The height of summer is near, and it is the time to think about fall and winter decorations from the garden. Take a walk around your garden to determine what flowers you would like to enjoy all year around.
Gather flowers on a dry day or after the irrigation water has evaporated so that the interior of the flower is not wet and subject to mold. Select plants with compact, small flowers. Large flowers don’t dry attractively because they flop. White flowers fade to cream; pink flowers deepen to magenta. Yellow and blue flowers tend to hold their hues.
Most flowers are cut with long stems and hung upside down. Have you wondered why they hang upside down? It is so the flower head does not flop before it is totally dry. False Goat’s Beard (Astilbe sp.) is an example of a flower that needs to dry upside down. A winter bouquet’s colors remain more vibrant if the flowers are dried in a darkened area and if they are displayed out of direct sunlight.
Some flowers have soft stems, and those flowers dry more effectively if a thin piece of wire is pushed up the freshly cut stem. In this way, the flower stem is sturdy enough to be added to a bouquet of dried flowers. The wire can also be used to extend short stems.
Drying flowers in vases of water helps to preserve the colors of yellow yarrow (Achillea millefolium) and Mophead or Lacecap Hydrangea (Hydrangea sp.). Cut the flowers with long stems, remove the leaves and put them in a vase filled with 4 inches of water. The flowers will dry gradually as they absorb the water. Another technique, especially good with leaf sprays such as vine maple in the fall, is to add glycerin to the water. The glycerin keeps the leaves supple and attached to the stem.
Don’t forget to harvest seed pods to add to an arrangement. Nigella (Nigella damascene) is particularly wonderful as is Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata), which is ready to pick right now. Bee Balm (Monarda didyma) seed pods retain their ”minty” fragrance. The amaranths such as Love-Lies-Bleeding make dramatic accents in dried arrangements.
Really fine additions to a winter display are leaves. Leaves, especially large ones such as peony, dry best by being flattened or pressed between layers of newspaper with a weight placed on top. Leaves are easier to arrange if a thin wire has been inserted into the stems. Consider Lamb’s Ears (Stachys byzantine) or Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla vulgaris). Grasses with seed head that do not shatter, such as Great Quaking Grass (Briza maxima), grow graceful seed heads that turn bronze in the fall. Bunny Tails (Lagurus ovatus) create compact fluffy seed heads.
Some flowers dry naturally on the plant. Now is time to harvest lavender while it is still in bloom because the bracts are uniformly purple. When you deadhead the perennials, think about the form and color of the dead flower stem. Many flowers such as Yarrow complement an arrangement.
There are a number of more complicated means of drying flowers. On YouTube you can find instructions for drying individual flowers in the microwave. Follow the directions carefully to avoid fires. Silica gel is a desiccant used to dry individual flowers as well. The flowers must be free of moisture and take up to a month to dry.
Probably the easiest way to have preserved flowers for the winter is to grow “straw” flowers, that is, flowers that have large, colorful bracts. Some examples that thrive in this area are Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena sp.) and Everlasting (Xeranthemum sp. or Acroclinium sp.).
Have fun creating a colorful winter.
A WSU Master Gardeners of Chelan County column appears weekly in The Wenatchee World. Bonnie Orr is one of four columnists featured. To learn more, visit wwrld.us/cdmg or call 667-6540.