There are three basic ways of drying, depending on their types. Some, because of the nature of their petals, dry quite naturally. A second type are dried quickly in places such as airing cupboards. And the third variety are dried using desiccants (drying agents).
Helichrysums and statice or limonium are examples of the first variety. Others, closely related, known collectively as everlastings or immortelles, include acroclinium, rhodanthe, lonas and ammobium, all easily grown from. It is not practical to allow them to dry on the plant, because they continue to develop and make seed or become weathered and dull. Instead, they should be gathered little by little as they open. Strip the from the , tie tightly in small bunches and hang them upside down, well spaced apart, in a cool, airy and shady place. When they are dry to the touch, they are ready for use. Everlastings remain decorative for years, keeping their colours the best of all.
In some seasons the heads of helichrysums become easily severed from their stems after drying. The flowers are then best mounted on false stems: when fresh they are easy to thread on to floristwires or on to grasses. Some people gather only the heads from the plants and dry them by spreading them out on newspaper. Flower heads can also be used in flower pictures and other types of montage.
The second method of drying is for flowers which, although not naturally of a papery or straw-like texture, actually dry quite well. Many of these provide attractive contrasts of shape and texture to the daisy-like everlastings. Some are quite large and can be used inon a grand scale. They include many ordinary garden flowers: acanthus or bear’s breeches; achillea (the garden varieties dry better than the wild species); alchemilla or lady’s mantle; amaranthus or love-liesbleeding; celosia or cockscomb; catananche Or cupid’s dart; delphinium and its form, the larkspur; echinops or globe thistle; eryngium, the blue sea holly — this cultivated kind is not as spiny as the wild; gypsophila; polygonum or bistort; solidago or golden rod. Among the shrubs are hydrangeas, which should be dried after the heads change colour; roses in bud and young ramblers and some spireas. All of these are best dried very quickly; an airing cupboard provides perfect conditions.
The third method, in which desiccants are used, gives you scope to dry almost any kind of flower you fancy, but it has its drawbacks. Flowers dried this way, although exciting at first, do not last like the true everlastings nor do they keep their colour. One of the best ways to keep them is to enclose the arrangement inside a covered glass jar or under a glass dome.
One desiccant is clean, dry sand. Unfortunately this is so heavy that it often presses the flowers, sometimes spoiling them. It suits flat flowers such as pansies, narcissi, hellebores and some daisies. Two other desiccants are domestic borax and silica gel, both available at chemist shops. It is possible to mix sand and borax, thus lightening both weight and price. Silica gel, the more expensive of the two, can be combined with the dry foamed plastics used for flower arrangement. After drying out, all of these can be used time and time again.
Use airtight boxes, and be sure they are deep if the flowers are to be left on long stems. These last also call for a large (and expensive) quantity of desiccant. To economize, shorten them and mount the flowers on false stems later.
First, make a layer of desiccant or foamed plastic at the bottom of the box. Keep to one kind of flower in each box. According to their shape, either lay them flat or stand them upright or at an angle — this is where the foamed plastic comes in handy. Flowers can be quite close together and at different levels but they should not touch. Gently pour in the desiccant so that it gradually buries each flower, trickling into all spaces without alter ing the shape of the blooms. Gently shake the box from time to time. When everything is covered, close the box and keep it in a warm, dry place. Inspect the flowers often. It is not possible to say how long drying will take: according to their type and moisture content, some flowers take only a few hours, others a few days.
Most grasses, including pampas and farm cereals, are delightful mixed with dried flowers, offering as they do good contrasts in shape. It is important to gather all of these soon after they emerge from their sheaths while they are still young. They then keep a good colour and do not disintegrate easily.
Whole grasses andends from those you shorten make splendid natural-looking false stems. All you need to attach them is a touch of adhesive under the base of the bloom or on the end of the flower stem. Allow them to dry before arrangement. Helichrysums can be pierced at the centre and a grass then threaded through.
Bear in mind that, because dried flowers are light in weight, their containers should be heavy or weighted in some way. You can half-fill them with sand or shingle and then rest wire netting or dry foamed plastic on top.