How to dry hydrangeas

One of Summer’s most beautiful flowers – and a favorite during Faded Summer, too! – is the hydrangea! Primarily grown in shrub form (unless trained as a tree), hydrangeas have a multitude of large, fluffy blooms and – especially with the newer varieties – deep green leaves. Shrubs can become quite large and bloom colors range from light blue, purple, and periwinkle to pink (both light and dark), lime green, and white. They are a cottage garden staple!

Large, fluffy hydrangea blooms – a hardy, long-blooming star in the cottage garden!
Photo via Pixabay.

The neat thing about them – apart from their hardiness and long bloom season – is that the gardener has some control over the bloom color. Amending your soil to be more acidic (with products such as Color Me Blue hydrangea pellets) encourages blooms on the blue and purple side. Soil higher in alkaline produces blooms in the pink range.

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Hydrangea “Endless Summer – BloomStruck” – petals range from light pink to mauve to purple.

One of my favorite things to do with hydrangea blooms is to dry them so they can be enjoyed indoors throughout the winter. This process is very simple – the only trick is to harvest them at the right time.

I am tending my first-ever hydrangea bushes this year! As much as I’ve admired this plant over the years, I never had my own until now. I purchased mine on sale at Lowe’s – one blue “Endless Summer” and one pink “Endless Summer BloomStruck.” They’re a little straggly at the moment having lived at the garden center most of the summer, but I’m hoping for more blooms before first frost and looking forward to seeing how they do next year!

The first time I tried drying hydrangeas, I actually used some blooms I found on the curb in my daughter’s college town! The city had cut back some shrubs of the light green “Limelight” variety, and the blooms were in garbage bags lining the street, awaiting pick-up. Much to my daughter’s amusement (I’m sure it was amusement I detected…), I rescued a few of the blooms by tossing them into the trunk of my car.

Limelight hydrangea blooms literally picked out of garbage bags found on the curb in 2015.

I used this simple method to dry them, and they lasted over a year – going from light green to light brown – before they became too brittle and began to fall apart if I moved them.

Lily is hiding behind the blooms as they dry.

Here’s how to dry hydrangea blooms for months of ongoing beauty!

1. Harvest hydrangea blooms by cutting them from the shrubs beginning around late August into late September, when they’ve started to dry a bit naturally and have a slight papery texture, but before first frost. They will also begin to change color around this time, so you should get some interesting variety in hues. If you find that your blooms simply wilt a few days after they’ve been cut, or the petals curl as they dry, chances are they were harvested a touch too early.

Fall is the best time to harvest hydrangea blooms for drying – they’ll have variegated hues and have a slight papery texture when it’s time to cut them.

2. Cut stems to an appropriate length for your vase, and carefully cut away all the leaves. You can leave a pair of leaves at the top if you like for greenery, but you’ll need to clip them off later after they wither. Make sure each stem has a clean, angled cut at the bottom.

Carefully cut away leaves from the stems, and also make sure there is a clean angled cut at the bottom of each stem.

3. Dry the blooms by filling your vase with water and putting your stems in, making sure they all reach the water. Then just let the water evaporate from the vase gradually – when it’s gone, your blooms should feel dry and papery. You don’t even have to replenish the water!

Because of their growth habit on the shrub, hydrangea stems are rarely straight. Just put them in water and let the water evaporate over time – no need to replenish it.

4. Enjoy your blooms in a pretty vase, placed where you can see it for a long time. Your blooms will continue to dry naturally and will look beautiful for many weeks or even months!

This variety in hue is all from the same shrub!
Pretty sure every hydrangea grower puts their blooms on a pedestal 😉

Here’s an image to pin on Pinterest if you’d like to save “How to Dry Hydrangeas” for easy reference!

Have you tried drying hydrangeas before? How were your results? Do you have a favorite variety?

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Create a quick and easy, weed-free cardboard flowerbed

For decades (decades, people!) I created flower beds wherever I lived using a very labor-intensive method: I’d overturn individual shovel-widths of sod, break up the chunks by hand to preserve as much soil as possible, and discard the remaining grass clumps. This was boring, ache-inducing, time-consuming work, and it left my beds prone to weeds even after the grass had been removed.

The break-up method of creating flower beds. Looks okay at first, but believe me: I’ve spent all summer keeping up with the weeds in this small area, even though I’ve put mulch down.

I had read about an easier way online, but somehow always forgot about it whenever I’d get the urge to create a new bed. Until this year, when I decided I wanted to create a bean-shaped bed around the coach light in my front yard. I had already made three new smaller beds this season using my old method, and I was so discouraged at the thought of having to do it again.

I love these coach lights in the front of every home in my mobile home park. The communication box – not so much. Fortunately, I got permission not to completely obscure it, but at least to plant around it.

