Text by Tovah Martin
For everyone who regrets letting summer go, there is a solution. With a pair of scissors and a little forethought, the embers of summer can endure to perk up your home with their sprightly brilliance throughout the year. When the last rose of summer is withering and the final flowers in the garden are slowly bowing out, dried flowers are mementos of a past
season. Make a few snips now, and those flowers will be with you forever.
Exactly when the scheme for drying flowers began, nobody knows. But the tradition undoubtedly has deep roots. For as long as civilizations have been growing flowers, gardeners have sought to preserve their glory. Dried flowers were found in Egyptian tombs as proof that the art of preserving occurred at the time of the Pharaohs. Much later, the Victorians practiced flower drying as an art form, using dried flowers in jewelry and shadowboxes. Nowadays, all sorts of means expedite drying flowers. But originally, the easiest method of preserving flowers indefinitely was to grow plants with petals that refuse to fall.
Sometimes their names reveal the durability of flowers that never fade. Strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum), pearly everlastings (Anaphalis margaritacea), and immortelles (Helichrysum arenarium) are all obvious candidates. Several herbs such as lavender, oregano, yarrow, and tansy hold their color when the flowers are dried. In addition, globe amaranth, globe thistle, statice, safflowers, marigolds, echinops, and hydrangeas look lovely long after the plants come and go, if you preserve them properly.
The secret lies in harvesting the flowers when they are just beginning to show color and before they begin to fade. Freshness is crucial when you are hoping to make flowers endure. Cut them—stem and all—in the same way you would harvest any cut flower. (An exception is strawflowers, which can be removed from their stems and dried as individual flowers on a screen with wire “stems” inserted later.)
Once clipped, whisk your harvest indoors, protecting the flowers from bright light. Remove excess foliage that might wilt or look unsightly. Bundle the flowers into bunches of several stems, tying a rubber band around the bundle and hanging them upside down in a location with good air circulation but low light. Professional flower driers use the trick of opening up a paperclip so that it becomes an inexpensive hook to suspend flower bundles. One end of the paperclip is hooked through the rubber band and the other is hung on a string for drying. As the stems wilt, the rubber band tightens to prevent the stems from falling to the ground. Depending on the weather, drying usually takes a few weeks. Meanwhile, low light keeps the color from fading as the petals stiffen. In some cases, such as statice, oreganos, and other herbs, the flowers shed but colorful bracts retain their splendor.
Dried flowers lend themselves to arrangements that enhance their subtle hues. You might focus on a single flower—such as statice (Limonium species)—and explore the range of diverse shades that drying lends each flower bract. Or, combine several dried flowers with harmonious hues. Tuck in “finds” salvaged from the garden as it fades. To create an expression of the garden’s nuances, let your bouquets go beyond flowers and sprinkle in some seed pods as well. Iris, love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena), daylilies, Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkelengi), and seeded fern serve as glorious remains of the day. Those seedheads give a bouquet that wonderful grey/silver sheen or brown accent to reflect the garden’s cycles.
Displayed in filtered light, dried flowers will persist for years without losing luster. Seems like magic, but preserving the growing season is a snap. Literally, you can have flowers by your side wherever you happen to be and no matter what time of year—the growing season can bloom eternal.