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As with every sort of annual sowing, the ground should have been well prepared the preceeding autumn or winter - dug over, stones and weeds removed, forked and raked flat - before sowing the seeds in spring.
Sow the seeds either in groups or in rows when the soil is fairly dry and then thin out the seedlings to 3-6 inches apart (about three-quarters of the final expected height of the plant). Alternatively, seeds can be sown in boxes under glass, pricked out into good potting compost about 30 to 35 to a box, and planted out when there is no longer any danger of frost.
Picking the Flowers Keep an eye on the flowers during the summer to be sure of cutting them at the right moment on a day when they are not at all damp. Do not let the flowers open fully or begin to set seed or you will get showers of fluff when you hang them up to dry. With the larger branching types like Helichrysum, when the main flower has been picked, you get many smaller ones all down the stem a few weeks later. Pinching out the growing point before you pick flowers will have the same effect but give you larger secondary flowers.
Drying the Flowers When the flowers are picked, strip any leaves from the stems, tie them in small bunches or bundles and hang them upside down to dry. If the bunches are too large the stems may tangle or be damaged. Flowers dried in
a light position become brittle and lose some of their colour, and flowers become mildewed in the damp - a shed or garage may be dry in summer but it could be too damp in autumn to dry flowers in. Ideally, hang the flowers in a cool, dry, airy, shady place.
If the stems are very short (or, like those of Helichrysum Bracteatum, look somewhat ugly when dried) cut the stem one inch from the head, push a length of 20 gauge florists' wire (or a finer gauge if the flowers are small) up the stem into the flower-head and push the wires into sand or dry plastic foam. Leave the flowers to dry in this position. As they do so the wire will rust into place.
If you are just beginning to experiment with dried flowers start by drying the brightly coloured varieties- the purples, yellows and golds - as these are less likely to lose any of their colour during the drying process.
An alternative method of drying flowers which is somewhat more complicated involves the use of a desiccant such as borax powder, available from chemists. But it is worth taking the extra trouble as this is often a more successful way of drying flowers which are not true everlastings.
Cover the bottom of a box with the borax powder, carefully lay the flowers in this, and then pour in more powder until the flowers are completely covered - taking care that it runs in between all the petals and stamens. Then simply leave them. The borax powder draws all the moisture from the flower. (An older and cheaper alternative to borax is sand - but it is often too heavy and damages the flowers.)
Inspecting the flowers to see if they are, dry is a delicate operation as you must be careful not to damage them as you uncover them. The length of time it will take to dry the flowers obviously varies, but it is more often a matter of hours than days. Small Roses and Pansies, for example, need only about 12 hours and Cornflowers 36 hours.