An herbal wreath is a fragrant and decorative way to dry your culinary herbs. While wreaths are most commonly used throughout the holiday season, especially pine or fir wreaths for their fresh scents, herb wreaths can bring aroma and ambiance indoors throughout the year.
Harvesting Herbs for Drying
Choose herbs to harvest that have not yet flowered. Cut the stems in the morning after the dew has dried, but before the heat of the day. Use clean, sharp scissors, or pruners. bundle them together in stems of five to ten, and hang them to dry. Once they are 3/4 of the way dry, they are ready to work with. At this point, they are not crisp. To dry bay leaves, place them between two paper towels and set a book on top of them. After a week, they should be ready to use. Here are four potential wreaths to make:
Lavender Wreath— Nothing smells better than a dried lavender wreath in the home.
Mediterranean Wreath–Bay stems, Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme make this a wonderful culinary wreath for any time.
Bay Wreath–Bay leaves can be dried to make a fragrant, culinary wreath to enjoy through winter.
Harvesting Fresh Herbs
Some herbs last longer than others in fresh herbal wreaths. Good herbs to choose include evergreens, such as bay stems, lavender, rosemary, sage, and even thyme stems. Flowering herbs, like chamomile, tansy, rosebuds, and yarrow, also work well. Avoid more tender herbs, like dill, parsley, or basil; they do not last and look poorly after just a couple of hours.
Making a Fresh Herb or Dried Herbal Wreath
Once you have collected a variety of herbs, you can dry them in a beautiful wreath. I like to contrast needles with broad leaves and vary the color, but a wreath made of entirely one type of foliage can also be pretty.
Grapevine wreath form
Rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender, bay, sage, or other garden herbs
Everlasting flowers for color
Floral wire or twine
Scissors or snips
Lay the grapevine wreath on a table, and set out the freshly cut herbs and florist wire.
Build a bundle of herbs in your hands, like gathering a bouquet. I like to incorporate woody-stemmed herbs like rosemary as the base of bouquet because the stems can hold the shape of the softer stems layered on top. Be sure to add a touch of color with lavender flowers or fennel blossoms.
Snip off any long stems and tie the first bundle with florist wire, leaving one end of the wire long. Wrap the long end of the wire around the wreath form to secure the first bundle in place.
Gather the second bunch of foliage. Lay this bunch with the tops overlapping the first one, and secure it to the wreath form with the wire.
Continue adding bundles of herbs to the wreath by overlapping the previous bunch and securing with wire until there are no more gaps to fill.
Secure the final bunch by gently lifting the herbs from the first bunch and tucking the stems underneath it. Secure with wire by twisting it together.
Take a last look at the wreath. You can tuck in a few more greens to even out the design and hang in your kitchen.
As the herbs dry, use needle-nose pliers to twist the wire on the back of the wreath to tighten the hold on the herbs.
Harvest herbs from the wreath for cooking for up to three months or until they lose their flavor and aroma.
Here in the Midwest, we have had unusually dry weather from August to October in the past few years. Last year we had no rain, except for one sprinkle, for ten weeks. My water bills exceeded $200, with the water company calling me to ask if we had a leak somewhere. I had the sprinkler on often moving it every two hours to a new spot, to save my extensive gardens, shrubs, and trees.
Still, the gardens remained dry, which has inspired me to consider new ways to save water in the garden (click here for some good ideas). I did, however, notice that some perennials fared better than others in the shade garden, even under my large silver maples (Acer saccharinum). Here are several I recommend if you garden in shady areas that have the potential to become seasonally dry.
Barrenwort for Dry Shade
Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.) is a slow-growing, spring-flowering perennial for shade gardens with attractive foliage that withstands dry shade through summer and fall. Growing only 8 to 15 inches tall, depending on the type, it has small, heart-shaped or elongated leaves, often with darker edges or colorful veins. The unusual, pendulous flowers appear on slender stalks and are small and four-petaled. They come in several different colors, including ivory, orange, pink, red, and yellow.
I have fairy wings (Epimediumgrandiflorum, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-7) with red-lilac flowers, ‘Orange Queen’ (Epimedium x warleyense ‘Orangekönigen’, Zones 5-9) with orange flowers, and ‘Sulphureum’ (Epimedium × versicolor ‘Sulphureum‘, Zones 5-9), my favorite, with yellow flowers. The red-flowered bishop’s hat (Epimedium x rubrum, Zones 5-9) is another reliable variety that also boasts reddish-tinged foliage. These are very easy to grow, noninvasive plants, and the leaves are attractive all season.
Helleborus for Dry Shade
Lenten rose and Christmas rose (Helleborus orientalis, Zones 6-9, and Helleborus niger, Zones 3-8) are among the earliest bloomers with the Christmas rose blooming a little earlier than Lenten. When it is still cold, they display their beautiful single or double flowers, letting you know that spring is coming. Most varieties have 3 -to 4-inch-wide flowers, in shades of pink, ivory, dark rose, green, or black; many of the light-colored flowers have freckles. Lenten roses have evergreen, palm-shaped leaves that look pretty all year round, even in dry shade. The plants stand 1 to 2 feet tall. A warning, they are poisonous, especially the roots, so refrain from planting them in areas where small children and pets frequent. (Click here to learn more about growing hellebores.)
