In the Garden:
Middle South
October, 2006
Regional Report

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Making dried flower wreaths keeps the gardening season going into fall.

Welcome Autumn with Dried Flowers

There's a cold front moving in this weekend, with scattered frosts predicted throughout our region. That means it's time to harvest the last of the tender plants -- green tomatoes, basil, peppers ... and flowers.

I've been busy gathering flowers for drying, including tall ageratum, celosia, amaranth, yarrow, and ornamental oregano. For me, making dried flower bouquets and wreaths softens the inevitable and sometimes melancholy transition from summer to winter. I get to continue working with flowers, and it gets me thinking ahead to the holidays as I start making gifts.

This year I planted flowers specifically for air drying. Some flowers are best dried with silica gel, but I found the process messy and cumbersome. I tried drying flowers in the microwave but, again, didn't have much success. So here's my technique for preparing and drying yarrow, celosia, and other easy-to-dry flowers.

Cutting and Drying
Cut the flowers with long stems -- at least 10 inches -- and strip off all the leaves. Then bundle 6 to 10 stems together and fasten the stems with a rubber band. The stems will shrink as they dry, so the rubber bands secure them better than twine would.

I started wrapping the bundles with newspaper before hanging them to dry to better preserve their color, but I'm finding that the uncovered ones are drying just as nicely so I'm skipping that step. But you may want to wrap them if you'll be drying them in a sunny place since sun can bleach the color.

I strung heavy twine between the rafters of our barn and I hang the flowers upside down from that to keep the stems straight. I've got an oscillating fan in the room to keep the air moving. The flowers are dry enough to work with in about three weeks.

Dried Flower Wreaths
It's challenging to make a really spectacular dried flower wreath, but it's surprisingly easy to make a really nice one. My friend and master wreath-maker Marilyn came over yesterday for an afternoon of wreath-making. I'm happy to share what I learned from her! Here are step-by-step instructions for making a celosia/amaranth/ageratum wreath.

Gather all your materials: different types of dried flowers, scissors or pruners for cutting stems, small rubber bands, U-shaped floral pins, and a straw wreath base. The latter two are available at craft stores. For rubber bands we used the tiny ones sold for making cornrow braids. To make the wreath, you'll arrange small bunches of flowers -- mini bouquets -- and pin them on the wreath form, overlapping the flowers to hide the stems.

Start by trimming the flower stems so they're all about 6 inches long, keeping the flowers separated by type and color. It's easiest to start by making all your little bunches identical. Once you get the hang of it, you can experiment.

Take three or four stems of celosia and fan them out in one hand, keeping the bottom of the stems together. Next, add a few stems of amaranth, arranging them so the tops of the flowers are an inch or so below the tops of the celosia flowers. Finally, add a few stems of ageratum, again placing them an inch below the amaranth. Trim the stems so they're all the same length, and wrap a rubber band around them. The back of the bunch should be relatively flat and the front should be nice and full. Set your first bunch aside and use it as a model for subsequent bunches; covering an 8-inch wreath base will take about 10 bunches.

Now, take your straw wreath and get a rough idea of how you'll need to space the bunches. Center the first bunch on the face of the wreath and fasten it using a floral pin pushed in at an angle just above the rubber band. Then, take the next bunch and place it so the flowers cover the stems of the first bunch, and fasten it with another pin. Continue all the way around the wreath, tucking the stems of the final bunch underneath the flowers of the first one. You're done!

Variations
You can leave the wreath as is or add extra touches. Make bunches from stems of curly willow and arrange them around the outside of the wreath. Add a bow made from ribbon or raffia. Tuck some dried chili peppers between the bunches. The possibilities are endless.

Frost or no frost, I'll be working with plants and flowers for a few more months. By then it will be time to order seeds and start the early ones indoors -- and so the gardening year begins anew.


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