A Perenniel Flower That Looks Like An African Violet The Flower Drying Game – Part 1: Air, Sand, and Sources

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The Flower Drying Game – Part 1: Air, Sand, and Sources

Most average gardeners quietly and sadly resign themselves to a long winter empty of the lovely flowers that, only a few weeks before, had graced their lives with color and fragrance. Yes, it’s sad to leave the outdoor garden behind.

Houseplants relieve some of the sadness, but somehow it’s just not the same. I mean, African violets and Christmas Cactus are nice, but I long for my lupines and roses, delphiniums and pansies and all the other wonderfully cheerful little flower-faces that once looked back from the border. Surely there must be a way to bring my favorites in for the winter! The real trick, as you’ll soon see, is to plan ahead.

Enter my very best friend of over 45 years, Linda. . .to my rescue (why am I not surprised?!). “Not to fear,” says she. “I’ll bring in some of summer’s delights and dry them so they can be our company this winter!”

“What a marvelous idea!” says I. “But doesn’t it take some special trick or magic? Don’t we have to take a class or something?” “Well, no” says she. “Just you watch. You’ll see!”

So, for the price of a trifling few moments of summer effort (which this remarkable person calls fun), our home is frequently host to a quantity of most attractive little dry flower arrangements in baskets and vases, adding joy to joy.

You see, there really wasn’t any magic involved. All it took was a desire, some good old New England resolve, a few wire coat hangers and some twist ‘n ties like the ones that come with most household trash bags. Combine those factors and inexpensive materials with a space in your attic or closet–and selections from the list of “best-bets-to-begin-with” that I’ll include below–and you have arrived at the prestigious stage of “expert.”

What’s that you say? “Fine time to tell us about this now that the whole world is covered with snow!” “Nay,” say I! This is the perfect time. Winter is for planning. If I’d have told you about this in May or June, you’d have been so busy it would never have managed to be squeezed in. Isn’t this the time for resolutions? So make one that says: “This is the last winter I’ll spend with no summertime flowers in the house!”

The instructions are pure simplicity. On a dry, sunny day, cut your fresh flowers, leaving fairly long stems. Gather them into small bunches of not more than 6 or 7 stems and wrap the ends tightly with a twist ‘n tie. Attach several of these small bunches to a wire clothes hanger so they dangle down, and suspend it in an attic or closet to dry. The drying process takes from ten days to three or four weeks. Most will retain their color, but a few will turn a pale tan. Not to worry, even softer, faded-out colors fit into dried flower arrangements nicely.

The rest is up to you and your arranging imagination and creativity. Pictures in a book are very helpful. Remember that dried flowers are fragile and some delicate parts are bound to shatter away if handled roughly.

Dried arrangements add so much to a home! They brighten a room and certainly brighten spirits. The icing on a cake: they make thoughtful and much appreciated gifts-especially to shut-ins.

That’s it for air-drying. Here’s the list of “best bets” I promised you:

Artemisia; Astilbe; Baby’s Breath; Beebalm; Cattails; Celosia; Chive seed heads; Coneflower seed heads; Globe Amaranth; Globe Thistle; Goldenrod; Gomphrena; Heather; Helichrysom; Hydrangea (especially “Pee-Gee”); Lavender; Lunaria (seed structures, not the flowers); Ornamental Grasses; Pearly Everlastings; Pussywillows; Salvia; Sea Lavender; Statice; Veronica; Yarrow.

The list could go on but I think you get the picture. Just keep your eyes open and don’t be bashful.

Now let’s tackle a trickier process: drying some of the more delicate and intricate blossoms in sand. Large flowers like roses, carnations, daisies, delphiniums and many others not only lose their shape, but most fade to brown if simply hung out to dry.

Sand Drying. By far the least complicated method is air-drying, but that limits us to a relatively short list of possibilities. Carefully surrounding more delicate and intricate flowers with sand (or silica gel) extends the list considerably and opens the door to much more elaborate and lovely floral displays that can last for months.

First, a word or two of caution. Most sand-dried flowers are extremely fragile, shattering at the slightest misadventure. A playful kitten or curious child will quickly turn a beautiful flower into a handful of fragments resembling breakfast flakes. The entire process briefly described below must be undertaken slowly, very deliberately and with the lightest touch. The final requirement is patience. A flower removed from its sandy bed too soon – before it is completely desiccated – will quickly shrivel to ruin…so don’t be too anxious.

Sand. Probably the most difficult first step is finding just the right sand. If you’re willing to spend a little extra, most larger craft stores either have in stock or can order sand best suited to the purpose, usually in five-pound tins. You’ll need about fifteen or twenty pounds to get started. Since sand specifically manufactured for the purpose is completely reusable, it should last a while, especially if it’s kept reasonably clean. Silica gel may be too tricky (and too expensive) for the beginner, experimenter or for anyone on a limited budget. It dries flowers very quickly but must be timed almost to the exact, “just right” moment.

Silica sand (or “glass sand”), on the other hand, is perfect, much more pleasant to handle and is considerably less expensive. It is almost pure white and looks like fine granulated sugar. Beach sand, masonry or “sharp” builder’s sand and road sand is irregular and dirty, and may leave an unpleasant and difficult-to-remove residue on your dried specimens. Take the time to find just the right kind.

Containers. Sturdy shoe boxes are just about perfect for drying flowers. Round cardboard oatmeal containers work well, too, but can be a little awkward. Both have close-fitting lids and are stable, not being easily upset. Plastic bags and glass jars are not suitable; neither are grocery or lunch bags.

Where? Just the other day someone said to me “Sure, dry all kinds of flowers! But where can I get flowers this time of year?” A reasonable question, and one that’s easy to answer. Here’s where you’ll find plenty of material–

    * From a thoughtful spouse or friend who sends or brings you a nice bouquet or potted flowering plant from a local florist or supermarket.
    * Weddings are happening all around us. In my earlier days as a wedding photographer I attended hundreds of weddings and many had attractive little fresh arrangements at each reception table.
    * There are almost as many funerals as there are weddings (hmmmm). While I don’t recommend you go to a funeral just for the flowers, very often those large arrangements, loaded with a wide variety of suitable blossoms and greenery, end up in the rubbish after the service. Most funeral homes would be happy to see them “recycled.”
    * The local florist or flower shop. One or two single daisies or mums shouldn’t cost too much. They might even let you have a few of their “rejects.” Tiny flaws which make a flower unsuitable for a fresh arrangement are perfectly acceptable for drying. Ask.
    * And of course there’s your own garden-next year.

Ok…before going to Part 2, run down some suitable sand and gather up a few mush or shoe boxes. Also, gather together a paper cup or two, and a small, soft artist’s paintbrush. Finally, if you’re the type who salvages and recycles such things, a block of dried-out “Oasis”–spongy, green blocks which florists use in arrangements–will make a handy place to temporarily hold the finished, dried specimens.

Part 2 in this 3-part series will show you how to use your sand for drying, and will introduce the secret that florists have guarded for decades to retain that “live” look in dry-arrangement foliage accents. Later, in Part 3, we’ll get the plans and instructions for an affordable–do-it-yourself–flower press.

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