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Hearty bulbs are tucked deep below the soil or just barely pushing through layers of autumn’s leaf fall. And, spent annuals are rotting away in the compost bin. Some of our best reminders of the spring and summer garden are the bits we took time to harvest and preserve. Fortunately, it’s not just garden-fresh food that’s available to put by for winter. A number of annuals, blubs, herbs and perennials offer up beautiful stems, pods and flowers for simple dried arrangements.
The first step in creating your dried arrangements is to include plants in your garden that offer easily preserved parts for your decorations. Consider plants that leave behind dried pods after shedding their seeds, wispy grass-like forms that add an airiness to your arrangements, herbs that hold fragrance as they age, and flowers that will hold a bit of color as even when desiccated. Consider these:
Colorful dried flowers: Statice, Zinnia and even Hydrangea will dehydrate readily. And, each will hold a bit of color even as they dry and whither. To harvest, take cuttings on dry days. Place cut flowers in a vase with a small amount of water. Allow the water to evaporate. As that happens, the flowers should wilt a bit but dry for future use. If stems show signs of mold, trim those parts off and allow the cuttings to continue to dry.
Interesting seedpods: Many roses produce hips (aka seed pods) that are brightly colored by fall. These are lovely to pop into fresh or dried arrangements. For truly dried pods, try harvesting poppy stalks or the heads of ornamental alliums in late summer after they have dried in place and shed their seeds. Clip out spent, spiny stems of late season Sea Holly to add character (and sometimes a bit of purple-blue) to your centerpieces. Snip out the seed-weighted stems of late season Dierama to add the look of a fairy’s fishing wand to your bouquet. Pull the petals from a dried coneflower to add the look of a brownish-orange, spined lollipop to your sprays.
Don’t Forget the Fragrance: Lavender seed heads are the perfect floral addition to bring the scent of summer into your wintery home. Clip out a bundle of bloom-topped stems after the bloom has finished and before the fall rains make the plant soggy. Fill up a vase with your bundles or mix them into an arrangement of all sorts of dried goodies. And, if they begin to drop their seeds, scatter those bits on your carpets just before vacuuming and fill your house with its relaxing aroma.
Finishing Touches: If you choose to create your arrangements in a container filled with floral foam, don’t forget to finish the look by hiding that ugly support material. In fall, on a dry day, clean the moss out of your gutters and rooftops. Then, use this material as a lovely covering to hide the foam below your stems by tucking it gently around the base of the arrangement. Misting the moss may keep it green, but take care not to wet your foam or dried flowers, which may rot in a moist environment. If you arrange your dried flowers in a vase, don’t fill it with water.
Gathering dried bits from the garden for arrangements can happen all throughout the growing season, especially during the driest periods. Store your dried, collected bits in a cool, dark, dry location. Try to separate the pieces as they dry to deter them from building up moisture and rotting. Be sure to check your stored harvested goods regularly and discard any cuttings that may be scattering seed or falling apart. These will end up making a big mess. Instead, build your bouquets out of the sturdiest cuttings available. These will offer up beautiful reminders of seasons past and inspiration for the gardening times to come.