Striking, longlasting wreaths,
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.