Living plants are by their very nature, ephemeral; never remaining in a static condition – their one aim to reproduce, to multiply. We prolong the usefulness edible crops in many ways, preserving or freezing fruit and vegetables, but for aeons of time, mankind has also made use of the properties of flowers and woody materials.
Take willow, which can be woven into baskets and platters, or a living hedge. Or flowers, some edible, many medicinal, most highly decorative … but when utilitarian needs are met, turn your attention to their aesthetic qualities. You might be amazed at what you can do with what you grow, from weaving cloth and dyeing it to decorating our homes when fresh flowers are out of the question.
Herbaceous plants that can be cut and dried bring delight in the darker months of Autumn and Winter, but need to be harvested now. Lavender is easy – indeed sun-loving semi-woody herbs are amongst the most successful; many a dried-flower protagonist will include a cutting border within their plot for fresh flowers, actually forgetting that they many will serve a dual purpose. Amongst the plants I grow – introduced as plug plants, or grown from cuttings or seed – are: achillea, alchemillia, artemesia, feverfew, catmint, hydrangea, marjoram, verbena bonariesis and annual cornflower; I leave this until last for blue is such a fugitive colour and the most difficult to retain once dried. Evergreens to try include box (buxus), bay (laurus) and the silver-leaved sage and santolina (cotton lavender). Method of drying: cut on a sunny day before when any dew has evaporated from flowers and leaves; either stand upright in a cool dry atmosphere out of direct sunlight, or encase in brown paper bags and hang upside down, again in a cool place.
Other plants such are cardoons (artichokes), carnations, peonies and roses can also be dried but require more specialised treatment. They are dramatic and well worth the effort of catching them at just the right stage of growth. For an equally oppulent effect, think seedpods and seedheads as well as flowers: I just love angelica, foxglove, honesty, nigella, opium poppy and rue – and, garden philistine that I am, WEEDS, particularly teasel (leave all of these to desiccate on the plant before cutting). And don’t forget grasses, and twigs – corkscrew hazel as well as willow. Spend a rainy afternoon trawling the Dobies catalogue for possibilities.
I could not close without showing this lovely planter taken today at the RHS Tatton Park Flower Show as it shows cornflowers and calendula offset by luscious salad plants – a perfect mini potager – and all seeds available through the Dobies catalogue. The Show takes place from Wednesday 20th July until Saturday 24th; there’s so much to see in the most beautiful parkland setting.