Drying Flowers for Everlasting Beauty (cont)
By: Braddock Bull
Using a Microwave Oven to Dry Flowers
The fastest method for drying flowers is to use a combination of silica gel and a microwave oven. Some dried-flower enthusiasts claim that you can use layers of paper towels rather than desiccant, but results may vary. For more reliable drying, prepare your flowers using the standard silica procedure described above, and then microwave them. To get truer color, dry the flowers one at a time to avoid overdrying them. You may need to switch to a smaller container if your usual one doesn't fit in the m oven, but make sure it is microwave-safe.
The oven should be set on medium to low power, about 350 watts. For most ovens with settings from 1 to 10, this means the 4 or 5 power setting. The defrost function is too low. Seal the container, and microwave the flowers for 3 minutes. Allow at least 15 minutes for the flowers to cool, and examine them carefully. If the flowers need more drying, repeat for 30-second intervals, but don't forget the cooling period. A microwave with a turntable may dry the flowers more evenly than one without turntables.
How to Arrange Dried Flowers Containers
Everything begins with the container. The general rule is that the container should be about one-third the height of the final arrangement. I don't know why, but it works. Any lightweight container should be weighted at the bottom with a flat stone and filled with green florists' foam to about an inch from the top. Then, you're ready to get creative.
Start with the filler or background. Sweet Annie, anise hyssop, and feverfew make good fillers. Green and white leaves or flowers give arrangements depth because they boost the other colors. You don't need as much background as you might think. Space is important, too: Don't make the arrangement too dense.
Once you have arranged the basic shape, start adding stems of accent flowers by pushing them down through the filler. Don't worry if you can't get every stem into the foam. Most can just "float" in the arrangement. To avoid a polka-dot look, try several stems together for bold blocks of color. You needn't use all of the listed flowers; just balance texture and contrast. Most important, loosen up, have fun, and don't overwork it. When you first think your arrangement is complete, it's time to stop.
How to Store Dried Flowers
Once dried, store your flowers in a covered wicker box or similar container that allows air circulation. Never use plastic. Cardboard boxes are suitable, but cut several holes in the sides and top. Fragile, shatter-prone flowers such as larkspur, hydrangea, or sweet Annie can be made more durable by using a spray-on fixer. The fixers don't dry the flowers. However, they coat and strengthen brittle stems and blooms, and dried flower arrangers recommend them. Several brands are available at craft stores; however, ordinary hair spray reportedly works equally well.
After the spray treatment, wrap each bunch loosely in tissue paper or newspaper, and lay it flat in the container. Put heavy flowers on the bottom, and don't pack the box too tightly. Keep your storage boxes in the same cool, dry areas you used for drying.
Warning! Drying flowers can be addictive! Before long, wreaths will adorn all your doors, and swags will hang from every wall. And they'll all have come from your own garden. Talk about an extended season! You'll soon see why dried flowers are often called "everlastings."
Braddock Bull is a writer and gardener who lives in Richmond, Vermont.
Photography by Sabin Gratz/National Gardening Association