Preparing Wedding Flowers with drying techniques

DRYING IN WATER

Some flowers dry well if left standing in water in an upright container like a tall jug or a florist’s bucket until dry and will still look great as wedding flowers. Hydrangeas are best preserved in water. Pick them when the heads are just starting to dry at the edges, and put them in water which reaches half way up their stems. Most people agree that in every collection of hydrangeas there are one or two which for no apparent reason die rather then dry!

UPRIGHT DRYING

This method is used if space is short. Simply place the stems in an empty tall jug or florist’s bucket and let them dry off in a place where they must be dry and should preferably be warm. The buckets can easily overturn, so put a brick or stone in the bottom.

The following can be successfully preserved by upright drying: Achillea (yarrow);yellow flower heads.

Cynara scolymus (globe artichoke); pick when purple flower heads are half developed. Strip off prickles and leaves.

Dianthus barbatus (sweet william); useful mauve and pink flowers. Pick when flowers are not fully open.

DRYING BY PRESSING

The best way to press and dry leaves is to lift up a bit of carpet, put down several layers of newspaper, and onto this place the leaves, making sure that they are quite flat. If they crease or bend they will be useless. Make sure too that the leaves do not touch. Cover them with two more layers of newspaper and put back the carpet. The more they are walked on the better! There are differences of opinion as to how long it takes for the leaves to dry out completely. I find that at least three weeks areneeded and very often longer. I once forgot about a collection and did not find them until a year later when spring cleaning. They were super!

I have become very keen on drying leaves in this way, both for my house and church. It is a good way of having different coloured leaves to mix with flowers in the winter and with those few early spring flowers. The dried leaves are of course very brittle indeed. It is helpful to wire some of them with reel or fuse wire onto firm twigs .

The following leaves can be dried in this way:

Beech: pick the branches in various stages of colour and be sure that they are quite flat.

Bracken: choose different colours from green to red.

Ferns: both large and small dry excellently. When I stay in Scotland in a friend’s house I dry ferns at the beginning of the holiday and they are fine in just about a fortnight when we leave; empty dress boxes always travel with me!

DRYING IN GLYCERINE OR ANTI-FREEZE

A solution of glycerine or the anti-freeze mixture used in the radiator of a car is an excellent method of preserving foliage and berries. Material preserved in this way keeps its natural sheen and does not become brittle or dry as does material dried by the other methods. The disadvantage is that the material changes colour, becoming much darker. I suggest that in the case of a small flower guild with little time or space to give to preservation this is the most practical method. There is some cost involved, but if the material is stored carefully when not in use it should last for years.

Take the material which is to be preserved and strip off all bottom leaves. Split the stems. The ends of hard-wooded stems should be hammered. The point of splitting the stems is to make sure that the solution reaches upwards into every part of the plant.

Place the preserving mixture in a narrow container: earthenware jugs or jars are excellent. Ensure that the liquid reaches 2 inches up the stems. Keep an eye on the material as some stems drink more quickly than others and may absorb all the liquid before preservation is complete. If this happens, top up with more of the mixture. Leaves are ready when they have quite changed colour and there is no sign of brittleness. If there is some of the solution left, store it in an air-tight jar and it can be used again.

Do experiment with different foliages. I have found beech, escallonia, helleborus, corsicus, laurel, mahonia and rhododendron particularly good, although they do change to a very dark green or brown. Most berries preserve well in this way. Spraying them afterwards with an ordinary hair lacquer helps to preserve them.

The glycerine solution consists of one part of glycerine to two parts of very hot water. As a container I use a large ‘instant’ coffee jar with a lid, as the solution needs to be shaken well: otherwise the glycerine will drop to the bottom. If hard-wooded stems are to be preserved the glycerine should be boiled first.

The anti-freeze solution consists of one part of anti-freeze to one part of water.

IRONING

This is an effective and quick method for preserving single leaves. Place the leaves between layers of blotting paper and iron with a warm iron until they are dry.

The following leaves iron well:

DRYING IN DESSICANTS

The other methods described are more practical for a busy church flower guild. If, however, you are anxious to experiment with silica gel, write to the American Museum in Bath which sells an excellent little pamphlet describing this method of preservation.

A good collection of dried material is a great stand-by: but do remember that if a church wants to keep it in good condition it must when not in use be carefully packed in tissue paper in strong boxes. Market They must be stored away in a dry place. Do not overfill the box as brittle leaves split easily.

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