The problem with an abundance of bloom by lily-of-the-Nile over the summer is that all the spent blooms need to be plucked about now. Fortunately though, not all of the spent blooms need to go to compost or greenwaste. The stalks and floral trusses (the clusters of short flower stems on top of the stalks) can actually become interesting ‘dried flowers’, even though the real flowers are long gone.
Many years ago, my neighbor took many of the lily-of-the-Nile stalks that I plucked from my front yard, plucked off the seed capsules, and hung the empty stalks upside down until they dried and turned tan. Being the artistic sort, she added them to other dried flowers and foliage, and arranged them in a large vase (which I think is pronounced as ‘vahz’). Over the years, we found that we can actually let them dry in the garden if we first remove the seed capsules which would otherwise weigh them down and bend the stalks.
Since my artistic neighbor liked these lily-of-the-Nile flower stalks so much, I brought her other dried flower stalks to see how or if they could also be useful. We found that flower stalks from New Zealandflax were just as interesting and even more striking; and some types make rather tall stalks. The large seed capsules from Eucalyptus ficifolia function like modern substitutes for small pine cones.
There are many other plant parts that can be dried and used with dried flowers as well. Cut bird-of-Paradise leaves become sculpturally twisted as they dry. Petioles (leaf stalks) of windmill palm become simple but striking straight black sticks. While still green, the palm leaves can be cut with scissors into interesting shapes less than six inches wide (larger cutouts disfigure). Some native iris produce large seed capsules that split open as they dry, to reveal bright orange or red seeds within. Money plant is actually grown for its dried seedpods instead of for flowers of foliage.
Even bare stems can be added to dried flower arrangements. Both manzanita and madrone have gnarly stems that turn black or dark brown once cut. Fig has contrastingly thick and curving white or gray stems. Bamboo can be cut into sections of any desired length and stripped of foliage. Heavenly bamboo (Nandina spp.) has shorter canes with a corky texture. Realistically, there are no rules for what works well with dried flowers. Anything that looks good is worth trying once.
Straw flowers, statice (Including sea lavender), lavender, globe thistle and yarrow are some of the more traditional dried flowers. Cat-tails and pampas grass flowers can work as well in large arrangements as they did decades ago, but should be sprayed with hair spray to keep them from shedding. (Cat-tails can actually be very messy if they happen to explode.)
Although spray paint is much too synthetic for those of us who prefer dried flowers to look natural, it also works well to keep pampas grass flowers and cat-tails from shedding while adding serious color. Some people enjoy the potential for unnatural colors enough to spray paint other dried flowers and plant parts that do not need to be sprayed with a fixative.