As the days begin to shorten and wafts of bonfire smoke ‘tingle’ the nostrils, it is just time to cast a glance round the garden and the dying hedgerows for anything which might come in handy for flower arrangements during the winter months. There are the obvious things like Chinese lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) and Honesty (Lunaria annua) which one is often reluctant to harvest as they lift borders already losing any colour of note.
It is not too late however to grab the odd hydrangea head, pop it into an inch or two of water and let it dry off naturally, or even just hang it upside down in a dark airy place. If you prefer not to have the blooms too ‘crisp’, try mixing 1 part glycerine with 4 parts hot water and using that instead of just water. 3-5 days in an inch or so of this solution and then hanging them upside-down will result in a more malleable bloom less likely to shatter. Blue hydrangea is less likely to hold its colour although the ones which have turned a dark purple or red should have a good result. Now that the blooms are fully mature, they are less likely to collapse. Some may have already begun to lose colour but when dry they can be sprayed with an original or metallic colour paint to good effect to add to Christmas decorations.
Another standby of mine is Old Man’s Beard - Clematis vitalba - the wild clematis in seed head form. Gather this before the seed heads are fully mature. Cut away the foliage and, using the same mix, support trails into a similar depth of glycerine solution. Leave for 3-5 days and remove and hang upside-down. I often hang mine in my greenhouse, as long as the atmosphere if not too damp or otherwise in a sunny window. The seed heads fluff and turn silvery white without shedding and look amazing with winter evergreens. They look great with pumpkins and gourds for Halloween ( and perhaps if you are lucky enough to have some, trails of Bittersweet – Celastrus scandens) and for Christmas a delicate touch of natural or fine silver spray glitter brings them alive – absolute magic with holly and ivy. Carefully handled and stored they will do a couple of seasons. The first photo is of the plant at about the right stage to preserve and the second is if the stems in glycerine. they are 2 days in and already some have fluffed. Tomorrow I will hang the stems up.
There are lots of materials you can preserve this way but I will cover that next summer, as preserving foliage this late in the season results in less effective colours.