On a wet, miserable February day at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, I turned a corner and found spring. In front of me was row after row of brilliant blooms—rich purples and cheerful yellows, vibrant reds, soft pinks, white, cream—everlastings in myriad colours. I was captivated. What gardener wouldn’t be?
By definition, everlastings are flowers or herbs that retain their colour and form long after they’ve dried. People sometimes group plant material dried in glycerin or silica in the same category, but here I specifically discuss garden-grown flowers that can be air-dried easily and with little fuss.
Everlastings are beautiful and versatile. They provide cheer when the rest of the blooming world lies dormant, and can be used in everything from table arrangements and potpourri to wreaths and bouquets. Since plants are harvested at their peak, they always look good and there’s no worry about bloom times or rain spots, bug damage or stunted growth.
Everlastings can be annuals, perennials or biennials. Many are easy to grow from seed. Given that they come from many different families, growing conditions vary. However, Cynthia Cook, owner of Forest Glen Herb Farm in Lambton Shores, Ontario, says everlastings generally do best in well-drained, clay-free soil. “They also need at least half a day of sun and lots of heat to develop their flowers,” she adds.
Positioning them in the garden, though, can be challenging. While some everlastings, such as larkspur or cockscomb celosia, enhance the landscape, others, like strawflowers, have less impact. Another challenge: if you plan to harvest your crop every few weeks over the summer instead of just at the end of the season, you could be left with unattractive gaps in your garden bed. Cook recommends planting everlastings among fragrant herbs (the herbs don’t provide much colour, but the everlastings do) or as a cutting border to an annual flower garden. Most annuals continue to produce flowers all summer when picked regularly.