Where to find it
Such material is abundant at every hand-in the fields and at roadsides as well as in your own garden. Simply keep a scissors in your automobile and if you spot an attractive specimen as you drive along, snip it off for the collection. Gourds, pods, ferns, the calyxes of some flowers, even stones in strange forms and roots in queerly twisted shapes are worthwhile items. Souvenirs of trips to distant places-a cone from the knob cone pine of the Pacific Coast, a feathery leaf from the tropical mimosa, a piece of teasel from certain sections of New York State or of common dock from Maine-are not only reminders of the journey but novel additions to a floral composition made months later at home. The fact that numerous florists carry some dried material in stock attests its popularity.
Not only does a collection of dried material offer an ever-available supply for making flower arrangements, but compositions with such materials are easy to visualize. For example, pick broom while it is green, shape it as it dries, then add a few leaves, either dried or fresh, at an interesting focal point, and you have a composition excellent in its simplicity and beauty of line.
The use of dried materials in flower arrangements today represents a great advance from the bunches of cattails and peacock feathers on Victorial mantelpieces, and even from the dried strawflowers, pampas grass and everlastings which seemed to constitute the entire supply of preserved materials of a few years ago.
What to collect
Seed pods are among the foremost items for the collection. Leaves are next, and the more leathery they are the better they dry. Then there are the buds, tightly attached to stem or branch, and in a few cases flowers themselves. But the flowers are apt to fall to pieces.
Pick the greenish flowerheads of India pokeberry and the handsome, round, flat seed heads of the hemlock water parsnip before July 15. In the autumn fields look for dead hardhack spires (also called steeplebush), for bittersweet, and for the spore-bearing fronds of the ostrich, cinnamon, and royal ferns, which will last for years when dried. In gardens, collect gourds, the seed pods of peonies and oriental poppies, the tall stalk of desertcandle (Eremurus), the green pods of Wildindigo (Baptisia) which later turn black, the seed of daylily and Japanese iris, the pods of catalpa and honeylocust. Dry cockscomb, amaranth, and bamboo. From vegetable gardens gather seed stalks of rhubarb, onion blossoms, the flower heads of leeks, the thistle-like blooms and other decorative parts of artichokes, the purplish leaves of cabbage, the striking, permanent okra gone to seed. Globethistle (Echinops) is an excellent dried plant for colour. It retains its soft blue-grey hue tenaciously. Achillea keeps its yellow, cockscomb its reds and yellows; sage retains its blue if picked at the time of opening; saxifrage leaves are fine for drying and keep their deep red if collected just after they turn; canna leaves, which retain their bronze, are effective when dried.
Handling the material
Although it is more difficult to handle dried material than fresh material, there are some tricks which are helpful to the arranger. Stems that are too short may always be lengthened by wiring them to other stems. A short stem may be fitted into a hollow or pithy stalk and turned in any direction. When the composition is completed, it may be preserved simply by pouring melted paraffin into the container and letting it harden. Before pouring the paraffin, however, be sure that the arrangement satisfies you as a permanent design, for once it sets it cannot be changed.
The same principles of flower arrangement which govern compositions of fresh flowers apply to those made of dried materials. The colours are softer and lower in key. Textures are almost always rougher, since no satiny, soft-pedalled flowers are employed, and thus containers should be made of wood, metal, or rough-textured pottery and never of glass or fine porcelain.
Drying and shaping
Dried materials should always be stored in a dry, dark place. To store it in a damp place is to invite mildew. Keep the small pieces in a cellophane bag. Pieces which are to be kept straight should be hung upside down. Materials may be shaped by tacking them to a board, weighting with small stones, soaking in water and reshaping them while wet. Such pieces as lotus leaves may be shaped by flattening them out on a board on a wire netting, weighting them with stones, and letting the stems hang down through the mesh. Remember that shapes cannot be changed after the material has dried.
Collect material for form, size, and colour, leaves which grow to left or to right, cryptomeria branches which may be shaped into attractive curves, branches of sweetgum or corky-barked euonymus to form the framework of arrangements. Gather a larger supply than you can actually use, for such material is brittle and breaks easily.
An invitation to collect plant materials in the fields must be accompanied by a reminder of those ever-present enemies, the poison plants, most familiar of which are poison ivy and poison sumac.