Home-grown, home-dried flower arrangements

As silk flower arrangements have become more popular and more skillfully made, some say the bloom is off the rose when it comes to dried flowers. But in fact many people still prefer something that's alive -- or used to be, at least -- to something artificial. You can have dozens of colorful bouquets that stay fresh-looking for many months if you plant everlastings this summer. Everlastings are easily dried and keep their shape and color after they are dry. There are several kinds, including baby's breath, which is available in both annual and perennial types. Among the most popular and easiest to grow of the everlastings are strawflowers, globe amaranth, and celosia, all of which are annuals.

Strawflowers come in shades of red, bronze, white, or yellow and are available in dwarf, medium, or large-growing plants up to three feet tall. Globe amaranth flowers look like small papery heads of clover. The flowers are white, pink, purple, orange, or yellow. Celosia has red, orange, or yellow flowers. Some varieties look like a rooster's comb; their common name is cockscomb. Drying your bouquet

To dry your flowers, cut them in midafternoon when all the dew is off and the blossoms are dry. Cut globe amaranth when the flowers are mature, leaving the stems as long as possible. Tie them in small bunches and hang upside down in a dark, warm airy place such as an attic.

Celosia should be cut when you see the black seeds beginning to form in the lower blossoms. Dry in the same manner as globe amaranth. They should be ready to use in two to three weeks.

Strawflowers should be cut when the flowers are only half open. If not cut until they are fully open, they will shatter as they dry. Snip off the flower heads with scissors, leaving about an inch of stem on each flower.

While the flowers are still fresh, use florists' wire to make stems. Cut the wire in the lengths you want for your arrangements. Push a wire through each flower, from the back side. Make a small hook in the wire and pull it into the flower to keep it securely in place. Wrap the wire with green florists' tape to make it look more like a flower stem. You may use strawflowers immediately; they'll dry in the bouquets.

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