By Carolee James, Master Gardener
Have you ever walked out in your garden and noticed one of your blooming plants displaying the perfect flower? And you say to yourself, “Oh, I wish I could save that flower forever.” Well, your wish might just come true.
That is, if you´re willing to spend some time preserving that bloom by one of several methods available. Three very common, easy methods are air drying, pressing, or using silica gel/sand. How you plan to use the flowers, once preserved, will determine the method you choose.
Before discussing these methods, here are some basic rules for all. Pick your flowers early in the morning when they´re freshest. Choose only the best blooms. As you cut the flowers, place the cut stems in containers of warm water. Once you have all the flowers you need, keep them indoors standing in water overnight. This ensures that flower surfaces are completely dry.
Air-drying is the simplest method and doesn´t take much time or effort. Use a rubber band to band together several stems of flowers and hang in a warm space to dry. This will take two to three weeks depending on the flowers, the size of the bunch, and where the drying is taking place. Good flowers for air-drying are goldenrod, hydrangeas, lavender and almost all herbs.
Next we have pressing. How many of you ladies preserved your first corsage between the pages of a big book? This method of preserving creates one-dimensional flowers whose preserved use is limited to some kind of craft. Small pressed blooms can be used on cards, for decorating presents, or for other artwork. Craft stores carry a selection of wooden presses with many ideas for the use of the end product. But the ‘big old book´ still works. Just be sure and place two thicknesses of paper towels between the flowers and the pages to help absorb the moisture from the flowers.
Lastly, there is the silica gel or sand method of drying. This type of drying is for the person who wishes to make arrangements with their preserved flowers. Craft stores carry flower drying kits, which contain silica gel, a drying agent. However, packaged children´s sand (try to purchase the finest grain sand available) works just as well as silica gel. (Silica gel is the better medium to use on very delicate flowers like roses, peonies and tulips.) Shoeboxes or small cardboard boxes hold the sand. The size and number of flowers to dry will determine the box size needed. Also have on hand florist´s wire and tape.
Once you have picked your flowers and allowed them to stand in water over night, remove them and cut the stem to just below the flower head. Pour a one-inch layer of sand in the bottom of the box. Place the flower gently on the sand. Add as many flowers as there is room. There should be at least one inch between each flower and on all sides of the box. Then, using a small container, gently pour sand over, around and under each part of the flower until they are all completely covered. Use a tool like the rounded end of a thin chopstick or a Q-tip to lift and support the petals as sand is poured into and around them. Keep your hand in continuous motion while pouring the sand to insure an even covering over and around all the flowers. Do not layer flowers on top of each other. Some flowers should be placed face up (columbine, dahlia, camellia), some face down (Shasta daisy, Queen-Anne´s lace, black-eyed Susan) and some horizontally (delphinium, penstemon, snapdragon).
If you are drying stems of foliage to use in the arrangements, they can be layered. Simply start with one inch of sand, place the foliage stems in the box, cover with sand and add another layer of stems. Just remember that boxes of sand become very heavy so don´t add too many layers or the box will be difficult to move. Label the box with the date and move the box to a warm dry room. The faster the drying the brighter the colors…cooler rooms result in more muted tones.
Flowers should be dry in about two weeks. Handle the box gently. Tip the box so all the sand slowly pours out of one corner. (The sand/silica gel is reusable, so pour it into a container to save for future drying.) Lift the flowers out in the same direction that the sand is flowing. If there is sand residue on a flower, clean it by taking a handful of sand and letting the stream fall over the flower. Use the florist wire to make a stem and wrap with florist tape. Because the sand preserves and supports the form of the flower until it dries, a finished flower almost looks alive. However, the flowers are fragile, so handle each flower carefully as you make your beautiful arrangements.
See you in the garden.
Carolee James has several beautiful arrangements of dried hydrangeas throughout her home. She prefers to air-dry these blooms. And each year new blooms replace any of those that have gotten damaged.