Many flowers and foliage can be dried and used for arrangements. The colorful arrangements used at Mount Vernon, Colonial Williamsburg, and Monticello during the winter are made from dried flowers, pods and leaves. You have to examine them closely to discover they are not fresh.
Almost all these flowers can be grown in the average garden, and can be dried in a variety of ways. The big three flowers for drying are Celosia (cockscomb), strawflowers, and Statice. Others include Acroclinium, Bells of Ireland, Honesty, Chinese Lanterns and Globe Amaranth.
They can be dried by hanging them in a warm, dark, well-ventilated room, attic or barn. It usually takes two to three weeks. Pressing works well for flowers and foliage in a flattened form. Place the material between several layers of newspaper and weigh them down with books or bricks on boards place over the papers. It takes about three weeks to dry most plant materials.
Many flowers retain their natural color and form best when dried by the sand and box method. The slica gel method is somewhat similar.
Plants contain 50 to 95 percent water. The water must be withdrawn without distorting the shape or destroying the appearence of the flowers, foliage and fruits. Not all plants can be dried.
Water loss cause all plant parts to shrink, so that a supersized flower or leaf becomes moderate-sized when dried. You'll need more dried plants to create a design with dried flowers than with fresh material.
All surface should be blemish free. This means no insect bites or diseased areas. When dried, blemished plants show their damaged areas far more than do fresh materials.
A good way to build an inventory of dry materials for arrangements is to grow most of the flowers in the garden and to collect dry materials where you find them. Some of the best plants for drying can be found on city lots. Dock, for example, is a weed that grows two or three feet tall and has handsome seed heads, rich-brown in color.
Look also for sumac, seed clusters, oak foliage, cones and acorns, as well as mosses and lichens. Withered twig, branches and driftwood may be worth collecting.
The material should be in excellent condition. The arrangements can be no better than the material used. Gather twice the amount of plant parts you think you need to compensate for loss in the drying process.
There is no one time of the year to begin gathering materials for drying. Some should be gathered and stored every month. Don't wait until the late autumn to start collecting and then discover you have missed the bouquet.