Get dirty, have fun and grow more food with great gardening tips from real-life gardeners.
As you are flipping through the catalogs that are no doubt arriving in your mailbox this time of year, you may take note of what’s new and improved for the season that you could add to spice up your garden. I know I do! But hidden in there is a whole group of plants that are not so new, but hold a great promise: everlasting or dried flowers. Everlasting flowers are some of my favorites to grow for one simple reason: they have beauty that will last, and last, and last, making them well suited to their name.
I’ve been reunited with everlasting flowers in the past few years as I have shifted into being the main seed cleaner in our company. That sounds odd, but here’s why: many of these everlasting flowers are not grown for the flowers themselves, but for the amazing and often intricate pods they leave behind that I get to examine as I collect their seeds. Much to the chagrin of my husband, I find all these pods too beautiful to compost, and they end up in my attic for crafting. But, I will say, now that the fog of having a child has somewhat lifted, I have been using my discoveries (and other fun finds like pine cones, mistletoe, and fallen lichen) to make some pretty neat wreaths. I wondered if wreaths of dried flowers had grown passé until I went to set up an Etsy account and found that I was not alone in the slightest in my passion for dried flowers and pods crafting. In fact, there are a lot of us “pod-heads” out there!
My love of these flowers started at a young age and I would imagine if I had to pinpoint it to one specific variety it would be Moneyplant (Luneria annua). After the bright purple blooms of this fast growing hardy biennial are spent, it produces wonderful paper thin translucent coins that the seeds are attached too. As a child I loved to gather the seeds and coins and now that I play a large role in the seed harvesting of our herb farm, I get to play like a kid every year. The wonderful thing about these decorative coins is that you don’t have to treat them in any way to dry them for crafting – they dry naturally on the plant. This is a great example of a two-for-one flower for your garden – it makes a wonderful fragrant background plant and cut flower for with a long bloom time in the garden and then can come inside as a cut flower, and then as a dried flower for crafts. If you like this silvery delicate paper look, you may want to try growing Roman Shield (Fibigea clypeata). The plants themselves are not particularly showy. They grow to about 18 inches in a gray-green shade, suitable for moon gardens, and have inconspicuous yellow flowers. But as the flower fades, they transform into dime-sized white velvet covered pods. If you pick them early in this stage, the velvet-like covering will stay on. If you wait a bit, these covers will fall away and you will be left with a stem flanked on either side by silver “shields”. The pods dry well and are surprisingly sturdy in either form.
I was reminded of the manifold uses of another in our everlasting flower collection when I had a customer place an order for 25 packets of Blue Globe Thistle (Echinops ritro). He was not a florist or crafter, as it turns out, but a beekeeper. It so happens that bees go crazy for echinops! Bees aren’t the only ones that have their eye caught by this one; the complex thistle like blooms with blue star shaped stigmas are always a hit with photographers as well. If you pick these beauties before the stigmas appear, they dry very well in a silvery blue shade. I have also used the small fresh flower as slightly prickly boutonnieres – a nice alternative to the typical rose.
Another that does double or maybe triple duty in the herb garden is elecampagne (Inula helenium). I love its gloriously large leaves reminiscent of a banana tree that become accented with composite yellow flowers on tall stalks. Most people grow this herb in the garden as a background plant for texture and scale, but its roots are also valued for their anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, making every part of this hardy perennial a winner. As I was cleaning the elecampagne seed this year, I was struck by the beauty of the receptacle that is exposed when the seed is removed. I saved a bag of these and ended up using them on some of my harvest wreaths.
The true blue edible flowers of Nigella damascena or ‘Love in a Mist’ are a welcome early summer flower in our garden. They re-seed like crazy, but I don’t mind. We’ve devoted a whole bed to them so that we can use the flowers as garnish at our weddings and luncheons all summer long. And when their petals fall, they give rise to a truly interesting mini-watermelon-like seed pod surrounded by fine lacy leaves that dry a soft green-brown if bundled and hung upside down. Nigella orientalis or ‘The Transformer’ blooms yellow and has even more intricate pods. I like to add both varieties to my wreaths to give them a little bit of a whimsical feel. Another I like to use this way is teasel (Dipsacus sativas). This thistle can be found growing wild in our area or Oregon and is a great winter food source for the birds so I am always careful to leave some flowers behind. The large thistle heads (about 3 inches in height) were once used to raise the nap on cloth – and they will do their best to raise welts on your skin - they are incredibly poky! But, I love the almost gothic tone they add to an arrangement – beautiful and dangerous. The plant grows to about six feet making it a good background plant.
Back to the flowers, though... this summer I had a rediscovery of two very unique looking flowers that have been part of our collection for many years but I haven’t fully appreciated: Flamingo Feather (Spicata) and Suworowii Statice (Limonium suworowii). These are actually similar flowers in a way. Both produce abundant pink plumes that spring upright from the plant. The do very well mixed in a sunny flower garden patch. Pick them when the flowers are still young and fresh and they maintain their color very well. I simply dried mine in bundles in the attic. A few more I suggest in the pink to purple color scheme: Xeranthemum (a great daisy-like flower), gomphrena (tight little ball flowers like poky strawberries), Goliath Red Shades (semi-double cheerful daisy-shaped flowers) and German Statice (sprays of tiny white-pink star shaped flowers in mass blooms). I haven’t even touched upon the yellows like ageratum (2-inch clusters of yellow fuzzy buttons), Fern-leaved Yarrow (full golden flower heads on stiff stems), and Yellow Daisy Strawflower (interesting mounded plants with bright yellow papery daisy flowers.) Then there are the staples of the everlasting garden – strawflower, statice, yarrow, and starflower you just have to have all those. They give you the filler, and also a whole lot of loveliness. For a full list of the collection we grow including pictures, go to Thyme Garden.
How to Dry Everlasting Flowers:
I am very unscientific with my drying technique, and so far it has worked out well. Here’s what I do to dry everlasting flowers.
• Pick flowers early in the day, after the dew has dried but before the heat of the day.
• Look for buds and pods that are just beginning to open. Fully mature flowers may lose their petals or color as they dry.
• Strip the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems to a desired length (at least six inches long).
• Bundle in bouquets that are loose enough for some air to move through (about -12-20 stems per bundle, depending on size.) Secure with a rubber band or ribbon.
• Hang upside down in a dry and warm location out of direct sunlight (attics work, but basements typically are too wet – at least in our temperate rainforest climate). Flowers should be dry in about two to three weeks. I use paperclips and a hanger to maximize space and hang them directly from the beams.
• Optional: Spray with non-scented hairspray.
There are other techniques for drying flowers out there. Drying flowers in borax or sand is one common technique. For more foliar pieces like Eucalyptus, Lantern Plant, and Bells of Ireland, you might want to experiment with glycerin. There are several great YouTube videos out there on using glycerin, so I won’t go into detail here, but it really does work (and requires a little work too, which is why I haven’t done it in years.)
Happy Flower Gardening! I hope you are inspired to enjoy this wonderful variety of flowers in your garden this year and in your home and crafts everlastingly!
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