For several months now, I’ve been enjoying the fruits of my labor in my garden. Looking out over my herb beds, my eyes feast on color and texture. If only it would last forever!
I know it can’t last forever, which is why I bring reminders of summer’s abundance inside to dry. Arranged into colorful bouquets and hung strategically throughout my home, they brighten my spirits long after the garden is brown and frostbitten.
Throughout the summer, I do not allow my culinary herbs to blossom because I want to preserve the flavor in the leaves. But as summer draws to a close, I stop pinching back my dill, basil, sage, mints, and oregano; I allow Mother Nature to take over and let them come into full bloom.
In determining what to preserve, I stand back and look at my herb bed for unusual textures, such as that of the woolly lamb’s-ears (Stachys byzantina), which will give my bouquets a velvety silver appearance. I’m partial to the artemisias, which offer more than 200 species to choose from. One of my favorites is wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), with pale yellow flower heads that maintain their color even after drying. The yellow buttons of tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and the flat golden heads of ‘Coronation Gold’ yarrow (Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’) add warmth and brightness. To bring in splashes of red, I cut stalks of bergamot (Monarda didyma). The long, loose rose-pink spikes of clary sage (Salvia sclarea) are excellent companions for magenta-flowered wood betony (Stachys officinalis).
The bright red flowers of pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), pink clusters of oregano (Origanum vulgare), starry white garlic chives (Allium tuberosum), and violet English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) all work together to create a vibrant bouquet. Another favorite in my garden is hops (Humulus lupulus). Male and female flowers occur on separate plants; the female flowers mature into conelike strobiles. When dried, the long, vigorous vines can be used as an intriguing window valance. I add a few dried roses and German statice (Goniolimon tataricum) to create a window treatment that evokes my garden all year long.
The best time to pick herbs for dried arrangements is when they reach their peak—just after the flowers have fully opened—on a sunny day after the morning dew has dried. I like to harvest every blossom with as long a stem as possible; the individual stems can be shortened as needed later.
Making a bouquet
I hang my herbs upside down in a dark, dry area; keeping them away from sunlight and humidity helps preserve their color. (A temperature of 75° to 80°F in a room with good air circulation is ideal.) Here in Colorado, I can dry herbs in the basement; in other places I’ve lived, basements are too damp, and the herbs would just mold. The herbs are dry if a stem snaps when I bend it near the bottom.
When I’m ready to make a bouquet, I spread my dried herb stalks out on a sheet to catch any bits that fall off. Then I spray them with Super Surface Sealer by Design Master, a fixative found in craft stores.
To create balance in my bouquets, I generally use an equal number of stems from each herb. I choose longer stems first to serve as a backdrop; the shortest stems go in front. When I am satisfied with the bouquet’s size, I may add a spark of red bergamot or an accent of ‘Coronation Gold’ yarrow. As a finishing touch, I tie the stems with a ribbon. I may try to pick up some of the colors in the bouquet or use lace for a Victorian look. For a country look, I tie the bouquet with raffia or twine.
I like to hang my bouquets in areas of my home where living plants don’t do well: in the windowless bathroom, in the hallway, and in the mud room. When I look at them, I dream about next summer, when freshness, green, and warmth will be with me once again.
Paulette Julaura’s Boulder, Colorado, home is filled with dried herbs from her garden.
Becker, Jim and Dotti. An Everlasting Garden: A Guide to Growing, Harvesting, and Enjoying Everlastings. Loveland, Colorado: Interweave Press, 1994.