Geraniums for Dry Shade
Perennial geraniums are not related to Pelargonium, the annual geraniums you buy every spring. The perennial types, called cranesbills, are quite hardy and long-lived once established. One of my favorites for shade is the big root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum, Zones 3-8), which is a mounding plant that flowers from spring to fall and has large, water-holding roots to help it ward off dry spells. While the mound can typically get 20 inches tall, some are shorter with centers only reaching 12 inches tall with a 24-inch spread. The delicate single blooms can be violet, blue, lavender, or light- to rose-pink. To keep them reblooming, cut back the stems. It also helps to cut back older leaves when they start looking ragged. This year I bought a beautiful new variety, ‘Elke’, with bright pink flowers edged and centered with white.
Anemones for Dry Shade
Japanese Anemones (Anemone x hybrida, Zones 4-8) are one of my favorite dry shade flowers. They start showing their wide blooms in August and keep blooming until frost on tall stems that sway in the breeze. Colors range from white to dark pink and purple. Some excellent varieties are the white-flowered ‘Honorine Jobert’, double, dark-pink-flowered ‘Bressingham Glow’, and double, pink ‘Margarete’. They will slowly spread via underground runners.
I also have the native spring-flowering Virginia anemone (A. virginiana, Zones 3-8) under my silver maple, and it thrives in the dry shade there. It bears white flowers in mid- to late-spring and feathery foliage through summer. Its one downfall is that it tends to spread, so it needs space.
Pulmonarias for Dry Shade
Lungworts (Pulmonaria spp.) are low growing plants that are grown for their spotted leaves, as well as their pinkish and violet-blue flowers. The unfortunate name arose in the Middle Ages because its spotty leaves look lung-like. At that time, it was believed that the pattern or shape of a plant’s leaves indicated it would be good to use as a medicine for organs it resembled.
Pulmonarias only 12-14 inches tall, including the flower spikes, and grow slowly to 2 feet wide. The pretty spotted or mottled leaves can be silvery or white with flowers ranging from glowing rose, blue, purple, and white. They cannot tolerate the sun, which will fry the leaves, but established plants can take dry shade. Look for ‘Raspberry Splash’ with intense pink flowers and dotted leaves, ‘Silver Bouquet’ with silver leaves and rose and blue flowers or ‘Bertram Anderson’ with silver blotched leaves and glowing blue blooms.
Other Perennials for Dry Shade
When my daughter was studying horticulture at Purdue University, she brought home an Italian arum (Arum italicum, Zones 5-9), which forms an interesting clump of attractive leaves that withstand drought. It is a beautiful plant whose insubstantial flowers develop bright orange-red fruits late in the season.
Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides, Zones 4-9) dots the dry woods in our region and also makes an outstanding fern that will grow well in dry, shaded gardens. Its evergreen fronds look good all winter when not covered in snow (click here to read more about evergreen ferns).
Evergreen European wild ginger (Asarum europeaum, Zones 4-7) is another good foliage plant that will take dry periods in summer and continues to look pretty all season with its glossy, heart-shaped leaves.
Of course, all plants will require some watering if it has been three weeks since it has rained, but there are two things you can do to help with hot, dry weather. First, fortify garden soils with Black Gold Canadian Sphagnum Peat Moss, which helps to hold moisture in the soil when conditions are dry, and mulch, which keeps the soil moisture from evaporating. When planting, remember to sprinkle a time-released fertilizer over the plants, and again in early July to keep them looking good until frost.
When you do need to water your garden, shrubs, or trees, 1 inch a week should do the trick. Leaving them completely without irrigation during the hottest, driest periods of summer and fall will result in poor looking shaded beds.
“Have been using your Black Gold Cactus Mix and Perlite for about a year now. I am growing primarily succulents. When I started, I experimented with many different kinds of soil and your soil mixed with perlite gave me the best results. In Hawaii, my climate is hot and humid. I have noticed lately that the soil is becoming hydrophobic. Is there any solution to this problem or ways that I can avoid this from happening? I really love your soil and would want to avoid this with future planting. Thank you.” Question from Patti of Mililani, Hawaii.
Answer: Yes! There are several things you can do to make dry soils moist again.
If the soils in your pots are repelling water, I suggest incorporating some Black Gold Peat Moss Plus or Black Gold Just Coir into your mix. Both products soak up water well and Peat Moss Plus contains an added organic wetting agent to keep soil water retentive. I also suggest adding a pebble layer on top of pots to help keep moisture in the mix.
For bagged soil, seal your bags well after use to keep the soil from getting dry. You can even add a little extra water to the mix and blend it by hand before sealing it. The ambient heat should help re-wet the mix.