In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
October, 2005
Regional Report

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Dried lion's tail flowers make a "striking" dried display.

Dried Arrangements

When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, autumn's cool weather meant poking around in the pumpkin vines to claim the best one for a jack-o'-lantern and collecting dried cattails, sumac, and colored leaves to make exuberant (not necessarily well-designed) arrangements. Luckily, the low desert offers its own unique plant palette for drying.

An Agave "Tree"
Dried agave bloom stalks are magnificent. Reaching 6 to 10 feet tall, they create a striking focal point in the home year-round. The thick stalks don't even need a vase or container. I also know people who use agave stalks as Christmas trees, embracing a southwestern regional theme. The many side branches on the stalk provide hanging space for ornaments. It's quite a fun change of pace for out-of-town visitors during the holidays.

Featuring Fruits and Flowers
Another holiday project is a wreath made from dried mesquite bean pods. The pods are a soft cream color. Mix in red chili peppers for accent. The pods will stay fresh looking for a very long time. I made a wreath that lasted for years, and I finally tossed it only because I wanted to try something else; the pods were still in great shape. Be forewarned: the dried pods are hard as rock so you need a sharp implement to poke a hole for the wire.

Aloe bloom stalks dry to a lovely wheat color. They aren't as large or impressive as agave stalks, but a dozen or more clustered together in a container create an interesting effect. Strip off any side branches to create straight sticks for a spare, contemporary look.

Even cacti can get into the act. The interior "skeletons" of cholla create wonderful interwoven patterns, and the accordian style ribs of saguaro are much sought after.

One of my favorites is lion's tail, an evergreen shrub that performs better as an annual here. The fluffy, orange flowers dry to resemble some sort of miniature medieval weapon, with wicked, sharp points covering the entire sphere. Its perfect globe shape -- usually about the size of a ping pong or golf ball -- is unusual and eye-catching.

Finally, they aren't exclusive to the desert, but since I'm staring at some while I type, I should include dried artichokes. If you can refrain from eating a few of them, they make magnificent dried flowers. The individual green leaves that you would normally savor dripping in butter will dry to a sandy tan. The lavender flower at the top will retain color. The only drawback is they are a devil to dust!


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