Strik­ing, lon­glast­ing wreaths,

Country Gardens - - Garden Know-how -

crafted with tufts of ever­green fo­liage and spiked with seed pods and dried flow­ers, were an ac­ci­den­tal dis­cov­ery by flower farmer and seller Nel­lie Gard­ner. She hates to waste any­thing, in­clud­ing un­sold flow­ers from her flo­ral shop, Flower Fields, in Clarence, New York. Af­ter a cus­tomer shared a tech­nique for dry­ing a fresh bou­quet, Gard­ner be­gan hang­ing un­sold flow­ers in her shed. Be­fore long, the rafters were cov­ered with dried blos­soms in need of a use.

As an ex­per­i­ment, she made a wreath for her­self and hung it on her door. A cus­tomer liked it, so she kept mak­ing more. “It changed the way I looked at my farm, and I be­gan to add more flow­ers that would dry well,” Gard­ner says. It also opened her eyes to us­ing what was in her own gar­den and be­yond.

Armed with an agron­omy de­gree from Cor­nell Univer­sity, Gard­ner had de­vel­oped a for­mula for grow­ing spe­cialty cut flow­ers. Eye-pop­ping rows of dahlias, zin­nias, celosia, lisianthus, gom­phrena, and ama­ranths—packed into a ¼-acre plot—are tes­ta­ment to her suc­cess­ful grow­ing meth­ods. “You don’t need much space; any small cut­ting gar­den will do,” Gard­ner says. “The key to max­i­mum pro­duc­tion is to give each plant what it needs.” She grows plants only 6–10 inches apart to en­cour­age longer stems and less side branch­ing. Plant­ing rows with the tallest plants to the north en­sures that shorter va­ri­eties aren’t grow­ing in shadow. Drip ir­ri­ga­tion helps keep fo­liage dry and dis­ease-free.

Shrubs on her prop­erty pro­vide the ever­green base for Gard­ner’s ever-chang­ing wreath cre­ations. Any­thing that catches her eye—rose hips, seed­pods, berries, and grasses—goes in with the mix of dried flow­ers. Spent flow­ers and seed heads from her gar­den are fair game, too.

Ac­cord­ing to Gard­ner, any­one can make a dried flo­ral wreath. It’s all about see­ing po­ten­tial in ev­ery­thing in your gar­den. “Once you start look­ing at what you throw away,” she says, “you be­gin to see its beauty.”

ABOVE Nel­lie har­vests nearly every morn­ing to pick flow­ers at their peak but waits un­til the dew has dried. For best re­sults, cut flow­ers on a dry day when there is the least amount of mois­ture on the plants.

BE­LOW Nel­lie’s cut­ting flower gar­den sits just out­side her shop, where she grows about four dozen va­ri­eties of flow­ers, herbs, and pep­pers. Ever­green branches, seed pods, and berries are col­lected from else­where on her prop­erty.

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