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GARDENING Harvest in the flower garden

Outdoor Living
Harvest in the flower garden

Patsy O'Brien

Autumn is the time to harvest the fruits of the flower garden as well as those of the vegetable plot and orchard. Bouquets of everlasting and dried flowers around the home brighten the dark winter days and many varieties of plants are suitable for drying and including in dried-flower arrangements.
Principal among these is Helichrysum bracteatum or Starflower. This is a native of Australia, so it likes a sunny spot.  It will grow in a wide variety of soils to a height of about 80cm and comes in a range of sparkling colours from cream to salmon, tangerine, dusky pink and plum. The blossoms retain their colours throughout the year and they are easily grown from seed in March and planted out in May.
If the plants are pinched out when young the plants will branch, producing more flowers. When the blooms do come it is best to pick them on a warm sunny morning after the dew has dried. Cut the flowers before they are fully open, as they will continue to do this as they dry. 
Choose individual flowers and cut them with only 2-3 cms of stem as new buds emerge from the lower leaf stalks and these will be lost if the whole stem is severed. The plants will continue to produce buds until the first frost. The flowers can be threaded on to florist’s wire or strong cotton yarn and hung in bunches to dry for a few weeks. They can then be arranged in vases or inserted into oasis using florists’ wire. I like to thread them on to cotton yarn and hang them in large bunches from the beams in my kitchen.
There is a wide selection of plants suitable for drying, and these include Helipterum (Roseum), Statice, Lavender, Honesty, Artemisia, Yarrow, Hydrangea (the dark purple varieties look best) and the ornamental grasses.
The dense colourful heads of Yarrow (Achillea roseum) and Golden Yarrow dry well and hold their colour. Yarrow, Hydrangea, Bells of Ireland, Celosia and Gysophila can best be dried by stripping the lower stems of leaves and placing upright in a vase with 4cms water, which is then left to evaporate.
Ornamental grass varieties, such as oats and squirrel-tail grass, as well as Statice and Salvia can be cut in a small bunch, the heads placed in a paper bag and dried upside down in a warm dry room.
Seed heads of Oriental Poppies, Love in a Mist (Nigella), Fennel and thistle varieties can be dried in bunches upside down as for the grasses.  (This is also the method for drying and saving seeds.  Seeds that fall out in the bag can be collected, labelled and stored for propagating.)
Including flowers for drying in the list of plants to grow for next year is one way of extending the season for the gardener and ensures that there will always be flower decorations to brighten the home as well as the garden.

September Garden Tasks

  • Divide perennials such as day lilies, geraniums.
  • Buy spring bulbs and plant out at the end of the month.
  • Prune rambling roses to improve performance and increase air circulation to produce healthier plants.  Remove diseased, thin and dead stems and the thick vigorous stems that are growing too long. Tie in the new shoots with garden string and prune back the more robust young stems by one third to encourage growth next year.
  • Plan spring window boxes and plant pots. One design includes winter-flowering pansies under planted with bulbs of grape hyacinth and dwarf narcissi, dwarf daffodils or dwarf tulips. As the pansies fade in spring, the bulbs will shoot up to replace them.
  • Take cuttings of pinks and save the seed heads for propagation.
  • Take Pelargonium cuttings.

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