Everlasting Color

These Virginia gardeners show you how dried flowers can capture the beauty of the season.
Ellen Ruoff Riley

By October, we think of the garden in past tense. The imminent arrival of frosty weather leads us to believe that this year's blooming endeavors will soon be nothing more than memories. But everlasting (or dried) flowers can capture summer's warmth and radiance in each preserved bloom.

In Raphine, Virginia, a lofty barn nestled into the Shenandoah Valley's rolling hills harbors a vibrant tapestry of dried flowers, harvested throughout the summer from the surrounding gardens. Don Haynie and Tom Hamlin, business partners and owners of Buffalo Springs Herb Farm, practice the simple technique of air-drying flowers to create stunning wreaths, door swags, and baskets of blooms. "With everlastings, your garden is alive year-round. In the winter when the garden is asleep, you still have the flowers you've preserved," Don says.

Visiting the Farm
Buffalo Springs Herb Farm: 7 Kennedy-Wade's Mill Loop, Raphine, VA 24472. For more information call (540) 348-1083, or visit www.buffaloherbs.com.

Hours: Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Wednesday-Saturday April-December and 1 p.m.-5 p.m. Sunday September-December.

Activities: Buffalo Springs Herb Farm offers luncheons, garden walks, workshops, and lectures.

 

Certain Success
Plan next year's garden around flowers that dry well. The choices include annuals, perennials, and even a few roadside finds that make good filler.

The drying technique is easy and requires minimal space or materials. "Cut your flowers when they're in full bloom," Don recommends. "You want to pick them on a dry day, after 10 a.m. so the blossoms aren't holding excess moisture."

Remove foliage from the stems, and gather the flowers loosely. Fasten them with a rubber band, and then hang them upside-down out of direct sunlight. "We dry ours in a well-ventilated barn, but a guestroom is also an ideal place, particularly if it's air-conditioned," Don says. Humidity and excessive heat are not kind to drying blooms. "Air-conditioning draws the moisture out of the blossoms slowly. A hot attic dries flowers too quickly. Slow drying is much better," he says.

 

Colorful Arrangements
Wreaths are a superb way to use everlasting flowers. They can be large, elegant rings packed with innumerable blossoms or simple vine circles adorned with only one kind. Put a wreath on an interior door, place it above a mantel, or lay it flat on a dining table for a seasonal centerpiece. Hang a small version in a window, on a chair back, or even around a doorknob. This timeless shape adapts effortlessly to a range of sizes, blooms, and styles.

Layering bunches of blooms in a basket is a simple, no-fail way to enjoy everlastings. Find a long, shallow basket, such as those used to harvest vegetables. Choose bunches of assorted flowers, varying blossom sizes, shapes, and colors for an interesting grouping. Include a bundle of dried foliage, such as silver king artemisia, to complete the collection. In arranging lingo, this is called filler. Its neutral shade helps the vibrant and varied floral patchwork look like each bloom was destined to be with the others. Use the filler as the bottom layer, add the largest flowers next, and then place smaller ones on top.

Whether you grow your own or purchase a few bunches, everlasting flowers deliver rich, natural color. Use them in simple decorative ways throughout your home, and consider their great gift potential. Best of all, dried flowers keep your garden from becoming merely a memory.

"Everlasting Color" is from the October 2003 issue of Southern Living.