Annual statice is an attractive plant, and Payne says that makes it an excellent addition to the garden. You can even cut the stems and put them in water first, enjoy them as fresh flowers, then dry the blooms later, provided you don't wait too long before removing them from the water.
The trick with drying flowers is to figure out when they are ready to pick so that you get the most mileage out of them after they are dried. With statice, the blooming spikes open progressively from "inside to out," so cut the stems when the outer flowers are not quite open. If you see any browning on the inside flowers, don't save the stem for drying because you will be disappointed with the colors later. To dry statice, hang it upside down in bunches or standing upright in a vase.
Annual statice - Limonium sinuata - is available in light blue, sky blue, pink and yellow blooms, and you can purchase the seeds by flower color or as a mixture. Once you start to harvest, keep picking the spikes every three to four days to encourage more production.
Another annual statice is Limonium Suworowii (Park Seed Co., Cokesbury Road, Greenwood, S.C. 29647), which Payne recommends only for drying because it is not a good ornamental plant. The flowers are light pink and the branches very graceful, but the plants are "fussy," often succumbing to diseases.
Red salvia is commonly seen as a bedding plant, but the favorite salvia for drying is blue salvia - either the species Salvia farinacea or a variety of S. faromacea called Victoria, which grows smaller, only to 18 inches, with bright, violet-blue flowers.
Salvia seeds should be started inside in early May, then transplanted into the garden toward the end of the month. In even the driest summer, this plant blooms until heavy frost.
If you want to use the blooming spikes in fresh or dried arrangements, pick them just before the oldest blooms mature.
When Payne uses blue salvia as a fresh flower, she finds that the spikes droop over. But she solves this problem by pushing a pin down into the flowering stem, starting about one-quarter of an inch from the top so it doesn't show.
Each year, Payne experiments with a wider variety of flowers. A couple of years ago she added Bells of Ireland (Molucella laevis) to her list.
Friends had complained that seeds often refused to germinate, so Payne began testing different methods of germination. To get a good stand of Bells of Ireland seedlings, germinate the seeds in cool soil. In early April, Payne sprinkles the seeds between a couple of moist paper towels, puts these in a plastic bag and leaves them in the refrigerator. She then sows the seeds inside and puts the plants out as soon as they can withstand the elements in the garden.
Bells of Ireland grows 24 to 36 inches tall and much the same width, so
allow plenty of room for it to develop in the garden, Payne said. Green bell- shaped bracts form on the stems, then you will see tiny white flowers. When the bracts are firm it is time to start harvesting. If you harvest too soon, the stems will not hold up once dried.
Bells of Ireland also have slightly fragrant flowers, but one detracting feature is the spines along the stems. Payne puts on leather gloves to harvest it. Look for seeds of Bells of Ireland in Burpee's catalogue (Warminster, Pa. 18974).
New on Payne's list last summer was Craspedia drumstick (Burpee's and Park's catalogues), listed as a perennial, but she prefers to grow it as an annual, starting the seeds inside in late April. This plant will grow in dry soil, maturing around 24 inches tall, with round, yellow flowers. As the flowers mature, each ball will start to separate: This is the time to harvest.
And finally, an old standby is honesty, or money plant (Lunaria annua), which produces beautiful seed pods in the fall, following deep lavender flowers. As the seeds fall to the ground, let them stay there and they will produce vegetative growth in 1990, followed by flowers in 1991. The seedheads you want to save will be enclosed in an outer envelope. As the envelope starts to darken, begin your harvest.
Q & A
I am planning to use sod for a new lawn this spring. Is it necessary that the soil be worked as thoroughly beforehand as it is for seeding?
Preparation of the soil for sodding is just as important as it is for seeding. Any potentially fine lawn needs a firm, even bed of soil in good physical condition. This is accomplished only by spading or rototilling it several inches deep, then raking it level with a slight slope away from the house or other structures.
WHAT TO DO IN YOUR GARDEN THIS WEEK
Late spring is a good time to check on the houseplants. Toss out those that have succumbed to diseases and pests and see if the rest need repotting. Turn each one over and knock out the root ball. If the roots are winding round and round, making a white mass, it is time to repot. Always untangle the roots before you repot to encourage them to reach out into new soil. If you remove a lot of root growth, also remove foliage. If you expect the plant to bloom this summer, save your surgery on roots and tops until later in the year, right after bloom.