I love Autumn. I hate to see summer go because our wonderful old house, which stays so cool in the summer, becomes an igloo in winter, but there's a saying in French that goes, "C'est toujours la fete." (that first e in fete is supposed to have a circumflex accent, but I don't know how to do it) Direct translation is, "It's always a party." I take that to mean, "Make the best of everyday." So, though we'll soon be wearing hats and long underwear inside, I'm getting ready for fall and winter. One of my favorite rituals is drying hydrangeas.
My neighbor has two hydrangea bushes with blooms the size of cabbages on either side of her front porch. One is blue and one is purple. If you've never had up-close contact with hydrangea, let me tell you they're amazing. They begin to change color about the middle of August. The purple ones take on tinges of lavender, blue, and pink. The blue ones become green, amber, rose. If you dry them at the right moment, they'll stay large and bright and last all year - longer, if you're careful. If you wait too long to cut and dry them, they just fade and curl up.
After years of living next door to the flowers (neighbors have come and gone, but the flowers remain, and I'm always sure to ingratiate myself with the newbies in time to be able to pick blooms. Weirdly, none of the neighbors who've lived next door has ever cared about drying them themselves.) I've gotten good at choosing the right moment to pick. I'm a little like a vintner that way.
The point of all this is to tell you I've made a wonderful discovery. I use to laboriously hang the blooms upside down one by one in the basement and wait a month for them to dry. This year, I went online to see what others do and found out you can simply cut them, put them in a vase without water, and let them dry that way. They don't have to live in the basement for a month so you can display them, and they're so little trouble. They fade just a little, but are still beautiful..
The optimum drying procedure is to put the flower heads in silica gel, but that's pricey stuff and it requires a lot of it. A woman name Liz Schenk, however, found a less expensive formula using 60% cornmeal and 40% Borax. Put an inch of the mixture in the bottom of a large plastic garbage container - cut the stems off the blooms and save to reattach with florist tape - then put a bloom in head first and cover gently with the mixture She suggests using a sifter. Repeat with other blooms until the container is full. They'll take two weeks to dry but their color will be as strong as it was on the bush. Use a makeup brush to get all the residue out of the flower.
I have a large, fat-bottomed, blue glass vase filled with them on the dining table. At Christmas time, I tie them with ribbon to a garland that I run up the stairway. It doesn't look quite like a Sunset Magazine cover, but I think it's gorgeous.
What are you doing to start your holiday season?