Some years ago, my mom Wilma Gene and I made matching autumn flower arrangements from wildflowers, twigs and grasses. I stuck mine on top of the refrigerator, where it dried and lasted for nearly eight years before the accumulated dust finally brought it down.
Preserving flowers and leaves is easy, depending on the method you choose.
Of all the methods for preserving floral stuff -- air drying, silica gel, glycerin and pressing -- for me, air drying is the easiest and most convenient. In summer and fall, I start by gathering fresh flowers (those that don't wilt easily), such as goldenrod, salvia, dock, gomphrena, hydrangea and most grasses. Berries, such as sumac, dry beautifully, too.
I cut the beauties on a sunny day and strip off most of the leaves to hasten drying. Sometimes, especially with grasses and seed heads that may shatter during drying, I spray them with hair spray to hold them together. Sometimes I hang the flowers in bunches from coathangers in the garage, but usually I just stick the stems in vases and leave them indoors, where our air conditioner helps dry the bouquet quickly and the light isn't bright enough to fade colors.
Easy as air-drying is, pressing is nearly as good -- especially for flowers and foliage to be used in making stationary or flower pictures. Some colors -- white, yellow, pink, blue and purple -- dry well, while reds turn brown and green usually fades. Main thing is, the faster the material dries, the better the color. Easily pressed stuff includes aster, clover, pansy, Johnny jump-up, Queen Anne's lace, clematis, vetch, coreopsis, wildflowers and all sorts of ferns and leaves, including brilliant autumn foliage.
Avoid fleshy leaves and moist flowers, as well as thick stems and buds. Lay the material on several thicknesses of paper towel. Cover with more paper towels, then place between flat boards and top with heavy weights (bricks, bags of sugar, several heavy books). Check the press every few days to remove and replace damp paper towels, thus avoiding mildew.
Still another preservation method is best for large, waxy or glossy leaves such as magnolia, boxwood, juniper and ivy. Immerse firm, clean, mature leaves in a solution of one part glycerin and two parts warm water. Let the leaves soak in the solution for a week or two and gradually absorb it. The leaves look darker when preserved. Rinse and dry the leaves to complete the process.
Silica gel, a dessicating powder, is used to preserve large blooms that don't air dry well (rose, daisy, zinnia). Place flowers in a box, then carefully and completely sift silica gel over them. Place a lid on the box. After three to five days, check the flowers. They will get as dry as taffeta. Carefully pour off the silica gel and store the dried flowers until you're ready to use them in arrangements or wreaths. The gel can be used over and over.
Preserve some fall flowers and foliage and enjoy them for years to come.
SOUTHEAST TIP OF THE WEEK:
Yellow jackets and wasps are irritable these cool, windy, overcast days. Be careful when mowing, and identify and eliminate their nesting areas as soon as possible.
Felder Rushing is an eighth-generation Southern gardener and regional writer for Garden.com.