Sofie Paton-Smith shares her tips on drying flowers.
Thanks to a new generation of floral designers, dried-flower arrangements have come a long way since baskets of statice and helichrysum gathered dust in church halls. These days, brides often ask for aisles to be decorated with sprays of dried grasses and seedheads and their use in bouquets and buttonholes, as well as on wedding tables, is increasing. At home, statement vases of soft feathered grasses make dramatic decorations for a hall or dining room all year round, filling the gaps in the seasons when fresh flowers are hardest to find.
Most surprising is the number of things that can be used when dried. Catkins (picked before they shed their pollen) and grasses of all kinds, but also Virginia creeper, old man’s beard and mimosa, the little button-blooms of which take on a soft and gentle tone when dried. Honesty, or Pope’s money, is an old favourite (rub off the papery covers to reveal the translucent centres), but other seedheads and pods dry beautifully and provide a variety of structural forms: black-eyed Susan, nigella, crocosmia and achillea being only a few examples.
Each subject dries slightly differently, creating a variety of forms, and original colours don’t merely fade, they change entirely (with some exceptions, such as ranunculus, which keeps its hue).
At her home on the Cheshire/Shropshire border, floral designer Sofie Paton-Smith, known for her generous and romantic style, has devoted a large part of the walled garden to growing flowers and plants for drying. Restoration of the garden has been a labour of love, which has taken her and her husband seven years of hard work.
Sofie will be making Christmas decorations for Country Life later this year using garden and foraged plants — if you want to have a go at home, here are the key plants she will be using, with details of how to dry them.
Cut them before they begin to flower, allowing for a decent amount of stalk. You can cut individual heads, with at least 6in of stem, or, if you are planning a big vase, cut whole stems. Stand them up and leave to dry naturally, ideally in a bright place such as a greenhouse, where they will be bleached by the sun. This may take a couple of months.
Immediately after cutting, stand the stems in a vase with an inch or so of water in the bottom, so the flowers remain open as they dry. (Check that the water remains clean and rinse and refill if not.) White varieties dry to brown, but pinks, blues, greens and purples will turn a pretty pale shade. Green bracts produce the best results.
Cut — avoiding rain-damaged petals — with stems a good 6in-7in long. Hang upside down in a slightly darkened, warm, dry area for about two weeks or until completely dry. White dahlias might turn brown. Other shades will surprise you with the ways in which their colours change as they dry.
Hops and vines
Pick when the strings start to dry naturally and lie in a warm, dark room.
Wait until autumn when the fronds have dried and become coppery, then cut them on a dry day, with long stems.
Cut when the seedheads explode and carefully hang upside down to dry in a warm, dry room.
Wait until the seedheads rattle and the stems are dry. Stand them in an empty bucket.
Pampas, garden and wild grasses
Fragile ones are best cut once their stems have dried naturally on the plant and should then be carefully stored, standing in empty buckets or wrapped in tissue.
For the British network of flower farmers, visit www.flowersfromthefarm.co.uk. Follow Sofie Paton-Smith on Instagram @soilandfleurs.