The other day my daughter who is a big cut flower fan suggested I write a post about drying flowers. She said “My beautiful dried giant poppy seed heads have sparked an interest in flowers, foliage and grasses that can be dried and used as ornamental decoration in the home, all year round. Artificial flowers just don’t do the job and fresh flowers are lovely but cannot be afforded too often!” Interesting idea I thought, so here goes …for you Jemila and anyone else who wants to preserve the beauty of their garden.
The art of drying flowers has been around for a very long time – Ancient Egyptians preserved elaborate garlands for their dead to enjoy in the next world. Medieval monks harvested and dried flowers and herbs for medicinal purposes. Victorian ladies considered dried flowers to be an essential fashion accessory. They also displayed dried flowers in glass domes in their homes and created pictures using pine cones, lavender, barley and ribbons…
There are various ways to preserve flowers such as using silica gel (which is not a gel at all but very light crystals), glycerin and even using a microwave oven but as a complete beginner I’m embarking on air drying which has to be simplest and cheapest. I have compiled a list of flowers to try and have included it at the end of this post.
When selecting your flowers, the key thing to remember is that they continue to open as they dry, so ideally they shouldn’t be fully open when picked. Flowers that are in full bloom when harvested are inclined to drop their petals more easily.
Seed heads and grasses work well in dried flower arrangements too (allow them to dry in the field before harvesting) as well as some kinds of foliage. Smoke Bush, Privet and Bay are good – their leathery texture means they hold their form well and resist twisting and distorting as they dehydrate. I read on the internet recently that there is a Roman dried laurel head-wreath at the British Museum that is over two thousand years old!
Some colours dry better than others – apparently yellow’s particularly good, rich colours such as red and blue darken as they dry and white can sometimes takes on a dull grey-brown colour… which might not be what you’re after!
How to proceed
The easiest way to do it is to tie a few stems and hang the the bunches upside down, ideally somewhere fairly warm where they are protected from direct sunlight which causes fading. Also, a dry atmosphere with plenty of ventilation helps speed the process along.
Bunches of flowers to be dried should contain one type of flower whereas large flowers and seed heads are better dried individually. Some people strip the leaves as soon as possible after picking, believing the foliage retains moisture and slows down the drying process. Others prefer to leave the leaves on – it’s a personal choice.
Use coat hooks, coat hangers or poles (I’m borrowing my mother’s ceiling clothes airer) and stagger the heads to allow plenty of air to circulate – this prevents mildew and rot developing. Depending on what you’ve used to tie your bunches, it may be necessary to re-tie them half way through the drying process because the stems tend to shrink as they dehydrate. Rubber bands work well because as the flowers stems dry, they shrink and the band continues to hold them securely.
The time it takes ranges from a few days to several weeks depending on what you’re drying and the humidity of the place where it’s been placed. Be aware that in some cases the stems of hung flowers can dry unnaturally straight and the flowers sometimes become very brittle.
You can also dry thick-stemmed flowers by placing them in a container and dry them standing upright. The stems may not be as straight as flowers dried by the hanging method, but this may soften the look of your dried flower arrangement.
You can spray dried flowers with cheap hair lacquer to help prevent shedding and shattering to a certain extent – and to add a subtle shine. It is also very important to give the flowers enough time to dry completely. If you turn them upright too early, you risk the flower heads flopping. This is especially true for roses and other flowers with heavy heads and relatively slim stems.
So, with summer officially over and done with and cut flowers from the garden soon to be a distant memory, air drying flowers is a fun, free and and interesting way to decorate and brighten up your home through the winter months.
List of Flowers;
Acanthus Mollis Cut the flower spikes at the height of bloom. If dried correctly they will hold their colour well and will last about a year before browning
Bells of Ireland Tall spikes of green flowers
Buddleia The mauve variety dries to a very deep purple
Cardoon These large thistle flowers make a stunning arrangement. Very prickly so handle with care!
Day Lily Pods Mature seed pods make an interesting display
Delphinium Very good for drying apparently, blue and white best for retaining their colour
Feather Reedgrass A popular ornamental grass, perfect for drying. Cut the stems as long as possible, you can always shorten them later
Gypsophela Also known as Baby’s Breath. Small dainty flowers that look pretty in a dried flower arrangement
Globe Thistle (Echinops) Be careful to harvest before the flower heads go to seed – once this happens they shed their petals at the merest touch
Goldenrod (Solidago) A popular and easy flower to dry – the bright yellow turns to a subtle gold
Hydrangea Leave blooms to dry on the bush until late in September. Flowers will look and feel papery when done. Hang to dry
Iris Seed Pods All kinds of iris produce interesting seed pods. Pick when fully mature and brown in colour
Larkspur and Delphinium Tall spikes of flower clusters usually blue and purple but also pink and white
Lavender Pick flower stalks when fully open with good colour – they keep their aroma
Lupinus Cut flower stalks just before fully mature
Marigold Giant heads are good and dry fairly well. Try a mix of lemon yellow colours as well as bright orange
Nigella (Love in a Mist) Collect pods when green with stripes of red colour
Poppies Collect pods when they are hard and a clean, golden colour
Stocks Will keep its pleasant fragrance when dry
Sedum (not the ground cover sort) Fleshy stems and leaves but still suitable for drying apparently. We grow Autumn Joy at the Villas and will definitely give it a go!
Sunflowers Good statement flowers – some people prefer to dry them upright
Teasel A favourite amongst wildflower fans – birds love them, they look good in the garden AND dried in arrangements
Yarrow Highly recommended flower for drying
This post is dedicated to my daughter (thanks Jemila for the idea!):
I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine:
There sleeps Titania sometime of the night,
Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream