How to plan ahead for festive flower arrangements

Take some time now to collect and dry items from your garden that you can use in festive flower arranging, so says Olive Ryan in her weekly column
How to plan ahead for festive flower arrangements

FESTIVE TWIST: Hydrangea flowers can be collected and dried now, for use in seasonal arrangements.

AS we reach mid-November, we can admire leaf colour and watch as plant life retracts back into the ground, writes Olive Ryan in her weekly gardening column.

As the branches of the deciduous trees become bare, it is a good time to reflect on all that was good during 2021 and worked well in the garden.

Gardeners are constantly trying to improve on what nature provides, growing plants that flower for the longest and produce the best colours, vegetables that have the best flavour, and planting trees that suit our needs, growing to the required heights, producing good spring flower, and casting light or dense shade as required.

We are constantly reviewing and refining what we grow, which involves making notes, compiling lists and searching for desired plants wherever we go!

We are always planning ahead for the next display, and right now the best thing we can do is plant spring flowering bulbs of all descriptions.

Snowdrops are usually one of the first to make an appearance, giving us hope for the growing season ahead, but wait to plant them until after they have finished flowering as the bulbs are very tiny and can dry out easily, which will render them non-viable. Hold off on these beauties until you can purchase or divide them ‘in the green’ in late spring.

Tulips can be planted in numbers in November, as can daffodils, crocus, iris, scilla, hyacinth, fritillaria and lots more.

Planting some pots to observe near the front door or kitchen window will be a great investment and provide much enjoyment into spring, as the emerging foliage appears followed by flowers. Bulbs grown in pots can be planted out into the garden when the time comes to replace them with summer interest and many will naturalise well in the open ground, particularly daffodils and crocus.

START COLLECTING

We have had mixed weather recently. 

On dry, bright days be mindful of getting into the garden and collecting some plant material useful for festive decoration over the next few weeks. 

You will be amazed when you look at possibilities for harvesting, twigs and branches of birch or contorted hazel, the colourful new stems of dogwoods which have shed their leaves, berries of hawthorn, cotoneaster or rowan, dried grass seed heads, cones, and my favourite right now is dried hydrangea flower heads, so useful in flower arrangements.

The best time to collect them is when they have partially dried while on the plant so when you touch them they are a bit crunchy. Cut with a secateurs, bring them inside, put them in a small amount of water and they should dry naturally once the water is finished in the vase. Larger colourful leaves could be collected, dried and pressed for use later also.

Perhaps some flowers good for drying have been grown, statice and straw flower are two of the best known that come to mind, and there are others that will be added to the seed list this year. Celosia spicata ‘Flamingo feathers’, Helipterum roseum ‘Sensations Giants’, Xeranthemum annuum, Lagurus ovatus ‘Bunny tails’ and Gomphrena globosa ‘Rose’ are just some of the additions on my list for next year.

Ordering seeds may be more of a challenge this year so it is best to get organised now and order early if possible. Using materials available locally that indicate the current seasonality keeps us grounded in reality, makes us more aware, and is good for nature and the environment.

The more natural materials used in arrangements, the more sustainable, making it a more creative process and so satisfying to use materials from the garden.

It does take some effort collecting, drying and organising materials and a dry, well ventilated, frost free space is needed to accommodate drying material.

Keep an eye out now for mature ivy with seed heads attached as these are very useful for decoration and addition to flower arrangements, garlands and wreaths in the weeks ahead. For some beautiful artistic ideas with floral displays this winter, see www.hanako.ie, www.bumblebeeflowerfarm.ie and www.squaregarden.ie, all Cork-based flower farmers that use nature to inspire their wonderful creations.

The birds are providing stiff competition for berries as temperatures are starting to fall and food is not as plentiful, so be sure to keep those feeders topped up. Smaller birds love rummaging through leaf litter for a few insect snacks, so when bagging those leaves, maybe leave an area at the base of a hedge where they can be used as a snack bar and will not be damaging grass areas.

It is all about a bit of balance between tidying and putting the garden to bed for the winter, and allowing nature to co-exist with us gardeners.

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