Then I remembered the cardboard method and I decided this was the year – and the space – in which to try it.

The results have been spectacular!

Happy zinnias in about 60 days’ time!

This method is so simple – of course I wish I’d tried it years ago! Basically you’re going to convert a patch of lawn to a flowerbed by smothering the grass with cardboard. I’m told you can also use newspaper, but I don’t subscribe to the paper anymore so I don’t have a stash of that. I DID have a large appliance box that I had already cut up into large panels, stored in my garage. It worked perfectly!

Here’s the “cardboard method” for creating a new flower bed!

Cardboard Flower Bed Preparation

Determine your flower bed shape and size, and note your measurements.

Mow the lawn first so your grass is short – there will be less material to break down.

Gather a few bricks or rocks to use in anchoring the cardboard temporarily.

Creating Your Cardboard Flower Bed

Cut your cardboard to fit the shape and size needed. You can use multiple pieces to cover a larger area. I had to do a bit of measuring to account for the coach light and a communications box (which I needed to leave accessible), and a bit of cutting to round the corners. Plain brown cardboard is best because it’s going to break down and amend your soil. White coated cardboard is not going to break down as quickly.

Almost perfect measuring to accommodate the light post and communication box.

Lay your cardboard where you want it directly over the grass. Anchor it temporarily with bricks.

I used two pieces of flat, plain brown cardboard, measured and cut in the desired shape, then simply laid on the grass with bricks to anchor them temporarily.

Water the cardboard thoroughly.

Put flower bed edging around the bed. This helps corral the soil you’re going to add to it.

Add soil to the bed, removing any anchor rocks or brick as you go. I filled mine about 4 inches deep with regular garden dirt from a drainage project taking place elsewhere in my yard. You can also use purchased garden soil or potting soil.

Cardboard flower bed | Vintage Floral Cottage
I love this style of edging! I filled my flower bed about four inches deep with soil from elsewhere in the yard.

Water the bare soil, to help settle it and contribute to the break-down process.

Scatter seeds or plant bedding plants to fill your flower bed.

Don’t over-water, but keep the bed evenly moist while things establish. You can put bedding plants directly into the added soil. The cardboard will break down and roots will eventually get down into the deeper soil below.

I filled mine with two large packages of wildflower and pollinator mix seeds. This patch went from bare lawn to blooming garden in just 60 days!

Here are some progress shots. The pollinator seed mix did great, particularly the zinnias – one of my favorite, easiest-to-grow summer flowers!

About one month after planting.
About 70 days after planting – LOVE this beautiful blooming bed, and so do the bees and butterflies.
The hot mixed colors of these zinnias are gorgeous!
Zinnias ranged from soft pink to bright orange-red to fuschia.
This pollinator – and his bumblebee friends – absolutely love this simple garden!
Always interesting to discover a new garden critter – this is the Ermine moth. Doesn’t it look like a queen wearing a royal robe?
Hoping for a few more of the Cosmos to bloom – the frilly foliage adds interest to the bed of greenery, but the short-lived blooms are beautiful!

Here’s an image to pin on Pinterest if you’d like to save this how-to for a quick and easy flowerbed for future reference!

Have you tried this method of creating a cardboard flower bed? Have you ever tried it with newspaper? I hope your results were as satisfying as mine have been so far!

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In praise of terry cloth

I suppose I’m going to be drummed out of the house cleaning corps for saying this, but I cannot stand microfiber towels and rags! The texture of the closely-packed synthetic fiber… its special laundering requirements… the way it swirls a spill around on a surface even though it is purported to be MORE absorbent than regular towels… can’t stand it!

BUT – in the interest of promoting what I love rather than tearing down what I dislike, I will instead expound for a moment on the joys and benefits of good old-fashioned terry cloth. Because I love terry cloth and use it exclusively for towels and washcloths in my home.

Pretty vintage terrycloth bath towels!

Why Terrycloth?

Terry cloth is absorbent! I can put a terry cloth kitchen towel down over a spill and instead of just spreading it around on the affected surface like synthetic microfiber, the towel actually absorbs the spill AND dries the surface at the same time. Genius!

Terry cloth can be washed with my other laundry! I can and do throw my terry cloth towels and washcloths in with all my other laundry and they come out with no residue from the other fabrics embedded in their fibers. By contrast, it’s recommended that you only wash microfiber with other microfiber – and I can promise you, I will NEVER have enough microfiber in my house to justify an entire load of laundry.

I love the large-scale floral motifs on so many vintage bath towels!

Terry cloth is snuggly! When I step out of the shower, I not only love the absorbency of my towels, I love their warmth. It feels great to surround myself with a terry cloth bath sheet because it stays put – it doesn’t slide all around my body like synthetic microfiber – and it holds in the warmth of the water from my shower.

