A tour of Henry Francis du Pont’s former extraordinary home was my destination this year to enjoy holiday style decorations. An eighteen room dollhouse, fully decorated with Christmas treasures and other handmade pieces was also one of the draws for me.
Another was the large fir in the Conservatory decorated with hundreds of multi-hued dried flowers or “everlastings” that looked as fresh as if just picked. The iconic ‘Dried Flower Tree” is a tradition for Winterthur and people are amazed when they see it.
Arrangements are placed throughout the house all year-long with fresh flowers, and after they have done their duty in the floral designs, the flowers are taken to the basement of a cottage on the property. There, they are dried in the room dubbed “the drying room”. Serving double duty, these flowers arranged on the tree create a multi-hued rainbow effect that is stunning.
For the actual process of decorating this tree, which started in 1986, look at this video.
Most of the flowers are picked on Winterthur’s property throughout the year and either air-dried or dried with silica gel, a crystalline dessicant. Starting in March/April with the daffodil, any flower that can be dried is used for that purpose.
Everything is then packed into a fumigant tent for three weeks, starting in early October, to kill any pests. In late October, the flowers are brought out and organized by color into long boxes. Starting with the topper, the staff works all around the tree, bunching many of the flowers for a bigger impact. Special flowers like peonies and roses are placed singly on the branches, wired for stability.
Queen Anne’s Lace, peonies, daffodils, and zinnias are dried for ten days with silica gel as these don’t dry well with air drying. Others like larkspur, yarrow, billy balls, safflower, cockscomb, money plant, hydrangea, and Chinese lantern are air-dried in a dark place for about a week and then are packed away until ready to be used.
For hours and more information about Winterthur, go to Yuletide at Winterthur.
Make Your Own Everlasting Tree
Seeing the miniature tree at the visitor center got me in the mood to create one at home. A small artificial tree is all you need, preferably one with lights already loaded. I had plenty of dried flowers that I picked and dried throughout the summer months. My list included sunflowers, statice, roses, cotton, allium, strawflowers, globe amaranth, nigella, salvia, hydrangea, cockscomb, and orange slices.
A pick machine with steel picks is the easiest way to make small bunches of flowers, but if you don’t have the luxury of this great tool, you can simply gather bunches together and wire by hand.