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Gardening Columns

Drying Late-Summer Flowers

First published on on October 8, 2009, by Suzanne DeJohn

The last few weeks have felt like a gift. It's already the second week of October and we haven't had a killing frost yet here in northern Vermont. Since a frost can come as early as mid September, it feels a little like we're cheating nature. (A neighbor remarked, "Don't worry, we'll pay this winter.") In addition to frantically freezing vegetables, I'm using this gift of time to dry some of the flowers still blooming in the garden -- something I mean to do every year but don't always get around to. I have no excuse this year. 

I was raised with the notion that frugality is good, using and reusing is better than discarding, and making something yourself is better -- even more virtuous -- than buying it. So drying flowers comes naturally. Enjoy the flowers growing in the garden all summer, then dry the remaining ones in fall to enjoy all winter. So I purposely plant flowers that serve this double duty (even if I don't always get around to taking advantage of it). Here are a few of my favorites in both fresh and dried bouquets.

Drying these flowers is easy -- just cut the stems, strip off the leaves, gather the stems into small bunches with rubber bands, and hang them upside down in a warm, dry, dark place. 

Amaranth. I've grown the familiar "love-lies-bleeding" (Amaranthus caudatus), which produces huge, drooping, deep maroon flowers. The flowers are eye-catching and Dr. Seuss-like, but are large and heavy and can overwhelm a bouquet. I've switched to 'Opopeo', a variety with more upright blooms. The main flowers are large but the side branches are perfect, even for small bouquets. 

Celosia. I especially like the feathery or plumed celosia (Celosia cristata). I grow 'Pampas Plume' from seed, which gives me a mix of orange, salmon, yellow, and magenta blooms. The magenta, in particular, always draws comments in a bouquet. ("Is that a real flower or did you dye it?")

Strawflower. These classic dried flowers start out with papery leaves, making them a no-brainer for drying. There are new, dwarf varieties good for containers as well as tall varieties so choose carefully. This year I grew a particularly nice mix, Bracteantha bracteata 'Apricot/Peach Mix', that included various shades. Some of the buds started out as a striking deep maroon before lightening up as they opened. The plants are 4 feet tall, shrubby, and top-heavy, with more foliage than flowers, and are better suited for an out-of-the-way cutting garden then a front yard display. Still, there were plenty of flowers on the large plants.

Hydrangeas. These are also a snap to dry by hanging individual flower clusters upside down. Or you can place the stems in a vase of water as you would for a bouquet. Don't replenish the water; just let the stems sit in there until all the water is gone. The flowers dry more slowly this way and are less apt to shatter. Plant several different species and varieties of hydrangeas and you'll have flowers for cutting and drying from spring to fall.

Ornamental oregano. These kin to the culinary herb produce flowers in different shapes and colors, depending on the species and variety. I grow the perennialOriganum laevigatum 'Herrenhausen' for its tall flower stems topped with airy clusters of tiny pink flowers with dark purple bracts. The flowers make a striking filler in fresh bouquets and dry well, too.

Salvia. I grew a bunch of blue annual salvia (Salvia farinacea) this summer for a friend's wedding. I've dried some of the late-season flowers and they resemble spikes of lavender. We'll see how long they last before the individual flowers drop off -- so far so good.

Ageratum. I always grow tall ageratum (Ageratum housonianum 'Blue Horizon' or 'Blue Planet'). These aren't the common low-growing bedding plant, but are a taller variety good for cut flowers. (I always start them from seed as I've never found them for sale as plants.) I love the fuzzy, periwinkle blue flowers in fresh bouquets. They're reputed to make good dried flowers so I'm trying them two ways -- hanging upside down and using the water/vase method (described under hydrangeas, above). Hopefully one or both will work. 

There are dozens of other easy-to-dry flowers. These are just the ones that have hung around in the garden long enough for me to get around to drying them!


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