The best flowers for drying are everlastings, a special group of annuals that can be air-dried without losing their color or form.
Dried flowers are the basic materials for dried wreaths, bouquets, and potpourris. For variety in color, texture, and fragrance, grow a mix of flowers and foliage plants. Following are photographs and descriptions of eight garden flowers that dry beautifully.
Despite heat and drought, the cloverlike flowers of gomphrena (globe amaranth) bloom nonstop on stiff, 2-foot-tall stems.
The first true red gomphrena, this hybrid retains its color indefinitely in a bouquet. Also available are yellow, pink, and white varieties; the dwarf purple strain, Buddy; and a deep pink and white bicolor bloom.
Statice comes in a rainbow of hues, including yellow, blue, lavender, red, salmon, white, and rose. Cut blooms when fully open. Flowers dry best hung upside down.
Unlike the everblooming annual, perennial statice (Limonium tatarica) blooms only in early summer. But the broad, white flower heads are worth the effort.
Tiny spiked blooms smother 18-inch-tall Salvia farinacea all summer long. Pair it with the variety White Porcelain.
A prickly bedfellow for other perennials, globe thistle (Echinops Ritro) is actually more colorful prior to blooming. For drying, cut flowers before the spiny, blue bracts open to reveal a brown hue inside.
Cockscomb (or crested) celosias come in many bright colors. Because of high moisture content, dry blooms in a hot, ventilated area to prevent mold growth.
Plumed celosias come in yellow, cream, orange, red, and pink. These annual blooms last all season; pick just before frost.
Amaranthus -- Tassels of red or maroon blooms dangle from amaranthus, giving this 3- to 5-foot-tall annual its nickname, love-lies-bleeding. Pick blooms just before frost. Quick to dry, they hold their color well.
Artemisia annua -- Foliage, not flowers, makes this 5-foot-tall annual (Sweet Annie) popular for drying. Use supple side branches as a silvery foil in wreaths. Crush brittle main stems and use as a fragrant potpourri.
Safflower -- Here's a cute curiosity that sports a tuft of orange "hair" on top. Pick stems of annual safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) as soon as the flower hair fluffs out. After drying, blooms will redden and shrink.
Bells of Ireland -- Named for the green, bell-shape calyxes on its 2- to 3-foot tall stems, this annual adds a tone of its own to bouquets. A lemony-mint aroma remains after drying. Dried bells crumble easily.
Munstead Lavender -- The most fragrant of all lavenders, this dwarf English variety grows 12 to 18 inches tall. A variably hardy perennial, this plant bears deep-purple blooms all summer long.
Air-drying is the simplest way to preserve everlastings and other garden flowers. This method also works well for many field flowers, such as goldenrod, yarrow, daisy fleabane, and Queen-Anne's-lace.
Pick blooms at their peak when they're fully open at midday, after morning dew has dried. Strip the leaves and gather stems into bunches, securing them with elastic bands. Hang the bunches upside down in a dark, dry, ventilated area, such as an attic or shed, for two to three weeks. Many everlastings have papery blooms even when they're growing. These flowers readily air-dry hung from racks or rafters.
Any basket, crock, or vase can be used to display dried flowers. For large bouquets, place florist's foam in the bottom of the container to hold stems in place. Insert dried foliage first. This filler material should be about 1-1/2 times the height of the container. Next add taller flowers, then medium and small blooms.
Prolong the beauty of dried flowers by displaying them in a dry room, away from direct sunlight that bleaches the natural dyes of flowers.