First of all, growing for drying. The scope can be almost limitless and the choice tremendously variable, depending on soil, climate, seasons and prevailing circumstances. It is a subject as intriguing as it is absorbing and has unimaginable possibilities. It knows few boundaries as regards districts, countries or even hemispheres, and is essentially global in character. Who knows – one day the planets may provide the next hunting ground!
Ideally, the collector who possesses a garden, not necessarily a large one (and preferably with someone else to tend it), has an advantage, because the seasonal tasks of harvesting, preserving, and, to a large extent, assembling are, in themselves, all-exacting and time-absorbing, demanding constant and painstaking attention. There can be no doubt that a well-stocked garden full of trees, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous plants and bulbs provides the perfect source for drying and preserving requirements throughout the year, and with the addition of aand conservatory it would indeed be a true answer to prayer.
There will invariably be a sensitive and inevitable link between grower and arranger – and the closer the better for all concerned. The main disadvantage for the former – if it really can be called a disadvantage – is that he may find himself somewhat short of ingredients for his preciousheap!
Failing garden ownership, a collector who has access to friendly market gardens and private gardens in different parts of the country can find immense and positive help, without too many attendant worries. Alternatively, a collector who is mainly dependent on woodland, pasture, field or hedgerow, and – yes – railway banks, bomb-sites and waste land, will find an abundance of beautiful and exciting material, far beyond expectation.
Finally, material of all kinds can be acquired – fresh or preserved – from plant specialists, nurserymen or florists. Some of this material may be available at reduced cost, if it is surplus to sales requirements.
Before, however, concentrating on what to grow, consideration must be given to an item of importance: the affinity between growing and harvesting in the sequence of events.
The Affinity between Growing and Harvesting
In growing and harvesting,and reaping, seeking out and collecting, there are so many worlds from which to choose, so many avenues to explore, so many fields from which to glean. For the dedicated collector with a perceiving eye, where there is a will there is also a way, even in the face of environmental or seasonal obstacles. If it is not possible to grow adequate supplies (and a gardener with a heart will never wish to over- ) other sources for the precious materials will have to be found: the world of the wild, other lands, market stalls, garden centres, specialists’ stocks. Furthermore, why not encourage others to develop a feeling for weeds? Even those who have little initially, may well in the end become imbued with the proverbial enthusiasm of the convert, to an extent which will surprise them. With a little ingenuity on all sides, no one need submit to the austerity of “grow or do without”. Sources of supply may have to be reviewed from time to time, and new ones sought. Seasons, admittedly, will invariably be precarious, weeks unpredictable, days good and bad – but in the long run the diligent collector will survive, and his store may even one day boast a surplus.
A Further Affinity
There is a second point to be borne in mind. The true lovers of plants, whether they are growers, collectors, purchasers or arrangers, should share an innate understanding and appreciation of plants’ respective needs. They will have a basic sense of value, form, texture, colour, shade and habit of growth, and an entente with nature, which will determine the way they use their material to depict the idea they have in mind. So far as the grower, harvester and arranger are concerned, there can be nothing further from the truth than to say, “Le bon Dieu est touj ours pour les grands bataillons.”
Lovely as they are in their summer profusion, plants do not necessarilytheir most beautiful forms or their most exquisite tints in the highlight of the year. Each week, each month, each season brings its own matchless character and loveliness. A bud, a , a , a flower, a -head, a single grass, a fern, sedge, moss or lichen – all have their individual fascination and need not be displayed in great abundance to reveal their individual characters and evoke a lasting memory. A daisy or a rose, a catkin or a cone – bright in colour or muted in shade, cultivated or wild, in abundance or in short supply, they are all gifts to look upon with delight and gratitude, and to handle with sensitivity and care – and this applies to the grower, the harvester and the arranger of fresh and dried material alike.
By the same token, quantity or size are not of great account – it is quality that weighs, as Miss Strong has described:
God did not despise the doing of the tiny things – He must have spent a lot of time on makingand wings – He made the mountains and the seas, the whirling worlds on high – and yet He deigned to make the ant, the bee, the butterfly – the spider and the snowflake and the smallest bird that sings . . . the little things.
The Principles of Growing and Harvesting
Growing and harvesting should proceed side by side throughout the year. Visualise, on the one hand, a well-established evergreen shrub or tree which is fairly common in this country. It should be possible for the collector to selectlittle and often (so long as they are mature), as and when required. With a younger, immature plant, on the other hand, or one of greater rarity, one must take into consideration its constitution and ultimate shape. Stress must here be laid on the importance of conservation. However keen the picker, and however desperate his need may seem, he must not, on any pretext whatever, be guilty of even a hint of vandalism or desecration. A plant is a precious gift of Nature, intended for all to enjoy.
With deciduous shrubs and trees, harvesting is a more seasonal affair andare gathered progressively, as they become loose to the touch and almost ready to fall.
The growing and harvesting of herbaceous,and flowers and seed-heads is again somewhat different, depending on the time of planting and the all-important weather conditions – both during the growing period and at the harvesting stage. In these cases harvesting should be timed with precision. A bloom picked a day too late may lose its colour and texture in the process of preservation, and a seed-head gathered when over-spent will wear forever a melancholy garb.
Much the same principles apply to the growing and harvesting of grasses, which must be picked before going to seed. Ferns, too, have their special seasons: their growing and harvesting may sometimes be extended over many weeks, as the fresh young fronds develop and the older ones mass themselves in tangled mats of spreading ground-cover. They need to be harvested in their prime – the fronds neither too young and over-supple, nor yet too strong and tough. The growing and gathering of mosses should run concurrently throughout the year, though this will, of course, depend on the weather – in a dry season one would pick earlier, whereas the opposite prevails in a time of excessive damp. Sunshine can enhance their highlights, while on dull weather days they contrive to show a specially green hue.
Growing and harvesting go hand in hand. Some seasons will be ideal, some diabolically frustrating, but there should not be many days – that is, fine weather days – when the collector, armed with his knife or secateurs, cannot find plenty of foliage, twigs, ferns, mosses and lichen to stock his store. If growing plants are unavailable, either in the garden or in the countryside, the search can be extended to the markets, both in this country and indeed overseas – where the seasons may be different: themay be with us in midsummer, for instance, while the rose will present itself at Christmas. For the dried flower worker, such out-of-season trouvailles should be no problem. Anything can be preserved at any time, so long as the necessary system for preserving and storing is in readiness.
The main point to underline is that growing is practically inseparable from harvesting, and hence these subjects are inevitably very closely related.