Flower Arrangements for seed heads and dried materials

The variety of shapes to be found in seed heads when autumn comes is, if anything, even greater than those of flowers, more than making up for any lack of colour. Strange, beautiful and dissimilar, seed heads can be combined in decorative groups that will outlast cut flowers or pot plants, survive even the worst effects of central heating or air conditioning and can cost nothing.

Just consider the wealth of material there for the taking. Delicate Cow Parsley ‘umbrellas’, the silver pennies of Honesty, big Corn cobs and the strange papery leaves surrounding them, stems of grain like Barley or Oats, Larch and Pine cones, lacy Love-in-a-Mist with its little balloons, neat seed spires from the Hosta (Plantain Lily), sprays of dry and yellowy Alchemilla mollis, round Poppy heads, tall shafts of Hollyhock or Delphinium, Japanese Lanterns, bobbles from Plane trees, winged Sycamore seeds in bunches, globes of Onion seed heads, Beechnuts, the dry white bells left after Bluebells have flowered, rusty spikes of Sorrel or Dock, all kinds of nuts, Bullrushes, orange berries from Irises and red ones from Peonies, spiky teazles, and many more from the garden or hedgerows. Collecting while on holiday is a pleasant way to pass the time and can provide materials to make a very individual souvenir. Small arrangements of dried seed heads make excellent presents. One way to mount a holiday trophy in permanent form is on a wall panel, fastening the seed heads on a board with glue and small strips of plastic sticky tape (the kind used for insulation or to mend plastic items). If the seed heads are carefully arranged, the fixtures will not show. Combine the seed heads with dried leaves and flowers, interesting pieces of bark, dried fungus and lichen, even seashore finds like shells and dried seaweeds.

As the first step, insert a screw or hook in the top of the board by which to hang it on the wall: this is difficult to do after the seed heads have been fastened down. Next year, from a holiday in some quite different place, you could make a companion piece of the same size but with a very different assortment of holiday finds evoking the distinctive scenery of the place. Another way to make a wall panel, large or small, is to find a lid of suitable size, round or square, line it with a sheet of polythene (plastic bags will do) and pour into it a layer, 1 inch thick, of Polyfilla powder mixed with just enough water to make it spreadable. Press a loop of strong wire for hanging into the top edge before arranging the seed heads on the wet paste. First arrange them on the table in the way you want. Once they have been put on the paste they should not be shifted about. Leave overnight, and when the panel has set, it can be lifted out, for it does not stick to the polythene. For a small wall plaque, a block of florist’s plastic foam wrapped in foil could be glued to a wicker dish or table mat and the stems pushed into this. If you want to make a still life of seed heads or other materials to stand on a table or mantlepiece, a large lump of clay or other modelling material can be the basis for it. While it is still soft push in the seed heads until the surface is completely hidden by the arrangement. Semi-perishable materials such as berries or evergreens can go in too, though they will not last long. You could aim for a look of abundance and variety or make a composition from only two or three items. Or take a specific plant or tree and concentrate on it for example, acorns, dried Oak leaves, and Oak apples grouped on a small Oak log.

Alternatively, simply compose the materials as you would in flower arrangement, using chicken wire or plastic foam, but without any water. Copper and brass containers, earth-coloured pots, wooden bowls and baskets suit this sort of material, rather than glass, china or silver.

A wire plant basket could be the basis for a hanging arrangement. Cones and many other seed heads can, with the help of a twist of wire, be mounted on dried stems or slender twigs before joining a group. Dried seed heads need no treatment before use, but those with a tendency to disintegrate, such as bullrushes, will last longer if sprayed with hair lacquer. Most seed heads lack colour, but russet ones are not hard to find and some are bright yellow. For a Christmas arrangement, either of these colours would show up well if provided with some artificial snow (detergent sprinkled around or mixed to a paste with a little water) and a few evergreens or Ivy kept fresh in a pot of water tucked out of sight. Add a few silver or gold glass baubles if you like.

If you want a vivid splash of colour among the natural tones of the seed heads, some could be dipped into dye or a pot of poster paint, sprayed with gold, or sprinkled with glitter which will stick if varnish is sprayed over first. But do not overdo these things. Beechnut husks are particularly pretty painted bright red inside with the outside left natural, and wired to twigs as if they were flowers. Combine dried material with everlasting flowers or artificial decorations – for instance, silvery Honesty mingled with turquoise paper butterflies glued to a few fine stems; a heap of Pine cones mixed with frankly fake red Cherries; Poppy heads with scarlet paper Poppies; a long stem of Hollyhock with a bright bead of yellow glass glinting inside each seed cup; small artificial bluebirds perched among dried brown stems.

Big and spectacular arrangements can be made with such seed heads as Cow Parsley, Hogweed and their relations; tawny Corn cobs (with 1-foot long leave spread out in enormous star shapes); Globe Artichoke heads, their formal and ornate shape almost demanding to be sprayed gold; and sprays of Beech or other coppery leaves as background material.

If, on the other hand, you like the charm of miniature decorations, look closely at seeds themselves and their markings. In addition to eggcup-size sprays of small seed heads to decorate spots where space is limited, a collection of interesting seeds sorted into envelopes can be used to create patterns on anything from the front of a whitewood chest of drawers to blown eggs (paint first, glue on the seed pattern and varnish). Plain Melon seeds or, indeed, most fruit pips, peppercorns, grains of pearl barley and the contents of a packet of parrot food can all be used for collages.

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