Wild flowers and flower arranging

The fragile beauty of a group of flowers growing wild in a field, along the side of a road, or on derelict ground in the middle of a city, can sometimes be more eye-catching than the most well-tended garden border – because they are, as it were, an unexpected bonus. People who usually have no desire to pick garden flowers often pick wild ones, and bemoan the fact that they do not live long in the vase.

Learning about wild flowers is a rewarding experience in itself, particularly if you discover a species which was feared to be extinct in your area. Modern agricultural methods and insecticides are, sadly, killing off some wild flowers, although one recent encouraging discovery in England was that rare specimens of wild flowers are now flourishing on the protected banks of motorways. Incidentally, the more you can learn about wild flowers the greater your knowledge of cultivated flowers will be, for they are all related.

Wild flowers, unfortunately, never last as long when picked as cultivated flowers – but given care they last long enough, and surely their ephemeral quality is part of their charm. To ensure the longest possible life for them, only pick flowers which look mature and healthy. Give them the usual treatment for travelling and when you get home steep them up to their necks in water for at least three hours, or overnight if possible, and then arrange them. Give them plenty of water – they drink a surprising amount.

Many wild flowers are so attractive that they really are worth picking to enjoy just a for a few hours. What could be nicer for a children’s summer party than a large blue and white jug cascading with Buttercups on a gingham cloth, and who cares if they drop the next day? Do not, however, pick a bunch of Dandelions and put them on a table as a centre-piece for an informal dinner party. While you are in the kitchen basting the joint, those glorious golden heads will close with the setting sun!

Wild flowers that last Queen Anne’s Lace or Cow or Hedge Parsley does last very well in water, as do its cousins in the family Umbelliferae (Carrot and Parsnip flowers, Fennel and Angelica) which should last over a week in water. And wild Daisies, like all members of the Compositae family (Michaelmas Daisies and Chrysanthemums), last longer – up to two weeks.

Grasses have the longest life of all. And a jar or jug of tall wild grasses with an ear or two of Wheat or Barley (taken from the edge of a field after harvesting) make a graceful, feathery arrangement.

Why not plant your own?

If you have no opportunity to pick flowers wild in the spring, then why not plant a little group of Primroses, Violets, Scyllas and Aconites in a corner of the garden? Then you can pick and enjoy your own ‘wild’ flowers.

Pressing wild flowers

One of the greatest pleasures of being in a country environment is to go out and pick a bunch of wild flowers, put them in a jug to decorate the dining table, identify them and, finally, press them, preserving their beauty for ever. There is a book of pressed flowers in a library in Oxford, England which were picked and pressed in the fourteenth century. The colours are still bright while the flowers themselves have been dead for six hundred years. To press the flowers either put them individually between blotting paper or tissues between the leaves of a heavy book or in the middle of a pile of magazines, or use a flower press if you have one. The flowers should be dry within two or three weeks, unless their heads are very thick. This fascinating and rewarding pass-time need not be confined to wild flowers. Marigolds, Pansies, Anchusa and Verbascum, Nasturtium and Delphinium, Geranium and Clematis, Hellebore and Euphorbia can all be effectively pressed.

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