Dried Flowers–Why Bother?

He that has two cakes of bread, let him sell one of them for some flowers . . . for bread is food for the body, but flowers are food for the soul. Eastern Proverb

Gifts from Heaven

The dedicated collector of plant material for preserving can, like the great Linnaeus himself, “explore the recesses of Nature and cull the treasures of the moor, pasture and field—the river bank, and swamps,” which, in due course with his own art, he can preserve and arrange, “to the delight and astonishment of kindred spirits”.

Anyone who seeks perfection, which is somewhat scarce in this world, should be prepared to forgive a plant for needing a measure of study and care. Any plant, he should remind himself, is a gift from Heaven, and no apology is called for in showing interest in its growing. As Constance Spry has said, this is “the accepted hobby of the learned and the great, the connoisseur and the beginner”.

“Just before the light fades,” as she wrote in an article quoted in her Anthology, “all colours seem to take on an added brilliance, and then, as darkness gathers, this goes, and new beauty is revealed in a world now full of gentler shades.” It is worth planning to preserve this beauty, so that it does not vanish when the sun goes down nor shrivel when day is done. Here one can begin a new chapter in creative enchantment, and as each page is turned, so a new undreamed-of mystery is revealed, to fascinate the reader and to inspire him to explore further afield.The seedhead of 'Papaver somniferum' "Danish Flag" is used for drying at Priorwood Garden, Melrose, Borders

Arrangements With Dried Material

Would there were more lively, expressive words to describe an industry which offers such infinite possibilities to anyone with imagination and artistry to interpret its diversely exotic and yet simple charm; an industry open to all imbued with a love and feeling for growing things, and a wish to attempt to perpetuate them, so far as is possible (at least, in part), in their own colours and forms, cultivated or wild, harvested at home or abroad; an industry whose materials are gathered in garden, woodland, pasture, field or hedgerow, whose aim is the picking, preserving, and arranging of flowers, buds, leaves, grasses, ferns, seed-heads, appealingly fashioned fragments of wood, bark, or twig, and verdant moss.

It is not, alas, until the bleak months of winter arrive that the true wealth of summer vegetation comes vividly to mind. For those who long to conserve an all-the-year memory, a reminder of some favourite garden shrub or hedgerow flower — even a grass from a field — what happier idea could there be than to collect, preserve and assemble some of the harvest there for our gathering? But do not, please, begin gathering at the last moment, just as late autumn storms begin to take their toll; start during the months of warmth and sunshine, when plant forms and colours are at their best, neither burnt up by the sun, nor dishevelled by rain and wind.

Contrary to what is usually thought, many years and countless seasons of trial and error often pass before the techniques of growing, harvesting, preserving and, eventually, assembling dried material of all kinds can be achieved, to give the desired result. So much depends on climate and season in any particular region and in any given year, and their effect on the quality and quantity of the harvest. Those who are not wholly familiar with plant life in all its humours, its likes and dislikes, its varied characteristics, may feel that a certain mystique surrounds the ways of collecting, preserving, and indeed, of handling dried material; but in point of fact, anyone with a sense of adventure—a wish to experiment—together with time and much patience, can find the whole process as simple as it is absorbing, and ultimately enchanting. It is, moreover, a creative activity within the reach of anyone willing to succumb to its appeal.

Anyone handling dried flower arranging becomes more and more aware, in these days of pressures and inhibitions, of the truth of the saying “God helps those who help themselves.” If there are no garden flowers, for instance, why not turn to the field, or the hedgerow? Why not create a supply of dried material to draw on when there is nothing fresh to hand, either to fill just a temporary gap, or perhaps for longer, to satisfy a need or even a whim? Of course one must say here, at the outset, that nothing—absolutely nothing—can equal colourful sprays of leaves and flowers growing in their natural surroundings, or freshly picked and arranged to delight us with their beauty and their fragrance for a little while. The flower arranger of today, professional or amateur, has raised his art to a superlatively high level, as is superbly demonstrated by Flower Clubs, up and down the country, at flower festivals, in cathedrals, in village churches, in stately homes, and similar places. His indeed is a true labour of love, an achievement giving beauty and pleasure to countless people, and benefit without measure to many charities. Long may their dedicated efforts flourish, and their theme-song “serendipity” prevail.

The main theme of this part of the website, however, is the harvesting, preserving and arranging of all growing things, whether cultivated or wild, from florists’, from markets or from street barrows, from one’s own or from any other land. The dried sprays of leaves, flowers, seed-heads, grasses, ferns and lichens have a charm and delicacy all their own. They create their own characteristic atmosphere; they can mingle with all sorts and conditions; they can be moved from one place to another to enhance their surroundings with their muted tones; they can be dressed up or down, in colour, shape or style, and transformed in the light of a moment’s inspiration. The fmal arrangement will be the due reward for those who have worked to fashion it. There are other blessings too: no water needs to be topped up or replenished; no vase needs to be cleaned; there are no dead flowers or leaves to be discarded; it is immaterial if a current of fresh air blows through or a cold draught creeps into the room. Work is saved and anguish spared, and maybe, pennies also, although preparation may have lasted over several months.

I have tried to cover in detail the sequence in the processes here outlined: from fresh to dry; from cradle but not, definitely not, to the grave. Thanks to the techniques here described, there is no need for anyone with “a cold disliking eye” to regard anything dried as ghostly, lifeless or dead. Many years may pass before these dried plants, flowers and leaves join their erstwhile fresh counterparts on the gardener’s compost heap. They can be invited to stay with us a little longer. So why not collect together even a few of our favourites from the treasures of summer Months, and preserve them so that they will continue to enhance their surroundings, albeit in subdued tints, with their presence, and to keep alive in our midst the pleasure that they give.

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