The Joys of Autumn

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I was smitten with the love of dried flower bouquets many years ago when we visited historic Williamsburg, VA. Huge floral arrangements served as centerpieces in the beautiful old houses. How did they do it? I bought one of their books on the subject, and from there it was all uphill.

I learned about silica gel, wiring flower stems, and all the varieties needed for such bouquets. I’ve never come close to those magnificent bouquets, but what fun I’ve had along the way.

After just a few sessions with silica gel, I knew air-drying was a better method for me. Raising the flowers was the first step. At first, I raised my own plants through trial and error. My staples were cockscomb, statice, gomphrena, and strawflower. I started out slow, and through the years I advanced to buying plants wholesale. Buying wholesale means you have more than you want, but you get the best plants and the colors you want. Some Septembers there were bushel baskets of globe amaranth to be stripped, bundled, and hung for drying. Rubber bands and paper clips are the best method, and hanging in an attic or closet is good. When we visited a wholesaler in Ohio, we noted he had ropes hanging in the barn. Each rope was covered with flowers, drying in the warm air. I tried the garage, but the window let in too much light. The potting shed didn’t work too well, either. The walk-in attic was just right, though, and all the closets were soon full.

The question becomes, what do you do with all of those flowers? For a few years I sold buckets of fresh flowers to a restaurant. I attended craft shows; I did well in some and not so well in others. I made wreaths and arrangements, however it became obvious at the apple festival that buyers were happier with just a bunch of flowers for three dollars. The big heads of cockscombs were favorites.

After a foot injury, my flower hobby took a nosedive. It went from the mountain to the plateau. But at this stage of life I like the plateau and enjoy bringing flowers in all summer and hanging the bundles on hooks in the utility room. Within a few days, they can be moved to a dry basement so that more bunches can be dried. Autumn is the time for the pleasant task of putting things together, for myself or for gifts. (No more craft shows, thank goodness.)

When blue statice fails, I can rely on feverfew. No cockscomb this year, sadly, but the variegated grass dries beautifully and adds a soft, green look. The annual poppy seed head is lovely, as is the green (before it turns to silver) money plant. Timing is important. Artemesia must be cut just when the seed heads develop.

Baby’s breath is great fresh, but dried it shrivels up to nothing. Pearly everlasting takes its place as a small, white flower. Lavender is perfect in a fresh bouquet, but lacks something when dried. However, blue larkspur dries beautifully, and is a good substitute.

There are techniques to be learned for making wreaths, and there are all kinds. A few good books, some supplies, and you are ready to create. I never cared much for a glue gun, but it has its place. When I have wired my little bunches of flowers on the wreath form and the last bunch with its stems seems awkward, I reach for the glue gun.

Then there is the glycerin process. I have had some success with glycerin. One year when visiting in Florida, I admired the large magnolia leaves. All the Christmas magazines displayed magnolia leaves as part of holiday decor. Northern magnolia leaves are smaller — at least, that was my experience. But they work. Magnolia leaves turn a lovely shade of brown when processed, but are so pliable and supple. Then I discovered floral dye, just a little bit of green dye, plus a surfactant produced beauties. (Nobody said this was a cheap hobby.) The beech tree limbs from my back yard were also good in glycerin. I could process branches with leaves in a few days. The method varies. I used 1 part glycerin, 2 parts hot water, combine, then cool. The leaves will go fast; branches take longer.

From an old ledger, I noted that autumn’s bright leaves may be preserved also. The writer’s method was to press the leaves with a warm iron, then soak them in a bath of 1 part glycerin to 9 parts water. When soaked, dry between blotters, and they will remain flexible indefinitely.

I enjoy a vase of fresh flowers on my kitchen table, but when summer is over then a glass of dried blue statice and white strawflowers lasts for weeks before I tire of it.

Also, I look forward to decorating with my glycerined material!

Photo by Fotolia/laurha