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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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My obsession with growing my own flowers has extended to preserving some of them in order to enjoy them throughout the year - a thought that is especially welcome as yesterday we woke to a frosty garden. A hard frost signals the end of the tender dahlias, cosmos and zinnias that I've been cutting for months. They are so beautiful that it seems a shame to not enjoy them for longer.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower picture using Astrantia, Roses, Rose petals, Forget-me-nots and Cornflower petals.

My favourite method of preserving their fleeting beauty is to press them in a traditional flower press and display them in a modern glass frame. You could group your flowers to make a picture, such as my butterfly below, arrange them in a pretty pattern or just use one type of flower - the possibilities are endless. I've had so much fun making them that I've started selling my makes on Etsy.

Pressed flower butterfly
Butterfly made from real pressed flowers and petals

Pressing flowers

I press them for between 2-4 weeks in some large flower presses that I bought online. I started off with my six-year-old daughter's mini press but she was none too pleased and told me to get my own! Ensure that the cardboard used in your press is flat and not corrugated or you will leave an imprint in your flowers. Blotting paper is preferable to paper towels which again may leave an imprint.

Flowers from the press
Flowers fresh from the press

Bulky flowers such as roses and dahlias will not press well but I like to just use the petals. Strong, bold colours should retain their colour well after pressing but some, like blue cornflowers, do lose their colour as they age, often turning white in the press. Choose flowers with strong colours which you have observed keep their colour as they age in the vase. Good candidates are dark rose petals, larskpur which keep their colour beautifully, vibrant pelargonium petals, buttercups, marigolds and hydrangea petals which dry to give a lovely, antiquey hue.

I have had some success with retaining the colour of blue cornflowers and other flowers prone to fading, such as Iris reticulata, in a press that you use in the microwave - I got mine in the children's section of Toys R Us! I find this method good for flowers which don't retain their colour well with traditional presses but find that it can give the dried flowers a more wrinkled appearance over time and you have to be careful not to use a high setting and scorch the petals.

Once you start pressing flowers, you'll find lots of uses for them. I like making birthday and christmas cards with mine and have even filled some glass baubles with dried flower petals for hanging on this year's tree!

Christmas cards
Christmas cards using pressed flowers

Drying flowers

I've really grown fond of everlasting flowers such as Helichrysum bracteatum and Acroclinum. They look nice freshly picked and added to vases or you can dry them for using in wreath-making. These flowers keep their shape and colour really well and are easy to dry. Cut them before they are fully open as they will continue to open once cut. Tie them in small bunches with string. Hang upside down in a dry, dark cupboard for a week or so until they feel papery to the touch. They make nice floral wreaths for indoor decoration and look effective mixed with dried seed pods from poppies or love-in-a-mist. I use a hot glue gun to attach the flowers and seed heads to natural grapevine wreaths.

Autumnal wreath
Autumnal wreath with seed pods

 

 

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