MG

Usually I peruse December seed catalogs for tried-and-true selections or interesting newcomers in the vegetable and flower sections. But after growing statice for the first time this year, I am examining the everlasting options more thoroughly. Everlastings are flowers, grasses and foliage that are easily dried for use in arrangements, wreaths, decorations and crafts.

I decided to grow Limonium sinuatum, also known as statice or sea lavender, when a friend gave me a packet of seeds. Seedlings came up in pots pretty quickly but then languished as I tried to find time and space to plant them in the garden. In late July, I finally planted the almost root-bound seedlings in a bed generously amended with leaf mold and compost. Then I read that statice prefers sandy soil. And still they grew.

Within a few weeks, the plants had begun forming generous rosettes of serrated leaves. Soon the first spires of blossoms began to form. As they reached maturity and began to bloom, each plant revealed different colored blossoms. Clear yellow, papery blossoms on winged stems were the first to open, and deep purple blossoms with white eyes were next to unfurl.

As the blossoming continued, the bed filled with statice in shades of apricot, bright pink, soft lavender and bright, clean white. Before long, each plant measured a good foot across, with stems and blossoms reaching as high. Butterflies teased the colorful blossoms all summer, entertaining us but disturbing garden spiders in residence.

Limonium sinuatum is classified as a tender perennial but often grown as an annual and replaced every year. I am treating mine as a perennial this year. When I have harvested the last of the papery blossoms and hung them upside down in bunches to dry, I will dig the plants out of the crowded bed and replant them with more elbow room to stretch out and bloom again next year. They look too healthy and robust to be finished. Statice is clearly not difficult to grow.

Harvesting statice and other everlasting flowers for drying is simple. For the best-quality dried flowers, cut in the morning. Make sure morning dew and any moisture are completely gone. Plants should be dry before you cut. Harvesting damp plants not only increases the drying time but also increases the chance of mold or mildew developing. No one wants moldy flowers. Johnny’s Selected Seeds has complete directions for air-drying cut flowers on its website (http://www.johnnyseeds.com/t-dried-flowers-instructions-slideshow.aspx).

Other colorful everlasting options include Gomphrena, or globe amaranth, which comes in purple, pink, red, white and violet; and Celosia, or cockscomb, in reds, oranges and golden colors. Other flowers can be dried, including roses, hydrangeas and, of course, strawflowers. The main criterion is to choose flowers or plants with relatively low moisture content.

Dried grasses from simple to dramatic can be used by themselves or to add interest to fresh or dried flower arrangements. Check your favorite nursery or garden center for grasses that do well here. If you enjoy starting plants from seed, consider the selection of gorgeous grasses available from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. From ‘Frosted Explosion,’ a silvery, feathery, ethereal plant, to ‘Purple Majesty,’ a deep burgundy millet that adds shine to holiday and autumnal decor, there are grasses that dry beautifully for every occasion.

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Some everlasting flowers, grasses and foliage need warm weather to germinate, but some can be planted throughout the coming cooler months. Read seed packets carefully.

Many everlastings have a long bloom time and can be cut and enjoyed as fresh flowers. Some are treasured for their seed pods or final blossoms. Nigella, also called love-in-a-mist, provides lovely blossoms all season long in white, blue or pink. Left on the stem, the blossoms mature into black- or cream-colored pods prized by floral arrangers. Lunaria, also known as silver dollar plant, moon or money plant, produces silvery or golden papery moons on a graceful stem.

Foliage often dries well. If you are drawn to everlastings and enjoy having materials to work with for wreaths, arrangements and gifts, you can find information online about dessicants for drying and glycerin for preserving leaves and some flowers. Visit nurseries for seeds and seedlings of perennials to plant now. By spring, they will be well established, and you will be on your way to next year’s everlastings.

Workshop: U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Creating Holiday Wreaths” on Sunday, Dec. 11, from noon to 3 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington St., Yountville. Learn what plants in your garden could make good wreaths for decorating. Learn how to choose and prepare plant materials so they will look good for a long time. Learn tips and tricks for designing and making easy wreaths for the holidays or any time. Participants will create their own wreath to take home, made from locally collected plant materials. Cost is $20 for Yountville residents; $23 for non-residents. Register with Yountville Parks & Recreation or call 707-944-8712.

UC Master Gardeners of Napa County ( http://ucanr.edu/ucmgnapa/) answer gardening questions on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to noon, at the UC Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Ave., Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143.

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