One of the great stand-bys for an arranger is a plentiful supply of preserved foliage. While many people know that beechcut in early autumn can be preserved in a solution of glycerine and water (one part glycerine and two parts boiling water), not all of them realise that many other can be preserved by the same method. These can be leaves cut from garden shrubs, evergreen laurel, camellia, elaeagnus are splendid examples, or those bought from the florist such as eucalyptus, box, grevillea and pittosporum as well as a greaty variety of wild plant foliage. It really is worth while experimenting.
Theends need to stand only in 1-2 in. of the solution, so it is possible to preserve just one or two sprays of foliage at a time should this be most convenient. The one important thing is to make sure that the foliage will absorb the solution readily. It should first be stood for some hours in warmed plain water to harden. I like to let the branches stand overnight. You can soon tell if the water is moving through the veins. Curled or shrivelled leaves are a sign that the are not drinking and it would be pointless to try to make these take up the solution.
If they are stood in only a little of the glycerine solution spreading branches tend to be top heavy. It is best to pour a couple of inches into a narrow tin or jar and stand this inside a bucket or some heavier and larger vessel. The branches can then rest against the sides of the larger vessel.
It is not possible to say just how long a branch should stay in the solution. After a time you will notice a change in the leaves as the liquid travels up through the veins. In the case of eucalyptus, for example, the solution seems to travel very quickly and I have found it possible to remove the stems again in some 48 hours. The leaves retain their fine bluish green bloom yet they are preserved. If the eucalyptus is allowed to stand longer in the mixture the leaves turn dark, a little like copper beech. All the foliage turns colour. Evergreens such as laurel and camellia turn a lovely rich brown. Incidentally, all evergreens must be mature when treated. Young evergreen foliage will not absorb the solution.
The branches should not stand in the mixture so long that it exudes from thesurfaces, which it will do in some cases. I find that by the time all the solution has been taken up, using only about 2 in. in a 1 lb. jam jar, the leaves are normally preserved. One gets to know.
Mature ferns, that is those with their undersides well patterned with brown spores, can be treated in a similar fashion to the eucalyptus.
It is possible to preserve the fluffy seedheads of old man’s beard or wild clematis by this method. The stems should be cut before thestyles have begun to turn fluffy and are still green. You can preserve many green seed-heads such as gladioli, verbascum and iris and tall, striking foliage such as New Zealand flax.
Apart from these basic perpetuelles there are several freshwhich respond to drying, but unlike those already mentioned these must be dried quickly in a warm, dry place such as an airing cupboard or over ‘a stove, though not in sunlight. Hang them upside down or else fit them right way up between the slats of the cupboard. Remove them only when they are quite dry to the touch.
These include suchas delphiniums and their counterparts, larkspurs. Of these the pink and white varieties dry extremely well. The flat gold achillea, golden rod, hydrangeas and gypsophila are other examples. As with the foliage, it is well worth while experimenting. Some summers more things will dry than in other years. Sometimes one can dry zinnias, double sunflowers, marigolds and even double pelargoniums or pot geraniums quite easily. Late rosebuds frequently dry well.
Honesty moons are extremely attractive and blend well with so many other plant materials, although they can also look effective when used on their own. I like to gather these early in the season as soon as the flatin the pods are mature. I pull up the entire plant and hang it upside down to dry in a cool, dry shed. From time to time I test it, then when I can easily pull the outer parts away from the shining central ‘moon’ I strip all the stems and bring them indoors for arrangement.
Physalis or Chinese lanterns are also extremely beautiful and long lasting. These mix well with preserved leaves that have turned a lovely leathery brown and with honesty, blue-green hydrangeas and wild clematis.