The reputation of dried flowers suffers from a legacy of overabundance of the 1980s (along with big hair and shoulder pads). Despite that, they are experiencing a rebirth that is brighter, fresher and more natural. Choosing something that is more lasting is a tenet of Millennials – that includes succulents, houseplants and dried flower wreaths and bouquets.
Once we get past all the hang-ups, dried flowers are the perfect value-added season extender for any sized farm. I was slow to embrace this as I was over-complicating the drying methods, but there is a movement of flower farmers bundling up extras and even growing intentionally to air dry. These are not dead flowers or leftovers from a vase, but stems that have been harvested at or just before their peak and allowed to dry naturally in a warm place away from moisture, light and friction.
My fascination started when I bought a bunch of dried Ammobium (or winged everlasting) from a gift shop about 10 years ago. I was entranced by how wild yet sculptural the stems and buds were, so I sought them out to grow myself. This led me to really appreciating the perfect papery qualities of statice and strawflowers for the first time.
As I was researching I realized that I let the common practices of the ‘80s scare me away from bunching up flowers and hanging them from rafters to dry in the barn. Because the stems were considered weak, back then strawflower blossoms were cut and wired before they dried. Statice can shatter easily so it was preserved in glycerin with dye to mimic a green stem. The third common method is burying a bloom in silica so it draws out the moisture in a few days. All of this fussiness and perfectness was a huge turn off for a bouquet maker like me who works quickly with simple flowers.
Etsy has become the marketplace for contemporary dried flowers as they are easy to ship and offer styles that are much more natural. With options that trend, from grain-filled wreaths to dried wildflower-style bouquets, I finally found a home. Instagram was a godsend for showing me the reality of so many farms embracing the idea of hanging bunches and using basic flowers to create beautiful arrangements.
Through Etsy I met Linda Stoddard Leonard from the Keepers House in Henderson Harbor, NY. She has experimented with everything and found an early home on Etsy. Along with dried bunches, she creates gorgeous natural wreaths with everything from cornhusks and milkweed pods to seed heads, along with baskets and sachets from everything in the natural realm. I have learned so much from her as far as drying everything and experimenting in how all the elements work together.
The biggest lesson has been respecting the stage of harvest. This spans from half open to just before fully open. Originally, I hung bunches in our hay barn along the rafters. This proved to be too open and too light with too much bug pressure. Now I use three rafters in my garage that is mostly dark and protected from insects. This season I cycled through four three- to four-week-long drying sessions. I then packed the dried bunches into flower boxes with silica packets.
This process opened up so many more possibilities for flowers. The crops that intrigued me enough to let go of my dried flower prejudice are Artemisia Silver King and sea holly. Both are easy-to-grow blue perennials that add bulk to arrangements and wreaths. The rest of the backbone of what I grow to dry includes yellow yarrow, tansy and celosia. This year I experimented more with focal flower heads like sunflowers and zinnia that blend well but don’t stand out in design as they would fresh. I intentionally planted twice the number of most dryable varieties, including statice, strawflower, gomphrena and celosia. Thankfully we didn’t have a frost until November and were able to bring in two complete harvests.
I’ve played around with lots of dried flower forms but my favorite are wreaths. I embraced creating both monochromatic full around versions but also quarter moon grapevine wreaths. The demand for both has been steady locally. They are fun and beautiful, but use so much dried material that’s hard to recoup the cost when there is a clear cap to what someone will pay at a farmers market.
I’m still not brave enough to try to ship dried wreaths as they are still in demand locally. The enemies of dried flowers are friction, moisture and light, so the smart idea is to lash a wreath frame in a box. This is a skill I have not mastered.
When I was done with my local arrangements, I started cutting up what was left into pieces to mix into confetti. The online market for these bags is insatiable, as brides love it for weddings, but I also sell to other creators making resin jewelry or pens. I already have a wait list for three cup bags of loose petals and flower heads for this season.
This is one of those areas where it’s really tough to draw the line on profitability vs. salability. I struggle with the line of “Am I really making money with my dried sales?” vs. being grateful for the extra income. Last year it was a challenge with a frost date of Sept. 19. We were done and moved on.
I also embraced drying some that are not usual, like marigold, that hold their color wonderfully but in hard to sell colors. This led me to attempting to dry some of the doubles of this season. Ranunculus and peony are wonderful dried; lisianthus blooms – not so much.
We are always looking for that extra income at the end of the season. Drying stems can provide that extra kick as long as we find the market to match the value-added price point. As we sell at market, almost all of my customers for the arrangements and wreaths fall into the Millennial category. They are seeking everlasting flowers for gifts and for themselves. My goal this year is to have what they want when they want it.