Can you recommend some everlasting flowers that I can grow, dry, and use in craft projects for my two children?
Paddy Redihan, Trumansburg, NY
Grow flowers you can dry for projects. Yarrow, love-in-a-mist, and strawflowers are good choices for children's activities.
Photo/Illustration: Allison Starcher
Suzanne McIntire, author of An American Cutting Garden, responds: Children need sturdy and easily dried everlastings, so you’ll want to avoid growing those that require delicate wiring and special drying methods. In summer, the flat flower heads of the best yarrow for cutting, Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ (USDA Hardiness Zones 3–9), and the big, bronzy seedpods of annual love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena) are great for dried bouquets. Both plants have leaves that strip easily from their strong stems, and the love-in-a-mist seed pods don’t need to be dried upside-down, unlike most fresh flowers. It’s best to cut your yarrow just after the tiny florets open. Once the flowers are dry, the children can have fun creating decorative wreaths by sticking shortened yarrow and love-in-a-mist stems into the tiny foam rings you can find in craft stores.
A good plant to grow for projects is the big annual broomcorn (Sorghum bicolor var. technicum). One plant should yield enough flower heads to give each child a chance to make a hand broom in late summer. To do this, bend the 12-inch to 15-inch-long mature flower heads down so the “brooms” dry upside-down on the plant. After the heads have dried, your children will enjoy beating out the big seeds, which they can save and plant the following spring. Then simply tie wire around each broom head to gather the individual filaments, and they’re ready to go.
Even if you don’t have a family cat, children love to grow catnip (Nepeta cataria, Zones 3–7) and make sachets for their friends’ cats. The light-blue blooms appear from summer through fall. If sewing their own sachets is too difficult for the children, you might try the fill-it-yourself, fold-top teabags sold at Japanese and Korean markets.
In mid- to late summer, the lovely purple, pink, or white flowers of lavender (Lavandula angustifolia and cvs., Zones 5–8) can also be dried for sachets or pressed for making glued collages on craft paper.
With a big darning needle and heavy thread, children can make garlands and leis from annual strawflowers (Bracteantha bracteata, syn. Helichrysum bracteatum). The papery red, yellow, pink, orange, and white flowers bloom summer through fall. Choose large-flowered seed strains on short plants so the children can harvest the blossoms themselves. Then simply have them remove the unattractive stems and sew through each flower, just off-center. Children can also have fun gluing dried strawflowers to such items as box lids and picture frames.