Terry cloth is beautiful! Vintage terrycloth towels feed my vintage-loving soul with their nubby texture, floral motifs, and soft faded-over-time colors. I look for good gently used vintage towels on eBay, but also find a lot of them in the thrift stores.

Minimal Benefits of Microfiber

One of the alleged benefits of microfiber is that it works better as a cleaning cloth – supposedly the tiny “close” fibers clean better because they are “electrostatically charged” so they don’t need chemical cleaners. I certainly admit that terry cloth is not the best fabric for, say, a dusting cloth… but I use flour sack dish cloths for dusting furniture, sprayed with a little Lemon Pledge, and have done so ever since dusting was “my chore” as a kid. If using Lemon Pledge is wrong, I don’t wanna be right – I love the smell!

As for kitchen floors – I have tried using microfiber mops, and I just can’t stand them. I use a sponge mop with a little PineSol in the water, and I either let the floor air-dry or I run a terry cloth towel over it to pick up the remaining moisture.

Also love that touch of fringe at the bottom – so vintage!

Finally, the cleaning difference of microfiber does not outweigh the downsides for me – microfiber allegedly removes more bacteria. but I’m just not going to pay more for microfiber and deal with its special care needs for a six percent difference.

Terry cloth just has so much more vintage vibe! And yes, I buy them gently used off eBay, from thrift stores, and other secondhand sources!

For pure vintage loveliness, absorbency, easy care, and that wonderful “snuggle factor,” I’m sticking with terry cloth for my kitchen and bath.

How about you – Team Terry Cloth? Or Team Microfiber? Would love to know what you think!

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The forgotten legacy of Alva Vanderbilt Belmont

This post contains an affiliate link to the referenced book on Amazon.com. If you purchase the book through my link, it costs you nothing extra but I do receive a small commission. Thank you for your supporting purchase, should you be inclined!

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a). a love for the television program, Downton Abbey, and the time period in which it’s set, both in England and the U.S.; and b). a love of research into obscure topics of American history and culture. This piece is a bit of a departure, topic-wise, for my blog, but it is very timely – as you’ll soon see.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont. Photo source: Flickr Commons Project 2012.

It seems that any time the name Alva Vanderbilt crops up, people are quick to condemn her for being a self-centered, manipulative social climber and serial mansion-builder during America’s “Gilded Age.” And she was all those things, as evidenced by the often-repeated story of how she maneuvered her daughter Consuelo into marrying the English Duke of Marlborough for position and status rather than love – similar to the fictional marriage of Cora Levinson and Robert Crawley on Downton.

But.

As with every complex and multi-faceted human being, there is always more to the story. And there was far more to Alva than just a desire to climb to the top of the New York social ladder. According to author Amanda Mackenzie Stuart in her dual biography “Consuelo and Alva Vanderbilt,” Alva sought position for Consuelo not just to cement her own position at the top of the New York social heap during The Gilded Age… but because of her personal beliefs about marriage and the subjugated role of women in wealthy American society.

Alva was clear in her observation that rich American wives were soon cast aside by their industrialist husbands, who always had something next to conquer and who expected their wives to fade into the background of caring for home and children while they (the husbands) enjoyed complete freedom to pursue whatever pleasures they wished – both intellectual and physical – outside the bonds of marriage. Alva experienced this personally with her husband, William K. Vanderbilt, who – like most rich men of his era – strayed overtly from his marriage vows over and over. That his wife filled this void with lavish parties, beautiful homes, and exerting control over her children can hardly be wondered at – indeed it was the way society expected her to deal with her husband’s infidelity and to make a life within her particular station.

More to the point, Alva perceived wealthy American wives (herself included) as “captives like flies in a bottle, and having once flown in, could never regain their freedom.” She did not wish for her daughter (or herself, for that matter) to be a fly in a bottle. Rather, having traveled throughout Europe as a young woman, Alva wanted Consuelo to live well, but with personal fulfillment and a greater social purpose. While American culture seemed to impose no sense of social responsibility on the wealthy, in England Alva saw that the aristocratic class was expected to use their wealth to improve conditions for all classes. The career she sought for Consuelo was one based in firm social standing at the top of the ladder, to be sure – but with care and concern for the aspects of society that needed improving. Rather than being a bystander relegated to tending the home fires, Alva wanted her daughter to be able to use her brain, her power, and her money for social good – something that would be considered completely unnecessary, and even chastised, had Consuelo married a rich American in the culture of the time. Based on her personal experience, Alva believed that England was the place for this life to unfold for Consuelo, so marriage to the Duke was the best possible answer.

