Whether it's a prizewinning garden display or a lovely bouquet honoring a special event, beautiful flowers are wonderful mementos -- except when they wilt. But don't despair. There are ways to preserve the memories.
There is the time-honored tradition of pressing flowers in a book. Flowers with a single row of petals will work best with this method. If you're picking them for this purpose, pick them at night so they are not damp with dew. Good flowers for pressing include pansies, violas, wild roses, dianthus, lavender, alyssum and foliage such as fennel or ferns. Vibrant, warm colors, such as orange, yellow and gold, will usually keep their intensity, but most blues, purples, reds and pinks will fade or turn muddy.
Place the flower between several sheets of paper towels or newspaper. Put the paper and flowers in a wooden flower press or between two heavy books, with a brick on top of the books. The flower should be left to press four to six weeks, but if the flower is very fleshy change the paper after the first 48 hours to avoid mold. If you are pressing ivy or other leaves take them off of the stem and glue them back after the leaves have been pressed, make sure to check for moisture after 48 hours.
An easy way to preserve a bouquet is simply to hang the flowers upside down in a well-circulated, warm dry room. Strip the foliage from the stems and separate the flowers to hang in small clusters. Avoid large batches, as they would keep the air from circulating through the petals. Hang the flowers for a few weeks to allow them to dry thoroughly. If the room seems moist, use a dehumidifier for the best results. Lightly spray the dried blooms with a fixative, such as unscented hairspray, to help preserve them. No matter how you are preserving your flowers, air-dry the stems so you can glue the flower heads back on if desired.
You can also use a desiccant, such as sand or silica, to dry flowers. Both can be purchased at your local hobby store. Cut the stems off no more than 1/4 inch from the flower head, or just below the bulbous part of the flower. Stick the flowers, stem side down, into a sand-lined container. Gently sprinkle more sand over the petals to cover them. They could take up to several weeks to fully dry. Take the dried flower out of the sand and turn it over to lightly shake any remaining granules from the flower. Dry flowers can turn brittle, so be careful. Glue any broken pieces back on for a display.
You can use silica and a microwave to dry flowers, too. This method is relatively quick and can produce beautifully preserved flowers in a few minutes instead of weeks. Follow the instructions on the silica packaging. Good flowers to air dry or dry with a desiccant include alstroemeria, aster, carnation, mum, dahlia, daisy, freesia, Gerbera daisy, orchid, lilac, peony, phlox, poppy, snapdragon and stephanotis. Once dried, store your flowers in an airtight plastic container.
You can use your dried blooms as decorations, gifts and even potpourri. Even if you aren't an accomplished gardener, nurseries and local stores sell a variety of small potted floral plants and bouquets.
You can also decorate wreathes with an assortment of blooms for the holidays; set an arrangement of dried flowers in a glass-covered shadow box; fill a glass fish bowl with colorful flower heads; or glue individual petals to picture frames. You might also fill a tall vase with long-stemmed dried flowers for an attractive table centerpiece, or place a small Styrofoam cube at the bottom of a flower basket for a personalized arrangement for your office desk.
Gift a newly married couple with their wedding invitation framed with petals that were taken from the wedding bouquets or table arrangements. Or choose a friend's favorite poem to display in a flower-filled shadow box. Make a wonderful keepsake box for a young teen: Decoupage the box lid with movie tickets or other mementos and petals from the flower of his or her birth month. Imagine all the smiles your creative handmade gifts will bring.