Everlasting floral d'ecor. Growing, drying, and designing

NOW that fall is here, and nature starts to bundle up for winter, there's no need to leave the blossoms behind. The Complete Book of Everlastings, by Mark and Terry Silber (Alfred A. Knopf Inc., New York, 215 pp., $29.95), has a bounty of information for those who would like to enjoy the blooms of spring and summer through the snow-filled season. The Silbers write with more than 10 years' experience on Hedgehog Hill Farm in Sumner, Maine. And Mark Silber, with his photojournalism background, has decorated this book with 382 lovely, easy-to-follow color photographs.

``Perhaps the greatest pleasure we experience from working with everlastings comes from the fact that we are both growers and designers,'' the authors write. ``It is hard to imagine that growing flowers alone would be enough if we were not to have the fun of trying to work our harvests into arrangements.

``Conversely, it is difficult to imagine that it would be satisfying simply to be given dried material with which to work. The greatest satisfaction in designing comes from having learned about the plants, having watched them develop from seeds to harvest, or having found some wonderful new dried materials in the wild.''

In straightforward text, the Silbers share their joyous work. The reader is taken step by step through buying seeds, greenhouse planting, transplanting, mulching, hardening off, planting, harvesting, drying, and designing. It's no wonder that their retreat from the busy pace of Boston jobs turned into full-time jobs for both of them - with a staff to help out.

Close to 100 pages are devoted to annuals, perennials, and wildflowers. Each species has its own picture; history of culinary, medicinal, or other uses; and description. Also included are the right time to pick flowers and the correct way to dry them - both extremely important points in preserving beauty.

If conservationists are a little wary of the wildflower section, these words should be of comfort: ``Before venturing out, familiarize yourself with the protected plants and be sure to leave them undisturbed. ... Common or prolific plants should also command respect. ... Pick conservatively.''

The last chapter makes designing look easy. A crimped wire ring, some floral tape, scissors, wire for tying, floral picks, and the everlastings are all it takes to make a professional-looking wreath. Photos show each stage of the project. A heart-shaped wreath, band for a straw hat, bouquet, and floral wedding accouterments are explained, too. Plenty to keep one busy while nestled indoors.

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