Dried flowers with Carolyn Dunster

Working with professional florist Carolyn Dunster, we are harvesting and drying flowers from the Kitchen Garden to produce beautiful autumnal dried flower wreaths and displays. Carolyn tells us more about this sustainable floristry practice.

Image of Carolyn Dunster

How did you get into drying flowers?

I am a professional florist and an RHS award-winning garden designer, but I have had a love of flowers since childhood which came from learning how to garden and grow with my mother.

After working as a journalist for many years, I retrained in floristry with Jane Packer and then at the Inchbald School of Garden Design.

I grow as many flowers as possible in my city garden to use in my work and write widely about flowers and plants. My books are aimed at showing readers how to grow their own flowers for cutting, arranging and drying. I started drying my own garden-grown flowers as I wanted to find a more sustainable way of displaying flowers in my home throughout the year especially in the winter months when there is not much to pick from the garden.

Cut & Dry by Carolyn Dunster

I spent two years researching the best flowers to grow for drying and experimented with various different techniques to preserve them. This project was the subject of my book Cut & Dry, published by Laurence King in 2021.

How did you get involved with Chiswick House & Gardens?

I attended a cutting workshop and demo at Chiswick House & Gardens in August and was blown away by the abundance and variety of beautiful blooms growing in the Kitchen Garden. I got chatting to Rosie (Head of Gardens) and offered to help harvest some of the flowers for drying.

Flowers drying, image by Tracey Fahy

I live in north London but am happy to make the journey as it is such an inspiring environment to work in with a wealth of materials available for picking that would be impossible to grow in a small London garden.

How have you been drying flowers at Chiswick House & Gardens?

During late summer we have been drying flowers harvested from the Kitchen Garden and grasses and seedheads from the wider estate to use in long-lasting arrangements. We have turned one of the old sheds into a dedicated drying space that has become a hub of beauty and creativity.

Dried Flowers, image by Tracey Fahy

We have been concentrating on making tied dried bunches and wreaths for autumn displays. The wreath bases are handmade with lengths of ivy and wisteria cut from the historic Italian Garden as part of the maintenance programme carried out by the Goosefoot (gardening) volunteers. Once stripped of foliage and soaked to make them pliable, they are perfect for weaving into circular shapes without the use of any wires or plastic tape. We will be making up many more in time for Christmas.

Example of dried flowers and ribbon, image by Tracey Fahy

The dried bunches are tied with ribbons made from recycled cotton and dyed in an array of mellow hues that were obtained from extracting the colour pigments from dahlia heads picked in the Kitchen Garden.

Wreaths and Bouquets, image by Tracey Fahy

The whole project is so special and exciting as all the materials we are using are sourced on site. There is minimal environmental footprint, everything is naturally sustainable and it’s a way for people to take home a little piece of the Gardens.

A selection of dried flower bunches and wreaths will be available to buy from the Conservatory Shop on Thursdays and Saturdays, 11am–4pm throughout October. Christmas wreaths and displays will be available to pre-order soon.