I don't just use fresh flowers for creating displays in the house. I seem to have an ever-growing collection of dried flowers and seed heads - giant, starry Allium christophii heads, sculptural opium poppies and the balloon-shaped heads of Nigella (love-in-a-mist). The good thing about them is that you can just chuck them on the compost heap if you tire of them or they get really dusty and grab yourself some fresh ones. Alliums come back every year and are best left to dry on the plant and then harvested before they get too weather-beaten. Poppies self-seed so you can have fresh seed heads each year and once you've grown the prolific self-sower love-in-a-mist, you'll be hard-pressed to get rid of it from the garden. Don't worry, it's easy to weed out or move seedlings if they pop up in the wrong place.
Alliums look fabulous just on their own in a single-stem vase or vintage glass bottle. You can even suspend them from the ceiling at Christmas-time, spraying them silver or gold if you're feeling adventurous. You'll find information on drying seed heads here.
I also grow a range of flowers that are suitable for drying. My favourites are Helichrysum or 'everlasting flowers'. They come in a wide range of colours and retain their colour and shape perfectly. You can use them as fresh flowers, dry them with the stems for display in a vase or use them for decorating dried flower wreaths or for adding a splash of colour to your Christmas wreath. I'm a fan of having wreaths on the wall throughout the year.
The best flowers for drying are those that retain their colour once dried. Varieties with thin petals and single flowers will dry quickly and successfully. Examples are larkspur, feverfew, sea lavender (Statice) and winged everlasting (Amobium alatum). Grasses like bunny's tails (Lagurus ovatus) also dry beautifully.
How to dry flowers:
Bundle together small bunches (about 8-10 stems) and tie them at the bottom of the stems using a piece of garden twine about 20 - 30 cm long.
Make a loop at the other end of your twine and use it to hang the flowers upside-down somewhere warm and dry in the dark. I use what used to be an airing cupboard but you could use a garage or something similar.
Leave until all parts of the flower are completely dry (usually about 1-2 weeks depending on the flowers used).
September, one of my favourite months in the cutting garden and a time to catch up with all those jobs that there has been less time for during the school holidays. I've been weeding, deadheading, watering and taking out some of the plants that have seen better days like the sweetpeas and wild carrot.
Recent days have definitely aquired a little nip of autumn chill in the mornings and evenings. I quite relish the thought of donning a cardigan after the hot summer days and the whole garden does seem to breathe a sigh of relief now it's not quite so hot.
I'm continuing to harvest jugfuls of flowers including large numbers of richly-coloured dahlias, gorgeous Panicum grass 'Frosted Explosion' with its 'firework' seed heads, purple Zinnias, electric-blue larkspur, Cosmos in shades of dark and bubblegum pink , gorgeous blue Chinese forget-me-nots, dark-red Scabious, lime-green Nicotiana and classic blue cornflowers.
While there are still an abundance of flowers to harvest, it is also a time of planning for next year. September is the ideal time to sow some hardy annuals ready for early flowering next year. I'll sow pots of larkspur, cornflowers, marigolds and Eschscholzia in the potting shed and keep them over winter before planting out in the spring. You can also direct-sow outdoors if you have space in your cutting beds (I don't have any space until the first frosts kill everything off so prefer to plant in pots).
Autumn is of course, also the time when spring bulbs start appearing in shops and this year I have lots of space for rows of bulbs up at my allotment. I grow them in the cutting beds at home in amongst the dahlias but have run out of space so I'm really excited at the prospect of planting even more tulips along with daffodils which I haven't grown a lot of thus far. I often wait until the tulip bulbs are reduced in price in November as they don't mind being planted quite late in the year. If you plant them before Christmas, you'll still have a good display come spring.
Winter is approaching - we've had the first frosts which have blackened the Dahlia foliage and killed off the half-hardy Zinnias. My Cosmos seem to have escaped this fate owing to their height (over 6 ft this year!) and are still in full flower.
Once dahlias have been blackened by frost, it's time to cut them down and either dig them up for storage inside over the winter or to apply a thick mulch to protect them. Annuals which have given up the ghost should be removed and composted and empty beds given a covering of organic matter - compost or manure. It can be left on the soil surface for the worms to drag down and enrich the soil over the winter. Where I have planted out biennials, I just mulch around them.
As an avid watcher of predicted overnight temperatures, I dug up my frost-tender Chrysanthemums before any danger of frost. Late-flowering Chrysanthemums like the elegant 'Avignon Pink' don't start flowering until the end of October and will flower up until Christmas. You can either grow them in pots which can be brought in under cover or plant out over the summer and then carefully dig them up with an intact root ball and place them in large pots in a greenhouse/conservatory or potting shed. I find them really useful additions to fresh Christmas wreaths as they are very long-lasting flowers once cut.
I sowed some hardy '10 week' Stocks and Chinese Forget-me-nots late in June and these are still full of flower, so along with some Borage and Feverfew still in flower, a suprisingly summery jug of flowers can be picked even in November.
Viburnum tinus is a shrub that is overlooked for a lot of the year but come October/November it is flooded in fragrant white flowers. These are invaluable just when the herbs that I use for foliage/filler material in a vase (like Borage, Mint and Feverfew) are coming to an end. The baton is handed to this evergreen shrub for most of my winter flower displays and trimmings look good in a fresh Christmas wreath.
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