Colour for winter

I like to have fresh flowers in the house but it is not always possible to pick from the garden. For various reasons I detest polyester and similar fake flowers. I remember years ago being tempted by some rather lovely ‘parrot tulips’ in a store and almost bought them. I even started to select some ‘blooms’ but then my grey cells kicked in and I put them back. If flowers have to be washed then I don’t want them. So I have to turn to dried flowers instead. I know these can get just as dusty and they are a bit old fashioned but at least they can then be composted if the spiders move in and I won’t have added to global warming.

My go-to dried flower is statice. These come in a wide range of colours, are popular with butterflies and they make a good show in the garden. They are half hardy annuals so a little bit of work but they are pretty easy to grow. Best of all, because I am lazy, you can just cut the stems, hang them up to dry and arrange them in a vase. Many flowers to dry have to be picked as individual heads and dried and then attached to stems or wires.

If you are making pictures then you can press flowers in a book, between kitchen roll, if you change it regularly to keep the flowers dry and prevent mould.

But I experimented with cat litter this year. I had dried flowers in sand before, using fine sand in an old biscuit tin (don’t use plastic ‘tins’). You can work the sand around complex flowers like roses and then put the tin in a warm oven. It works quite well. But this time I thought I would try in a microwave and did some research. A lot of ‘recipes’ suggested various gels and complex ingredients but I saw reference to cat litter and since that is something I have in the shed, I thought it was worth a try.

Most people, rightly, think of cat litter as foul stuff, and it is once used by a cat, but when it is clean it is nothing to be scared of. Cat litter is also surprisingly complex and you can get pricey stuff that looks like water-retaining gel and that might be absolutely purrfect. But Mia gets regular, non-clumping litter (mixed with wood pellets for environmental reasons but these would not be good for drying flowers) so that is what I used.

It is much more lumpy than sand so it will not sit around the petals as neatly but it seemed to work OK. I half filled a plastic (need I say microwave-proof) container, placed the flowers on this and then carefully covered them with more litter. I used what I thought were tricky, 3D and rather fleshy flowers including tagetes, gaillardia and centaurea. I zapped the box for 30 seconds on high and I could feel that the litter was warm, so the water had been heated. I left the box to cool and the flowers to dry, for half an hour. Then I zapped and cooled two more times. You will have to gauge this – if the ‘zapping’ makes the litter warm it means the flowers are still damp. I then left the flowers overnight so the litter would be dry and checked the flowers. They were well dried and the petals and shape were quite well preserved. The flowers were slightly dusty but that blew off. I think it is important to use non-clumping cat litter because the clumping type would stick to the drying petals. I did not try roses but I think small rose blooms would dry well. The good thing is that the cat litter can be used repeatedly, it is quite a quick method and not power hungry. I have made ‘pictures’ in those deep frames in the past and I might try again this winter. The good thing is that you can collect and preserve flowers, seed pods and leaves from through the year and combine them in one picture. Something to do on those cold, winter nights.

The flowers after drying in cat litter

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3 Comments on “Colour for winter”

  1. Dee
    September 7, 2022 at 7:31 am #

    Your dried flowers look lovely. Ten or fifteen years ago I found several glass flowers on long glass stems in a charity shop. It was winter so I bought them and wound them into a winter bare archway in the garden to inject some colour. They’re still there, some succumbed to violent storms, fell out and got broken but several survive and after the summery greenery falls away they’re a welcome sight in winter!

    • thebikinggardener
      September 7, 2022 at 10:56 am #

      Coloured glass in the garden can look lovely when the light catches it.

  2. Paddy Tobin
    September 7, 2022 at 9:24 am #

    No cat here so…

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