Drying Time Again


April 17, 1994|By MIKE KLINGAMAN

It's raining in the basement, but no one is getting wet. That's because it's pouring petals from the blossoms hanging there.

We're having flower showers, and expecting more of same.

Hundreds of dried flowers, also called everlastings, cover the cellar ceiling, where they've been hanging since last year's harvest. Bouquets of statice, lavender and yarrow dangle in midair, a rainbow of color suspended by twine and rubber bands.

The plant material belongs to my wife, who grows it for her natural crafts. There are plenty of flowers left from past cuttings.

There would be dozens more if I'd stop barging into them.

Every trip downstairs finds me stumbling into a catacomb of JTC cockscomb, or a curtain of Chinese lanterns. Stooping doesn't help; the flowers are everywhere. Last night I walked into a veil of baby's breath, brushing it aside like cobwebs. Blossoms flew in all directions. Some landed on the cat; the rest, in my hair.

I staggered from the basement looking like an aging hippie.

These run-ins with flowers are becoming more frequent as I spend more time in the cellar, tending the spring seedlings growing there. The young plants are flourishing beneath fluorescent lights that are suspended just below the old dried bouquets.

The everlastings are among the tallest of my new seedlings. In fact, not two feet separate the new plants from the old ones dangling above them. Is it my imagination, or are these plants straining to touch last year's crop of flowers?

I haven't seen the basement ceiling in years. I brush petals from my hair like dandruff. And I'm learning to walk hunched over, like Groucho Marx.

My wife's advice is: Quit griping. She says my problems are a small price to pay for raising dried flowers, which she weaves into wreaths.

Many flowers can be preserved, providing you have the tools and the time. We don't fool with desiccants or a microwave oven. The flowers we raise for crafts are those that dry naturally. Trim the blossoms, string them up in a cool, dark room and let the flowers age gracefully. Cheap and easy. Mother Nature does the rest.

Nor are these flowers especially difficult to grow. Yarrow, Chinese lanterns and baby's breath are perennials requiring little or no maintenance. Once planted in well-limed soil, baby's breath should never be disturbed. However, yarrow's roots should be divided every three years to ensure production of the striking yellow flowers on strong, erect stems.

Chinese lanterns produce large, papery orange pods that are popular in many dried arrangements. But the plants' aggressive roots will take over the garden if left unchecked.

Favorite annuals include strawflowers, which come in a wide range of colors and bear dozens of flowers per plant; statice, the florist's friend, with its dainty clustered heads of blue, pink and white; and globe amaranth, a rugged, handsome plant with white and purple flowers and deep green foliage.

All are easily grown from seed. Many of the plants are also available at garden centers.

Everlastings are virtually pest-free, except for garden slugs, which like to snack on unprotected seedlings in early spring.

The trick is knowing when to pick the flowers, most of which continue to unfurl after harvest. (Yarrow is the exception.) So gather blossoms before they open completely.

Harvest flowers when they are dry; late morning is best. Avoid picking after heavy rains, lest the blossoms turn moldy inside.

Most flowers change color while drying. Red blossoms darken, and whites turn to beige. Colors soften despite the gardener's best efforts. Some flowers fade less than others. Blue, pink and orange everlastings seem to hold their colors best.

Hang flower heads upside-down, in loose bunches, tied with rubber bands. Choose a dark room: Flowers fade rapidly when dried in bright light. Speed is crucial when drying plant materials. To promote the process, maintain good air circulation at all times.

Our flowers have been dry for months. I know. I've been picking them out of my hair since Christmas.

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