Love or hate them they are back in favour...
People have been drying flowers unintentionally for centuries. Brightly coloured flowers have been found in 4000 year old Ancient Egyptian tombs and in the Middle East the pre-historic bones of a man were found with delicate wild flowers. These were most probably loving tributes much like we still leave today on graves and at funerals or to protect the spirit. However, over time the art of flower drying has become an intentional and enjoyable pass time, one that has been out of favour for some time until recent years. With everyone being encouraged to reuse and recycle I think it's only helping the dried flowers cause. With waste being a huge issue and the focus on various different industries and how they are managing this it's only natural that as a florist I consider how I run my business and how I can minimise this.
Two years ago I started my own cutting garden to top up and reduce the amount of buying I needed to do from the wholesale import market. I'm still disturbed every time I order flowers from a wholesaler at just how much packaging I have left after I've unpacked everything. Having my cutting garden has also meant that at times I have a glut of one flower or another. At the moment it's the dahlias that are coming thick and fast, but once the season is over that will be it until next Spring for fresh flowers from my garden. So I need something to top up my wholesale orders, keep my work interesting, textural, a little bit wild and a little bit 'wonky' during the coming months. It's not for everyone and for me I'd still prefer a fresh flower any day of the week but it is an alternative out of season and a useful filler to add great textures & if you want to limit the number of stems of fresh flowers you buy from overseas its a great alternative.
Aside from using it for my business it's also great for anyone that receives flowers for a special occasion, be it your wedding bouquet/buttonhole or a birthday bouquet, drying flowers can work as a great long lasting reminder of a special day. They really do make a lovely display that lasts for an indefinite amount of time. I, for one, try and dry absolutely everything as I hate to throw anything away. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. My husband can contest to this as my house is full of crispy bits much to his horror. Having said that his favourite vase in the house is full of dried pussy willow. Simple but gorgeous. Here are a few of the dried flowers I have in my house. Some of these are left over demo's I've done for workshops, some are wreaths from our own front door at Christmas that are still going strong and some are just vases of things I think are pretty...
Some of you may already know how to dry flowers and some of you may be interested in trying it for the first time. Of course you could just compost your flowers and that would also be great for the garden and environment but when you have the chance to create something longer lasting then why not? You should be aware though that you"ll need to embrace the imperfect for this process. A lot of flowers shrink during the process, stems & petals can become very fragile, some don't hold their colour or shrivel up so small they aren't worth keeping. But, if like me you love a bit of imperfection and love the textures and gentle hues of faded blooms then definitely give it a go.
There are a few key elements to drying a flower successfully.
1. Picking the flowers at the right time.
2. Conditioning them well.
3. Not hanging too many in a bunch.
4. Finding the perfect drying spot.
The Right Time To Pick
Always pick your flowers as early or late in the day as possible. This is true whether you are planning on drying or enjoying them as a fresh cut flower. They do not like to be picked during the heat of the day. Don't pick them if it's just rained either. If you hang wet flowers to dry the chances are they will just rot or you will get browning on the petals. I like to pick mine in the evening on a dry day, that way you don't have any dew on them and it's usually cool enough. The other thing to pay attention to is when in a flowers life to pick it. Make sure the flower is fully and newly open before you cut it ready for drying. Anything older can lose it's colour more, be more fragile and sometimes rot once hung to dry. Get them freshly opened for maximum drying potential. Having said that, I do like to enjoy cut flowers for a few days in doors and then hang them just before they start to go over. Meaning I get to enjoy them in both their natural and dried state.
Preparing The Flowers
Conditioning a flower, be it fresh or for drying is one of the keys to it's longevity. Cut the flower stems using clean sharp scissors or secateurs. Remove all of the leaves if you can or if it's a stem that you want the leaves dried too then remove most of the ones near the bottom.
In order to preserve the flower in as perfect a condition as you can it's crucial that you don't put too many in a bunch. With larger flowers like roses, peonies, Zinnias, Echinacea and Dahlias I dry individually. With smaller spray roses, strawflowers, bunny grass, celosia, lavender (to name a few) I dry in small bunches of 5 -10 stems. Bundle them up with twine and try to stagger the heads so they aren't touching each other too much. This will allow more air to circulate around the flower heads and prevents mildew. Always bunch only one variety together. You may need to re-tie your bundles during the drying process as the stems loose water they shrink and can fall out of the bundle. Make sure to tie them securely.
