Dried flowers and leaves for flower arrangements

Flowers grown especially for drying for interior decoration are called ‘Everlastings’ or the lovely French name ‘Immortelles’ and are generally hardy or half-hardy annuals. They are well worth growing as they are attractive and last well in borders, and when dried their daisy faces stay bright and summery-looking throughout the winter. There are endless variations on what to do with dried flowers – from formal little Victorian posies of Helipterum (Immortelles) and Wheat and Grasses, huge containers of the giants like Angelica, Teasel, Heracleum (Cow Par-snip) and Artichoke, throwing wonderful shadows on a plain white wall. Simply arrange them as you would fresh flowers – but without water of course. If you are putting the flowers into a lightweight container it is a good idea to put dry sand or gravel in the bottom of the container to give weight and stability to the arrangement.

Fresh flowers can be successfully added to an arrangement of dried flowers if you are careful about matching the texture and feel of the two types. Either put the fresh flowers into a small container and put this into a bigger one containing the dried flowers or, for individual fresh flowers, use crumpled chicken wire in the dried arrangement and thrust tubes into this to take the fresh flowers.

Do beware of treating a dried flower arrangement as a fixture. Rearrange it every few weeks, add or subtract something, or move it to another place – few things look sadder or more depressing than a dusty group of dried flowers that has been sitting in the same place for months.

One note of warning – candles and dried flowers do not mix. Any dried flowers placed near lighted candles will probably catch fire.

Dried flowers, of course, need not be put into containers. Experiment with them – the possibilities are boundless. Various trees, posies, and table decorations can be made with dried flowers pushed into Styrofoam, or a similar substance. Small indoor hanging baskets can be filled with dried flowers instead of pot plants. Hanging ornaments can be made using a ball of Styrofoam or plasticine tied around with ribbon to hang it up by, and filled in with dried flowers. If some of them have fragile stems and prove difficult to insert, pin them in place through the flower-head.

Planting flowers for drying

As with every sort of annual sowing, the ground should have been well prepared the preceeding autumn or winter – dug over, stones and weeds removed, forked and raked flat – before sowing the seeds in spring.

Sow the seeds either in groups or in rows when the soil is fairly dry and then thin out the seedlings to 3-6 inches apart (about three-quarters of the final expected height of the plant). Alternatively, seeds can be sown in boxes under glass, pricked out into good potting compost about 30 to 35 to a box, and planted out when there is no longer any danger of frost.


Keep an eye on the flowers during the summer to be sure of cutting them at the right moment on a day when they are not at all damp. Do not let the flowers open fully or begin to set seed or you will get showers of fluff when you hang them up to dry. With the larger branching types like Helichrysum, when the main flower has been picked, you get many smaller ones all down the stem a few weeks later. Pinching out the growing point before you pick flowers will have the same effect but give you larger secondary flowers.


When the flowers are picked, strip any leaves from the stems, tie them in small bunches or bundles and hang them upside down to dry. If the bunches are too large the stems may tangle or be damaged. Flowers dried in a light position become brittle and lose some of their colour, and flowers become mildewed in the damp – a shed or garage may be dry in summer but it could be too damp in autumn to dry flowers in. Ideally, hang the flowers in a cool, dry, airy, shady place.

If the stems are very short (or, like those of Helichrysum Bracteatum, look somewhat ugly when dried) cut the stem one inch from the head, push a length of 20 gauge florists’ wire (or a finer gauge if the flowers are small) up the stem into the flower-head and push the wires into sand or dry plastic foam. Leave the flowers to dry in this position. As they do so the wire will rust into place. If you are just beginning to experiment with dried flowers start by drying the brightly coloured varieties – the purples, yellows and golds – as these are less likely to lose any of their colour during the drying process.

An alternative method of drying flowers which is somewhat more complicated involves the use of a desiccant such as borax powder, available from chemists. But it is worth taking the extra trouble as this is often a more successful way of drying flowers which are not true ever-lastings.

Cover the bottom of a box with the borax powder, carefully lay the flowers in this, and then pour in more powder until the flowers are completely covered – taking care that it runs in between all the petals and stamens. Then simply leave them. The borax powder draws all the moisture from the flower. (An older and cheaper alternative to borax is sand – but it is often too heavy and damages the flowers.)

Inspecting the flowers to see if they are dry is a delicate operation as you must be careful not to damage them as you uncover them. The length of time it will take to dry the flowers obviously varies, but it is more often a matter of hours than days. Small Roses and Pansies, for example, need only about 12 hours and Cornflowers 36 hours.

True everlastings

True Everlastings or Immortelles are those flowers grown specifically to be dried. They are annuals and grow best in a sunny place.

Acroclinium Roseum syn. Helipterum Roseum is a well-known Straw Daisy with petals softer than those of its near relative Helichrysum Bracteatum. It grows to about 2 feet tall and has daisylike pink or white flowers of papery texture. In a good summer it should flower six weeks after it has been sown, so you can grow and dry it in the same year.

Ammobium Alatum Grandiflorum (Ever-lasting Sand Flower) has silvery-white petals and a domed yellow centre. It does grow to 2 feet tall but its stems are short in proportion to its flower-heads and you may need to lengthen them when you come to arrange them.

Gomphrena Globosa (Globe Aramanth or Batchelor’s Buttons) was a favourite in Elizabethan gardens. It grows 12-18 inches high, has white, red or purple globular flowers and is a half-hardy annual.

Perhaps the best known of all the ever-lastings is Helichrysum Bracteatum (the Straw Flower) which include both 3-4 feet tall and shorter dwarf varieties. It has flowers rather like those of a stiff, shiny-petalled double daisy in an assortment of colours – orange, wine-red, apricot, yellow, gold and white. The flowers should be picked as soon as they begin to open. Do not wait until they are in full bloom.

Helipterum Manglesii, also known as Rhondanthe Manglesii, grows 12-18 inches tall and has tiny daisy flowers in clusters of florets – white, pink, or rose; both double and single blooms.

Statice (Limonium) Sinuatum (Sea Lavender) grows 1-2 feet high and has papery flowers in blue, mauve, or white. Its perennial cousins are Statice (Limonium) Latifolium which has mauve flowers – this is somewhat taller, reaching 2-3 feet – and Limonium Bonduellii which has yellow flowers and grows to 1-2 feet. Both of these are equally good for drying.

Xeranthemum is another everlasting with silvery pink, mauve or white flowers. It grows to 2 feet tall and must be sown where it is to flower as it resents being moved.

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