Weddings, birthdays and anniversaries - not to mention Mother's Day and Valentine's Day - just wouldn't be the same without flowers. One of the very nice things about them is they can last months - even years - if properly preserved.

As early as the beginning of the 18th century in America, and for centuries before that in Europe, flowers were dried to provide colorful winter arrangements. With today's methods, it is possible to dry many kinds so well they can hardly be distinguished from fresh ones.

The methods are easy and the results may surprise you if you have not tried flower preserving before. Remember that the flowers must be in perfect condition. The drying process does not improve them, but merely keeps them as they are.

When possible, it is a good idea to grow your own. The best can be picked when they first bloom. Those that have been in bloom for a few days do not retain their colors nearly as well.

All surfaces of the flowers should be blemish-free: no insect bites or diseased spots. When dried, plants show their imperfections more intensely than when they are fresh.

Some flowers will air dry when hung in a dark, dry, cool, well-ventilated room. These include Baby's Breath, Bells of Ireland, Blue Sage, feathered and crested Celosia (Cockscomb), Chinese Lanterns, Globe Amaranth, Honesty, Job's Tears, Larkspur, Queen Anne's Lace, Statice latifolia, Goldenrod and Yarrow.

For air-drying, cut the flowers around midday, when their mositure content is low, and strip off the leaves. Tie them in small bunches of 3 or 4 and hang them upside down. If a lighted room is used, the color will be bleached.

Some specialists believe Queen Anne's Lace, Golden Rod and Cockscomb show the best results when they are dried standing upright, with their stems buried in sand, in a dark, dry, cool room.

Most flowers should be picked when fully open, but strawflowers are an exception. They should be picked when about two-thirds open.

After drying, store the flowers in a dark, dry room, until you are ready to arrange them. Flowers that are dried upright should be stored upright.

For freshly collected foliage material, a water-glycerin solution can be used as a preservative. The formula, absorbed by the leaves, consists of one part glyerin to two parts water.

Remove lower leaves from the branches and split or smash the bottoms of the stems to increase the area and rate of absorption. Branches should stand in the solution until they show the right color and texture in one to three weeks. Then store the foliage in a dry place for future use.

For ivy and other vine-type foliage use a solution of one part glycerin to one part water. Submerge the vines in the solution.

The best method for drying most flowers is with silica gel (sold as Flower Dri and available at most garden centers). Complete, easy to follow directions come with the container. Flowers that can be dried easily with silica gel include Coral Bells, Sunburst Dahlias, Daisies, Delphiniums, Feverfew, Gloriosa, Hollyhock, Larkspur, French and American marigolds, pansies, roses, Tithonia, Violas and Zinnias.