Beyond the ever-clashing forces at work in Alva’s personality which led her to engineer her daughter’s marriage to an English Duke, there is one other aspect of Alva that deserves far more recognition than it has received. This is her role in the American woman’s suffrage movement.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, second from right, at the 1915 Woman’s Voter Convention. Photo Source: Library of Congress.

When Alva’s second husband Oliver Belmont died in 1908, she visited Consuelo in England and was taken by the manner in which her daughter had fully embraced the “career” of empowered, respected aristocrat. One of Consuelo’s primary interests was woman’s suffrage, and the widowed Alva found a similar passion for this cause while in England. She returned to New York from that visit ready to throw in with the National American Woman Suffrage Association, but found their lack of national visibility to be cripplingly ineffectual. She contributed funds to a more visible New York-based office and the establishment of a press bureau responsible for literature sales and public relations with the media.

Alva argued vehemently that the vote was not a privilege, but a right – a human right. She believed that success in securing woman’s right to vote lay in executing a far more forceful fight on the national political stage. She floated the ideas of a federal constitutional amendment and alignment with one of the established political parties. The “National American” often disagreed with her beliefs and methods, preferring a low-key, conciliatory approach. Eventually Alva re-aligned with the more aggressive Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage (CU) led by Alice Paul, and she funded the establishment of the National Women’s Party. For more than a decade, Alva fought vigorously and consistently for the suffrage cause.

This paragraph from Stuart’s dual biography effectively sums up Alva’s contribution to the suffrage movement:

“Alva was critical to reviving the fortunes of the National American when she joined in 1909… she was highly effective in translating her society experience into a political campaign for which there was no precedent in America, impressing on the suffrage movement the importance of positive action, public impact, strategically placed buildings and expert manipulation of the press. She was well ahead of her time in perceiving the importance of alliances with other groups of women… In becoming the main financial backer of the National Women’s Party, she helped to introduce a new, confrontational element to the suffrage campaign… (which) was highly effective in holding male politicians from the President downwards accountable for their failure to deliver the vote, and in pioneering the idea of a suffrage amendment to the constitution… an approach which eventually won the day and also became the basis of Carrie Chapman Catt’s ‘Winning Plan.'”

While not a movement leader on the scale of Catt, Paul, or Susan B. Anthony, Alva’s contributions to woman’s suffrage were critical in reviving the stalled movement and in its eventual success.

It is easy to dismiss Alva for her “sins” of being controlling and manipulative, but it’s also easy to dig just a little deeper… to investigate and even appreciate her full reasons for wishing “the Duchess’s life” upon her daughter and her efforts to bring about social reform through woman’s suffrage and progressivism.

Alva Vanderbilt Belmont. Photo Source: Britannica.com

August 18th, 2020, marks the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, granting women the right to vote. A right that Alva Vanderbilt Belmont – like it or not – fought with all her power to procure for American women of every class.

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Cottage necessities: silk flower arrangements

Friends, I’ve said it before: silk flowers are a staple here in my little cottage – I could not and would not enjoy my home as much as I do if it weren’t for beautiful bunches! Do you use them? I know, I know… lots of people poo-poo them.

“They look so fake.”
“Nothing but dust magnets.”
“They’re awful.”

And to those people I say, you really don’t know what you’re missing, especially when higher quality silks are all over the thrift stores and other second-hand venues… and frequently 50% off or more at places like Hobby Lobby!

Here are a few of my favorites:

This one was $2.99 at Goodwill a couple years ago. It is presently popped into an antique biscuit jar that was a $1 auction win. I tend to move this one all around the house and change its container fairly frequently.

My little sawhorse coffee table was becoming quite the cluttered mishmash of containers holding everything from my collection of reader glasses to the TV remote and so many other random things. I rounded everything up into this cool vintage box labeled Daphne Prunes, and now it feels much more organized. And pretty, too, after setting in a bunch of Dollar Tree silk flowers from my stash for that spilled-over look!

Absolutely stunning ready-made bunch of ranunculus and other blooms from a local consignment shop for $6.99. It sits (literally) on a pedestal in my kitchen.

Perfect muted hues for an elegant table-for-two. The larger blooms are a place to rest, visually speaking, from the intricate borders on the dinnerware I used.

Simple views on my enclosed porch one day pre-pandemic as I headed off to work.

I spotted this huge solid pink poinsettia the moment I walked in the door at a Goodwill a couple of years ago. It is about two feet across and cost $2.99! Later, I found a variegated pink clip-on poinsettia bloom that mingles perfectly. A favorite at Christmastime!

What are your thoughts on adding inexpensive beauty to every corner of your home with silk flowers – yay or nay?

Here’s an image to Pin if you’d like to save these beauties!

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