Finding The Perfect Drying Spot
This, I'm afraid is the making or the downfall of drying and will be a case of trial and error if you are trying it for the first time. Find a place in your home that is dark or definitely not in direct sunlight, warm but not humid at all. I have strung up a sort of washing line in my utility room from the light fitting to the copper pipes coming out of the boiler. It's make shift but it works! This wasn't the first or even second place I tried. The garage can often be a good place to dry but mine was particularly hot in summer and freezing in winter due to its position. My best advice would be to split a type of flower up into a few different bundles and hang in different places. That way you can see where works best and also if one fails you won't lose all your flowers. Hang the bunches so that they aren't touching each other too much to prevent squashing the flowers and also to prevent mildew. You need the air to get to each flower.
What To Dry...
Well, if you're me then absolutely anything that I pick that isn't being used fresh gets dried. I do have a few favourites though....
Grasses and Seed heads
I particularly like drying grasses and seed heads (later using the seeds once ready to plant back in my garden). Bunny grass and Nigella are always great ones to start with and very easy to dry. I've also foraged all sorts of wild grasses from fields near my home and lots of reeds as well. These make for great natural textural displays and are also good in wreaths, bouquets and buttonholes. Use the same method of hanging upside down. The grasses and reeds I tend to hang in bigger bunches of 10-20 stems sometimes more. For Nigella they actually dry nicely on the plant if left but if you pick them wait for the seed head to be fully formed first. I've tried drying them hung upside down but also upright in a vase with no water. Both methods had the same results. Once dried I tap out the seeds for re planting. Honesty (Lunaria) is another tried and tested and well loved plant to dry. Wait for the seeds to be fully formed before cutting the plant back. Again, the same as Nigella I've dried some upright and some upside down. Both seem to work the same. Once the Honesty is dried I peel off the outer disks and keep the seeds for re planting, you are then left with the 'silver dollar' disks that are so recognisable. I also like to dry Alliums. Treat the same as the Nigella.
Well known as an easy flower to dry and very popular as they retain their colour and in some cases the colour gets more intense. Pick when the flower is fully open (when you can see the yellow centre), remove all foliage and hang upside down in small bunches, staggering the heads if possible. They tend to dry pretty quickly but I leave mine for 2 weeks to be sure.
Dahlias are quite hit and miss but my best advice would be pick as soon as the flower has opened, hang individually (other than the smaller pom pom varieties, like Wizard of Oz, which you can hang in small bunches) and remove all the leaves. Try to make sure they aren't touching each other if at all possible. Hang upside down with twine and leave for at least two weeks. The darker varieties tend to hold their colour better but I have successfully dried some Café au Lait dahlias. It just depends what you're looking for in your dried flower. When drying any flower, whites and creams or pale colours tend to go a bit brown if the conditions aren't perfect. I definitely find the pom pom varieties dry the best into really sweet little balls and the colours seem to tone down to a lovely old vintage shade.
Zinnias, Rudbeckia, Echinacea & Celosia
A few more favourites. The Zinnias and Rudbeckia don't really resemble their original forms much once dried but I particularly like them for the textures they add. Hang the Zinnias or Echinacea individually and the Rudbeckia in small bunches with the heads at different levels. They take about 2 weeks to dry. The Celosia dries beautifully and retains its colour really well. I tend to hang it in small bunches for about 2 weeks. Again with all of these pick soon after the flowers have fully opened for best results.
A classic but notoriously hard to dry well. I must admit my success rate with these isn't great. As far as I can tell picking them at the correct time in the flowers life is important, the time of day you pick (so not in the heat) and dry them upright in a tiny bit of water so that the water slowly evaporates and out of direct sunlight. I use these a lot in my Christmas wreaths and have to say that they dry beautifully if left on the wreath as long as it isn't exposed to the elements. So after the Christmas season (I hang mine on my front door which is protected by a porch from the elements) is over bring your wreath indoors and hang it somewhere warm and dry. I just hang mine on a hook in my living room to dry naturally.
As with anything in nature, it won't always act in the same way from one flower to the next. Have fun experimenting and if it doesn't work try it a different way next time. I hope you've found this useful? I'm by no means an expert on this process but what I am is always experimenting, testing, learning and hopefully sharing that information with all of you. Well done if you got to the end of this blog post, it's a bit of a long one. To be honest I could have shared a lot more with you but I'm pretty sure this is about one cup of teas worth in the time it took to read. Which in my day is long enough! Thanks for stopping by and come back soon! Here are a few other things I've dried that will hopefully inspire you to give it a go...