Drying Nigella

As we reach the heady height of English flower season, now is the perfect time to begin to dry flowers. Decorations made from dried and preserved flowers are making a come back. A new school of dried flower enthusiasts are reinventing the way we treat dried flowers and modern Christmas decorations and table centrepieces incorporating dried flowers are set to be big news for Christmas 2017.

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Floral artist and wreath maker Bex Partridge from Botanical Tales has been drying and preserving flowers for many years. She has been making her own Christmas wreaths for years and is now producing ever-lasting seasonal wreaths to adorn the walls of homes. Bex is passionate about living seasonally and works primarily with natural, sustainable materials. “Dried flowers form a beautiful botanical record of the year,” says Bex, who grows flowers in her garden and allotment to dry as well as foraging for wildflowers in the hedgerows. “One of the great joys of drying flowers is that you have to really slow down and take notice of the beauty that’s around you at any given moment.”

Here is a quick master guide to drying and preserving flowers that Bex has written for us to share with you.

Picking flowers to dry and preserve

The best time to pick flowers for drying is when they are at their best – in the morning after the dew has gone is the best time. Always try to avoid the hottest part of the day as that can cause flowers stress.

How to dry flowers

Ideally you should pick flowers when they are midway through their blooming cycle. They will continue to open slightly as they dry so it’s important they have some growth left to avoid the petals falling or drooping. For plants such as larkspur, with several flower heads on each stem, the best time is when half the flowers are in bloom, leaving the top half with closed buds.

Three ways to dry flowers

There are many ways to dry flowers, but here are the three methods I’ve had the most success with:

1. Hanging flowers out to dry

Probably the simplest (and most photogenic) method, with reliable results. Simply combine your flowers into small bunches, removing all foliage from the main stems, tie the base of the stems with a length of string and hang the flowers upside down in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks. Hanging the flowers upside down means they should maintain their upright structure with the stems remaining rigid.

Best for: Lavender, larkspur, achillea, roses, cornflower, strawflower, nigella, hydrangea and most foliage.

hanging drying flowers

2. Drying flowers using silica gel

I tend to use silica for more delicate, single flowers. Silica works by drawing out moisture from the flowers, leaving them dry and with their original form and colour. Half fill a Tupperware box with silica gel then insert the flowers with the heads facing down on to the silica. Very gently build up more silica around the flower head, taking care not to move or damage the petals. Leave for anything from three days to a week, depending on the size of the flower and its moisture content (as a guide, pansies take no time but lilac takes a little longer). Carefully remove the flowers from the silica and brush very gently with a soft paintbrush to remove any stray beads. Make sure you use fine silica as the flowers can be damaged by silica beads.

Best for: pansies, daisies, lilac.

3. Drying flowers in a vase

This is a very simple method of drying flowers but it doesn’t always deliver the best results, however you don’t have a lot to lose if it doesn’t work. When you receive a beautiful bunch of flowers, you will want to enjoy them for as long as possible rather than immediately hanging them out to dry. By leaving them in a vase to dry, you experience the full beauty of the bouquet as you watch it slowly fade. I find there is something quite magical about a slightly fading bouquet but you need to watch out in case the flowers begin to droop. Changing the water regularly to stop it getting murky will help, as will regularly trimming the ends. This works better best if the bouquet is not too tightly packed together otherwise there is a risk of the flowers going mouldy (botrytis).

Best for: bouquets of flowers that you wish to enjoy to their fullest! Bouquets with darker flowers such as Summer Romanic Bouquet and Seasonal Hot Pink Bouquet tend to dry best using this method.

How to dry seed heads & grasses

I absolutely love seed heads and grasses – for me they are the unsung heroes of the garden come the Winter months, bringing gorgeous textures and tones to wreaths and displays. You can collect seed heads and seeds at the same time. Simply cut off the seed heads at a good length, wrap them in a plastic bag and hang upside down for a few weeks until the seeds have fallen out. At this point you can remove the bag, collect the seeds and you will be left with the empty seed heads. The only real exception is nigella, which I tend to pick while the seed heads are still green, hanging them upside down and leaving them to dry out as you would with flowers. You won’t be able to collect seeds from these, but they will maintain their beautiful purplish hue, which makes such a wonderful addition to floral displays.

The beauty of grasses and seed heads

How to store dried and preserved flowers

Dried flowers can be very brittle and are susceptible to damage by the elements. So it’s important to take good care of them once the drying process has finished. Wrap them in soft tissue paper and store in a cardboard box or cupboard drawer in a cool, dry environment. To avoid excess movement and touch, it’s best to label each parcels so you remember what you’ve stored where – something I’m still not very good at!

If you follow us – @therealflowerco or @botanicaltales – on Instagram you might have come across a sneak peek of Bex’s recent visit to our farm. We’re working on an exciting new project together for our London flower shop in Chelsea Green and we’re hoping to share more details with you soon.

We’d also love to hear your thoughts on dried flower decorations. Is there anything you’d like to know more about or see a tutorial for? Do drop us an email at info@realflowers.co.uk with your views and ideas.

We’ve just introduced a great value Wild Flower Posy of the week and Wildflower Meadow Bunch to our English Flower Collection. Both bouquets are made using the very best freshly picked seasonal flowers from our sustainable English flower farm and both will provide you with an abundance of seasonal English flowers that are perfect to dry. Our London florists in Chelsea also sells a wide selection of seasonal flowers by the stem. Catherine and the team in the shop will be delighted to offer advice on the best stems to choose for drying.