Friday, February 28, 2020

Gifts from the Garden: Dried Flowers in Winter


I know I promised to return to regular posts, but so far, I have only managed two in 2020. Sorry about that! My sister was here for a visit from Ireland, so a number of renovation projects demanded all my time. In the end, not everything got done for her visit, but I am pleased with what we did manage to accomplish.

It was lovely to spend a little time with my sister Nancy. For most of our adult lives, we have lived on different continents. Though we talk often, time spent together is much less frequent than I'd like. 

Outside my window, light powdery snow is swirling around in a wicked wind like a swarm of angry hornets. Warm spring days are over a month into the future, so its a bit early to be thinking about starting seeds. Instead, I tend my little indoor garden that sits along a window ledge overlooking the same snowy landscape.



Any flowers are a welcome sight on these bleak winter days– pots of yellow daffodils, fragrant hyacinths or bunches of cut flowers from the grocery store. 

While fresh is best, dried flowers can be just as pretty. In February, it was a pleasure to pull out a small vase filled with the strawflowers I had dried last fall. Dried flowers have fallen out of fashion in recent years, but I am hoping they are finally going to be making a comeback. (Hey, who would've guessed that macrame would come back into fashion in such a big way!!)

Recently, I have been really inspired by the work of UK florist Lindsey Kitchin (see thewhitehorseflower on Instagram). Take a quick look at these lovely creations that mix flowers, foliage and berries; herehere and here

I love the wide variety of materials used and the simple velvet bows that adorn many of her arrangements. I find myself flipping through catalogues with a mind to planting more foliage and flowers that might be dried for next winter.

After I took down the Christmas decorations in January, I dug out the dried flower wreath I made last fall and hung it up in the freshly painted dining room. 

The mauve, pink and purple flowers never seem to fit with autumnal shades of yellow, orange and red, but right now in the dead of winter, those cool colors feel appropriate to the season, and at the same time, cheerful enough to foretell the arrival of spring.

Artemesia ludoviciana 'Silver King' is a spreading perennial that has fragrant, silver-grey foliage (As this is an aggressive perennial, I would not recommend it be mixed into a perennial flowerbed. It's better grown in a large tub). Drought tolerant when established. Full sun. Height: 75-90 cm ( 29-35 inches), Spread: 60-75cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

I started this project with a Grapevine wreath as my base. Then I wedged in pieces of Artemesia that I had grown in the garden and dried (I prefer not to use wire or glue to hold my dried materials in place. I like to dismantle and reuse my grapevine wreaths when they get dusty. If you prefer something more secure, apply glue to the base of each stem or wrap the flowers in with wire).

Best Foliage for Dried Arrangements

Artemesia 'Silver King'
German statice or Goniolimon tataricum
Sea Lavender, Italian statice or Limonium latifolium
Seeded Eucalyptus

Whether you are making a wreath or an arrangement of flowers in a container, you need a good foundation of foliage on which you can build the final project. Of all the materials you will need, this layer requires the greatest amount of material. 

I often see delicate Sea Lavender in the floral section at the grocery store, but it is fairly pricy. It is hardy here, so Limonium latifolium is one of the perennials I'd love to add to my garden.

Sea Lavender, Italian statice or Statice latifolium forms a low mound of leathery green leaves. Clouds of wiry, upright stems carry pale lavender flowers in summer. Pick the stems just as the flowers begin to open and hang them to dry. Once established this perennial is very tolerant of hot, dry sites. It dislikes being moved or divided. Attractive to butterflies. Sandy, well-drained soil is prefered. Full sun. Height: 60-75 cm ( 23-29 inches), Spread: 60-70 cm (23-27 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

German statice or Goniolimon tataricum is quite similar, but the dried branches are a bit more prickly. Again there is a rosette of leathery green leaves and upright branches of flowers in summer. Sandy, well-drained soil is prefered. Drought tolerant once established. Full sun. Height: 25-40 cm (10-16 inches), Spread: 30-45cm (12-18 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.

Seeded Eucalyptus, which has grey-green foliage, is readily available through florists or at the grocery store. I simply hang it to dry.

Best Seedheads for Drying

Annual Poppy, Papaver somniferum
Love-in-the-Mist, Nigella damascena
Seedheads of Ornamental Grasses

Top left to right: Amaranth, Sea Holly, Celosia. 
Bottom left to right: Gomphrena, Yarrow and Lavender.

How to Dry Flowers

Air Drying

The best method for drying flowers varies according to the flower, but hanging them to upsidedown is one of the easiest methods for drying a wide array of flowers. It is best to harvest flowers when they are just beginning to open. Pick them on a dry day in late morning after any dew has evaporated or in the early evening. 

