I hung my flowers on a couple of the knobs on my kitchen cabinet doors.) 

Any dry place out of direct sunlight will do to hang your flowers. (Keeping them out of the sun is the best way to preserve the flower's color.)

I found it took about a little over a week for my flowers to dry. 

To make a simple arrangement with your dried flowers begin with the filler materials; in this case the feathery Sea Lavender. (You may find your dried Sea Lavender branches will shed some of the tiny blue flowers so choose a smooth surface on which to work. That way you can quickly sweep up any flowers that drop.)

Then fill in your arrangement with the chunkier Statice, Limonium Sinuatum.

Finally add your accents: in this instance, the Strawflowers and purple Gomphrena.

The overall effect of the finished arrangement is soft and delicate. 

I think you will find that drying flowers is a great way to keep a little bit of summer going well into fall.

In an upcoming post, I'll make a wreath and experiment with drying roses and hydrangeas.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Part 2: The Dinner Plates Dahlias & Flowers for Drying

It's a bit of a hike to the back field at Butt's Berry and Flower Farm where the dinner plate dahlias are grown. Rose Oldham suggests we might even want to take our car and drive out there.

As we crest the hill, the huge field of dahlias comes into view. 

Ahead of us, on the dirt road, we see that one of the summer hands is using a bike 
to make the same trek to the back field.

Suddenly the sun comes out from behind the clouds and it is bright blue sky and dahlias as far as the eye can see!

The dahlias we have come particularly to see are the "Dinner Plates" which, as the name suggests, are blooms the size of a small dinner plate. 

Put just one of these flowers in a vase and you already have a floral arrangement with a big impact.

This striking dinner plate streaked with magenta and maroon caught my eye immediately.

This is Dahlia 'Bristol Stripe'.

In the field there were rows of different shades of pink and lavender.

Dahlia 'Otto's Thrill'

Close-up of Dahlia 'Otto's Thrill'

Though I have always read that taller varieties of dahlias need some sort of support, none of the dahlias were staked. I asked Rose how the get away without staking the flower-heavy dinner plates.

"We plant our dahlias close together; about 12" apart. In tight rows, the dahlias seem to hold one another up. Another thing we do is to hill the young plants up with the tractor. I think this has to help as well", she replied.

Now you at home may not have a tractor, but you can still hill up taller dahlias to give them added support.

 Dahlia 'Cafe au Lait' is a creamy mix of pink and pale peach.

Opposite the row of hot pink Dahlia 'Otto's Thrill' is a line of creamy-yellow flowers striped with red.

 Dahlia 'Lady Darlene'

 Dahlia 'Lady Darlene'

The flower petals swirl up from the centre like flames.

The field also boasts every hot color from tangerine to red.


If you want to grow dahlias, here is some brief pointers for storing them over winter in a northern garden zone:

To overwinter the tubers, wait until frost has blackened the foliage and then dig deep beneath the clump. Lift the tubers carefully avoiding any possible damage to the neck near the crown. Each mother tuber can yield as many as 10 more tubers by autumn.

Use a sharp knife to slice the young tubers from the crown. Discard the "mother" along with any baby tubers showing signs of damage. Bring the tubers indoors and wash the soil from the tubers. Allow them to dry for 24 hours. Use a permanent marker to label the tubers for easy identification in spring. Place them in cardboard box and fill it with dry wood shavings or sawdust. Store your tubers in a dry place that stays above freezing temperatures for the winter. (A cold cellar or heated garage will work well. A basement may be too warm. )

Dahlias are not all that is grown on the farm.

 When we first arrived family patriarch Ross Oldham was setting off to pick 
the last of this summer's strawberries.

There are also pumpkins and a variety of vegetables.

 One final crop that I have yet to touch on are flowers that are perfect for drying, like these maroon strawflowers:

They have a fresh, new-mown-hay scent, hence the common name "Strawflower". More about 
Strawflowers in an upcoming post.

Everlasting flower or Statice (botanical name Limonium) is an old-fashioned annual
 that you simply hang to dry.

Have you ever seen these rather wacky looking flowers before? 

 These are an annual called Amaranthus Cruentus.

These similar, but pendulous flowers have the common name 'Love Lies Bleeding'. The botanical name is Amaranthus caudatus.

