July/August is a lovely time to visit Hilltop Gardens and Nature Center. The lilies are in bloom as well as many other beautiful blossoms, and the sunny days of mid-summer make their colors shine with the luminant radiance of nature’s creation that is so difficult to replicate. Saving a little of that essence as we look toward winter is always a challenge, but, with a little effort, stretching the season through floral preservation can reap some stunning dried materials.
There are many ways to dry plants, so let us concentrate on silica gel. This drying medium can be purchased at the craft store or on the internet. While it might seem a little pricey, remember that silica gel lasts forever and can be used season after season. It yields some of the best drying results for retaining color in blossoms or preserving thick or many-petaled blossoms.
Drying times vary greatly from blossom to blossom, but information on timing can easily be found online with an internet search for silica gel drying times. A simple daisy-like blossom may take just a couple days to dry. A rose might take ten days. The number of petals and the thickness of the plant material will determine how long it takes. While silica gel can be used with a microwave, this can be a tricky process that takes some experimentation to get it right without getting the plant material a bit too crisp.
With a little patience you can get beautiful, long lasting results by just letting the blossom sit packed in silica gel until sufficiently dry. Petals need to be carefully supported on all sides to get dried results that hold their shape. Make sure your blossoms are nestled with at least an inch of silica gel below. Support the outer shape of the blossom on all sides. Even something as delicate as Queen Anne’s Lace will dry nicely if covered with care. For a blossom as complicated as a rose, it takes time to fill in the space gently and carefully around all the petals, but the reward will be a beautifully preserved blossom. Pack a large blossom in a plastic container with a lid. They are easy to store.
Once the blossom is dry, ever-so-gently shake off the gel to reveal your preserved blossom. You may need to use a paint brush to whisk away some of the gel from the leaves to let the color come through. Store blossoms in an airtight container with a little silica gel shaken in the bottom to help keep them dry. Plant material dried with silica gel will be sensitive to moisture and humidity. A bouquet created with silica gel-dried plant material should be preserved under glass like a shadow box frame or a glass-globed display. Preserved correctly it will last for years. Some like to put a preservative spray on the blossoms. That is up to you, but the blossoms do not necessarily need it.
Enjoy bringing your garden indoors to give further delight throughout the winter months with preserved materials and use your creative abilities to design a family heirloom!