Generally speaking, I remove the leaves from the flower stems (dense foliage can affect good air circulation around flower bunches and cause stems to rot rather than dry. Leaves can also become quite brittle when dried). An exception to this rule might be roses. The leaves are brittle, but rather pretty when dried. I only clear away the foliage at the base of the stems where my elastic band will sit.   

Simply bind small bunches of flowers together with an elastic band. This is better than string as the elastic will adjust to the shrinking size of the stems as they dry. 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.) Depending on the bloom, it can take a week or more for flowers to dry (flowers that are successfully dried will have papery petals and stiff stems).

The Best Flowers for Air Drying

Baby's Breath, Gypsophila paniculata
Cock's Comb, Celosia
Globe thistle, Echinops
Lady's Mantle, Alchemilla mollis
Larkspur, Consolida ambigua
Lavender, Lavandula
Roses, Rosa
Sea Holly, Eryngium
Statice sinuatum
Strawflower, Xerochrysum bracteatum
Yarrow, Achillea

A few of the many flowers that can be dried using silica gel or sand. Top row left to right: Peony, Foxglove, Bachelor's Button. Bottom Row left to right: Calendula, Delphinium and snapdragons.

Silica Gel or Silca Sand

I haven't used silica gel in years, but I do still have a box of it somewhere in the basement. Silica gel is useful for fleshy or many-petaled flowers with a high moisture content that doesn't respond well to air-drying techniques. Silica (silicon dioxide) absorbs and holds moisture. You may be most familiar with the little pouches of silica that are often found at the bottom of paper boxes. Silica gel can be found at Michel's, Lee Valley Tools and online.

To dry flowers using this method, place an inch or so of silica gel at the bottom of an airtight plastic container. Remove the flowers from their stems and place facing upright into the silica gel. Long flowers like Amaranth can be placed on their sides. Sprinkle a little more of the gel in among the individual flower petals. Seal the box and place it in a dry spot out of the sun. Check on the flowers every few days to see how they are drying. It may take as little as a few days to a week. (Note: flowers left too long in the gel may become so brittle they will fall apart).

I have never tried it, but apparently, you can speed up the process of drying flowers in silica sand with the microwave. Check out this FTD tutorial for more details.

A Few of the Many Flowers that might be Dried with Silica

Bachelor's Button, Centaurea cyanus
Calendula, Calendula officinalis
Carnation, Dianthus caryophyllus
Feverfew, Tanacetum parthenium
Foxglove, Digitalis
Marigold, Tagetes
Peony, Paeonia
Rose, Rosa
Brown-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia
Snapdragon, Antirrhinum
Sunflower, Helianthus

How Long do Dried Flowers Last?

I have had dried flowers in a glass-fronted cabinet in the living room for over a year. As long as you place them in a dry location out of direct sunlight, wreaths last for months. Dust seems to their main enemy.

Growing Three of my Favourites

If I had to choose three of my favourite flowers to work with, they'd be Strawflowers, Statice and Gomphrena (also known as Globe Amaranth).

Strawflowers (seen above) are easy to grow yourself from seed.

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 like mine. 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 Canada, where the 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.

Note: If you aren't able to grow your own Strawflowers, you may still be able to find flowers to dry in the fall. Look for them at your local Farmer's Market or even at your neighbourhood grocery store. 

The petals of Strawflowers have a papery texture even before they are dried. The stem is quite fleshy in contrast and becomes a bit brittle when dried. 

Harvest strawflowers before the flowers are fully open. The blooms will continue to open during the drying process. (Quite often the flower heads are cut from their stems and a florist's wire is inserted into the flower to act as a stem. If you were preparing the dried flowers for sale or if the flowers will be handled a lot, I would think about replacing the dried stems with florist's wire.)

Statice, Limonium Sinuatum is not the most attractive of plants, but it does dry really well. I usually buy inexpensive bunches at the Farmer's Market. If you want to grow it yourself, Statice can also be grown easily from seed.

Statice, Limonium Sinuatum: There are a number of varieties of Statice or Limonium. Limonium sinuatum is a tender perennial (annual here) that has papery blooms on stiff green stems. Full sun.  This plant prefers well-drained, sandy loam with dry to medium moisture. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date or sow directly outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. Height : 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches). Hardy USDA zones: 8-10.

Globe Amaranth, Gomphrena has clover-like flowers. Pinch back young plants to encourage a bushier habit. Attractive to butterflies. For the best results, harvest flowers as soon as they are open. Stripe off any foliage and hang them upsidedown in a dry place out of direct sunlight. Gomphrena seeds have low germination rates, so soak seeds first for best results. Poor soil with good drainage is best. Full sun. Height : 45-60 cm (18-24 inches), Spread: 38-45 cm (15-18 inches). Hardy USDA zones: 8-10.

I am looking forward to ordering some seeds and experimenting more with dried flowers in the new year.