Amaranthus caudatus: A Victorian favourite, Amaranthus caudatus is great in fresh and dried floral arrangements. It is an annual flower that requires full sun and is quite happy in rather poor soil. As a seedling it likes moist conditions, but the mature plant is quite drought tolerant. Height can be as much as 3-5 feet. One word of warning: Amaranthus caudatus is quite the self-seeder and is considered invasive in some places. To avoid problems, harvest your Amaranthus caudatus before it drops its seed. Otherwise you may be weeding it endlessly next spring!

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not also point out that the farm also produces 
gorgeous delphinium each June.

More Information and Links:

Butt's Berry & Flower Farm

5838 5th Line
Rockwood, Ontario
(519) 856-0270

Delphinium, dahlias, and a variety of other flowers are grown on the farm. Orders for special events such as weddings are welcome.
There is no catalogue at this time, but dahlia tubers are available for purchase each spring. 
The farm also produces a wide range of vegetables, pumpkins and berries.

Visit the Butt's Berry& Flower Farm Facebook page.

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Visit to a Flower Farm

Though Oldham's no longer have a farm in Huttonville, we still see our old neighbours each Saturday when we visit the Brampton Farmer's Market.

A few weeks ago I stopped by the family's busy market stand to buy a bouquet of dahlias and got an invitation to go out to see the work they had done at their new farm near Rockwood Ontario.

What gardening enthusiast would down such an invitation?

And so it was that I found myself standing chest deep in a big field of dahlias one 
beautiful Sunday morning.

This is a busy time of year at the flower farm.

The dahlias are at their peak and it was all hands on deck at corporate headquarters (a.k.a. the barn).

There was the odd slacker (this is Maya asleep on the barn floor), but everyone else was busy cutting and packing flowers for a big order when I stopped in to visit.

Out in the field, the dahlias were looking spectacular.

Dahlias range widely in height and foliage color, as well as bloom size, variety and shape. "Dinner plate" varieties may have blooms as large as 12" in diameter.

Dahlias tuberous-rooted perennials native to Mexico and Central America. They tolerate a wide range of soil types, but like well drained conditions (too much moisture will cause the tubers to rot). Always grow dahlias in full sun. 

Tubers should be planted in the spring after all danger of frost has been passed. The proper planting depth for dahlia tubers is 10-15 cm (4-6 inches). 

Taller varieties may end up needing to be staked later on. If you are not careful however, the stake can damage tubers so it is a good idea to position your stake at the time of planting.

Place your dahlia tuber horizontally in the planting hole with the eye pointing upward. Dahlias are heavy feeders so it is a good idea to mix in some organic matter and a handful of bonemeal when you plant them.

To promote a compact, bushy plant, pinch back your dahlia once it has grown about a foot high. It is also a good idea to feed them every two weeks before they begin to set bud with water soluble, bloom promoting type of fertilizer.

Side buds at the end of each branch can be removed if you want to encourage larger flowers.

The farm also produces other flowers like these zinnias and snapdragons.

Gladiolas used to be an important flower crop, but the family 
tells me that they are not as popular in recent years.

Growing Lavatera as a cut flower was an experiment tried
for the first time this summer.

Lavatera trimestris: Lavatera are annuals that are easy to grow from seed. You can start them indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost or sow them directly outdoors two weeks before the last frost date. 

Lavatera dislike being moved, so avoid moving young plants if possible. Grow them in moist, average soil (rich soil will lead to lush foliage and fewer flowers). In growing them myself, I discovered that full sun is best. These are tall plants that may require some staking. Height: 2-4' Spread: 2-3' USDA Zones: 2-9.

Dahlia, 'Wizard of Oz'

Pompom dahlias have a ball-shaped flower that makes me think of a honeycomb. Pompoms come in a rainbow of colors and have nice long stems that are perfect for flower arranging.

Dahlia 'Yellow Pow'

Dahlia 'Jess'

Dahlia 'Jess'


In an upcoming posts, we will look at "Dinner plate" dahlias, as well as a few of the other flowers grown on the farm. I will also have some tips for storing dahlias over winter to pass along.

More Information:

Butt's Berry & Flower Farm

5838 5th Line
Rockwood, Ontario
(519) 856-0270

You can't beat the freshness of locally grown flowers!

Delphinium, dahlias, and a variety of other flowers are grown on the farm. Orders for special events such as weddings are welcome.
There is no catalogue at this time, but dahlia tubers are available for purchase each spring. 
The farm also produces a wide range of vegetables, pumpkins and berries.

Visit the Butt's Berry& Flower Farm Facebook page