When to harvest

As with farmers, so with flower arrangers: conditions have to be just right for harvest. Ideally, all plant material for drying should be gathered on a dry day, after the morning dew has evaporated in the sun. But since you will be harvesting from the early spring-for the seed capsules of the small species bulbs-to the late autumn and even beyond, and since this is not an ideal world, you will have to gather material as and when you can. It is better to capture a basketful of seedheads which are not quite ready than to watch the next storm batter them to the ground.

If you have to collect rain-soaked plant material, shake it gently and lay it on sheets of blotting or newspaper, turning it over until all the excess moisture has been absorbed.

Everlasting flowers such as acroclinium, rhodanthe and helichrysum should be cut just as the flowers open. A patch of these annuals sown at the same time will need daily scrutiny. The flowers will develop at a different rate and be ready a few each day.

Long spikes of flowers, such as delphinium, should be cut before some of the topmost buds open.

This is not only the stage at which they will dry most successfully, but captures the flower at its most interesting, with the widest variety of shape, texture and colour. Other flowers should be cut just as they are about to open. This means keeping daily watch. Thistles, bulrushes and pampas grass, which disintegrate so easily, need to be cut even before this stage, when they are only half developed.

Seedheads will dry naturally on the plant and indeed can be left to do so. However, it is safer to bring them in and dry them under controlled conditions than to risk a bad spell of weather.

A free circulation of air round the drying plant material is recommended, and so hanging upside down or standing in containers is usually best. In some cases, material can be dried flat on box-lids, but it should be turned occasionally. Slow drying causes fading; warmth and dark are essential for the best results. Large spikes of delphinium need more warmth, such as an airing cupboard.

Remove the leaves first. They do not dry well by this method, and only serve to increase the moisture content of the room as they do so. The leaves need not be discarded, thoughthey can be dried by pressing.

Hang-drying

Tie flowers and seedheads in bunches according to type. The stems will shrink as the material dries and the cord or twine will need to be tightened to prevent flowers and seedheads from falling to the floor. Use gardeners

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