Hello all, and thanks for the opportunity to jump in while my Aunt Arabella takes a well deserved respite at her “little country home”. I doubt she remembers where it all begins and ends, but she has told me she has to put together her equally extensive Christmas card list, so I’m happy to check in with an update on what we’ve been busy with at the Weston House.
As I find it is so important to get the entire family involved in setting the house up for the hoildays, I asked my daughter what she would like to help with. “Elves!” she answered, meaning unpacking the heirloom collection of festive animal-esque figurines and placing them on almost any flat surface. It should be noted that a) half of those naughty noddies are from last year’s January sale at John Lewis, the half that aren’t chipped or, well, too twee for words, and b) she has the heavy hand of a six year old decorator. I heavily edited her work after she went to bed.
The next day we got busy on making wreaths, with which I guarantee your child will love to help.
The first step of this process in drying the flowers you will need. We can discuss the actual construction in another post.
Most of the flowers you will dry require hanging upside down in an airy and warm place, preferably in the dark, but at least in low light. Strong light will bleach out the colours– is that what you want? Fading of pigment is an oxidation chemical reaction, which requires water and light. Flowers of course contain water, which we are going to remove. The light is removed , the water dries up, the reaction stops. Once the water is removed completely, you can reintroduce the dried flower into the light. Allow plenty of room for air circulation between the hanging bunches, as this will aid the drying process and prevent mould forming, but you don’t want a breeze. We are using the closet near the laundry room. The laundry room cupboard is far too humid.
Pick flowers when they are dry, and divide up into small bunches. We found quite a few lingering in the garden. Gently shake flowers to remove any bugs, or let your six year old do an inspection. My girl isn’t squeamish at all. Remove thorns -parent, this is your job – and any damaged leaves or flowers
Tie each with an elastic. Most of the time, the bunches are going to be hung upside down, so you’ll have to source a place for this.
Most flowers will take around two weeks to dry. Test each by flexing the head of the flower – carefully. If it gives, then it is not yet ready.
Okay, here are the exceptions. Although it sounds contradictory, some flowers need to be dried upright in water. Hydrangea, Lady’s Mantle and Gypsophila should have their stems placed in a vase with about an inch of water in the bottom. They will siphon up fluids, while drying out on top. By the time the flowers have used all the water, they will have dried successfully. Another oddball is Cape Gold Daisies, or Geelsewejaartjie, also called straw daisies. Don’t pick these little sweethearts too late — take them inside when the outer two or three rings of petals have developed. If the centre of the flower is on view, you’ve missed the window.
Now to hang and start the drying process. Find an old cotton sheet, and cut 3 or 4 inch slits here and there. Once you hang the flowers from the rack, you’ll be covering them up with this, ghost-style. Make sure the sheet won’t scrape the floor, as the point is to have air circulating fully.
Your flowers are bundled and your drying location selected. Simply hang your bundles on your drying rack, rod or line. My daughter and I used an old tie-rack of my husband’s that, if memory serves, was a Christmas gift from his boss about ten years ago, and have never really been fully put to use.
If your flower stems are sturdy, use plastic clothes-pegs to secure at the rubberbanded location. You can also use paper clips (goodness, do those come in handy around the house!) and bend into little S-hooks, and then just hang over the rack, tie-rack or hastily-strung up wire.
Now, wait about two weeks. Check the dryness by doing the snap-test: most flowers are dry enough when the end of the stalk snaps off cleanly. The stem inside should be dry to the touch and sight.
Snip off your rubber bands and separate each individual flower. Trim off any unsavoury bits, and you are ready to make a wreath, which we will discuss next time.
Until then, I’m distracting my pint-sized decorator by making more S-hooks than we will ever use. Keeps her away from the elves.
Francesca Biddle Weston