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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.

dried flowers
Dried seed heads & autumnal wreath

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.

allium seed head
Allium christophii seed head

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.

Dried flower wreath
Dried Flower Wreath with Helichrysum flowers

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).

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Although I always find something to harvest and bring indoors during the winter months, there's no denying that there is a sharp decline in cutting opportunities once the first frosts have struck.

A sharp frost truly spells the end of the half-hardy annuals and dahlias and, while some hardy annuals can soldier on (I have still been cutting some late-sown cornflowers, chinese forget-me-nots and marigolds), they slow down in the face of prolonged cold weather. Now is the time to remove them to the compost heap and mulch the cutting beds with manure to add nutrients for future flowers next year.

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Half- hardy Cosmos with the first frost

These next few months are a time for reflection and forward planning. I have some hardy annuals overwintering in my potting shed, ready for planting out next spring. I've potted up some spring bulbs in large pots for early spring flowers to display by the back door. I always plant miniature Iris reticulata and crocuses in small terracotta pots to bring inside the house during January and February. I have also planted some quick-flowering Paperwhite Narcissi which I think may not be quite ready in time for Christmas but should flower soon after.

Dried flowers from the cutting garden
Dried flowers from the cutting garden - hydrangeas, dahlias and hyssop

I like to dry flowers throughout the summer for display over the winter. Hydrangeas turn lovely shades of lime-green and dark pink, alliums produce very beautiful seed heads. I was very pleased with my experiments at drying some dark red ball dahlias which kept their structure and turned a lovely deep shade as you can see in the photo above.

There are still fresh flowers to cut such as tender, late-flowering Chrysanthemums which are seeking protection in my allotment polytunnel. I like to team these with dried Hydrangea heads or use them with the dark green foliage and scented white flowers of Viburnum tinus.

Chrysanthemum and hydrangea
Chyrsanthemum 'Avignon Pink' with dried Hydrangea heads.

Chrysanthemums come in some very beautiful forms and follow on nicely from Dahlias for cutting right into December. They have a fabulously long vase life, lasting about 2 weeks. I often use them for a splash of colour on a Christmas wreath (if the moss base is kept moist). I am a particular fan of the spider Chrysanthemum 'Tarantula Red' and the pretty pale pink 'Avignon Pink'.

Spider chyrsanthemem
Chrysanthemum 'Tarantula Red'
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Winter is a time to take stock. Once you've dug up or mulched your dahlias, planted your spring bulbs and cut down and composted the annuals, you have time to assess your garden space. Look back at what worked this year and what you would change.

Hellebores
Hellebores

Although things have slowed down, there are still treasures to be discovered in the garden. Winter-flowering shrubs really do come into their own at this time of year and many of them are highly scented. A few sprigs of Viburnum bodnatense brought into the house will scent a whole room.

We have a lovely winter flowering cherry (Prunus subhirtilla autumnalis) at the front of the house which flowers throughout autumn and winter. A few cut branches brought into the house when in bud will gradually unfurl to reveal pretty cherry blossom flowers.

This year, my Hellebores have been early to flower, starting back in November. They are one of my favourite winter flowers and can be relied upon to flower usually from December/January all the way into March. Every cutting garden should include them.

Paperwhite Narcissi
Paperwhite Narcissi

If, like me, you planted some paperwhite narcissi in the autumn, they should now be ready to bring into the house. A big pot of these bulbs makes an elegant and fragrant display. Forced Hyacinths are another option. Mine sadly have to be relegated to the table in our courtyard garden as their scent is a bit too strong and seems to give me a splitting headache.

Christmas Wreaths

I hosted my first ever wreath-making workshop this December and it was such a fun, festive day. Some lovely friends attended and we used foraged materials - Holly, Ivy, Yew, Christmas tree trimmings, Rosehips, Sage, Virburnum tinus, Rosemary, Clematis seed heads, Catkins, Bay, Mistletoe and Alder cones to make our wreaths.

Natural Christmas Wreath
Natural Christmas Wreath

We used grapevine wreath bases as they are a natural material and are perfect for poking in stems of cut material. We wired bunches of foliage to the wreath and then added highlights of rosehips etc.. to fill in any gaps or to hide any wire left exposed.

Top tips:

  • Attach your hanging ribbon at the start.
  • Wire everything in tightly and overlap successive bunches of foliage so that each bunch hides the wired-in stems of the preceeding bunch.
  • Attach your foliage bunches so that stems all face in one direction around the wreath.

Even the most craft-phobic of us were really pleased with the results (pictured below) and surprised at how artistic they could be. I'm not sure if the mulled wine actually helped us but it certainly added to the festive spirit.

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