Everlasting flowers (Helichrysum bracteatum) are tender perennials or annuals that bloom from spring through to the first frost. The daisy-like flowers feature a golden center surrounded by petals or rays.
They have low water needs and thrive in dry, hot conditions, but may be vulnerable to slugs and snails and downy mildew. They are deer-resistant and easy to grow from seed or by cuttings.
A wide variety of everlasting flowers (and even some grasses) can be air dried to preserve their beauty. This is the most common method for preserving many flower types and works well for some others, too. Harvest newly opened flowers in the morning, strip leaves from the stems, secure the stems together with a rubber band, and hang them upside down in a cool dry place with good circulation. This process takes about a couple weeks.
Some perennials and annuals are especially beautiful when dried. Gypsophila or baby’s breath (Gypsophila paniculata and Gypsophila hennaficus) looks ethereal in the garden, and it is equally gorgeous when dry. Strawflowers (Helichrysum bracteatum) and yarrows also look lovely when dried, as do the seed heads of some grasses. Plant foliage also makes an excellent addition to dried floral arrangements, and it is just as easy to preserve as flowers. Lavender, liatris, and marigolds are all good choices for drying, as is lamb’s ear.
Using desiccant to dry everlasting flowers is much faster than air drying and helps the petals retain their vibrant colors. Silica gel works well for this process, and it can be purchased at craft stores. Simply bury the flowers in the gel and let it sit. In a few days, they should be fully dried and ready to display. You can also give them a light spritz of hair spray or floral preservative to help set them.
The only drawback to this method is that some colors may darken as they dry. For example, deep red roses are a stunning color when fresh, but they can end up looking almost black as they dry. Other colors may develop a cream or tan hue. For this reason, this method is best for small or medium-sized blooms. It is also not recommended for flowers that easily shed their petals. This includes poppies and lilies. For larger or more delicate flowers, you can try placing them between the pages of a book or in a flower press.
Silica gel is an amorphous, porous form of silicon dioxide commonly used as a desiccant. It is an oxygen scavenger that can absorb large quantities of moisture and is also useful as a preservative for delicate flowers. Silica gel is a good alternative to borax-sand or borax-cornmeal combinations for drying everlasting flowers.
Fill a shallow, airtight container with silica gel and place the flowers in the bottom. Cover the flowers with an additional inch of gel and seal the container. The flowers should dry within three to five days.
To speed the drying process, add a cup of water in the microwave with the container of flowers and silica. Microwave in one-minute increments until the flowers are completely dry.
It’s a good idea to wire the flowers before placing them in silica gel, especially if they have thick petals. This will help the petals remain stiff and prevent them from becoming brittle as they dry. Hook wiring may be suitable for daisies, marigolds and zinnias while cross wires are best for roses.
If you’re short on time, there are some methods that use heat to press flowers and foliage. They’re fast, but it can be tricky to get the balance right between preserving them and over-cooking them.
For best results, use a flower press ($58, Microfleur) and make sure the petals are properly separated. This method is ideal for pressed wildflowers and spring blooms like pansies, violets, daisies, cosmos and single poppies. You can also try this method with other vivid flowers like buttercups, dandelion blooms and lavender.
For an easier option, you can improvise by placing the plants between two sheets of absorbent paper or blotter. Next, place them in a heavy book and leave undisturbed for around a week. Relatively flat flowers, including pansies and violets, are the easiest to press. However, you can try this with other types of flower and even leaves such as ferns and conifer branches. They’ll just take a little more care.