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Freeze-Drying Preserves Fresh Look of Foliage : Decoration: Process ensures long-lasting beauty of flower, plant and produce arrangements.

March 21, 1992|From Associated Press

As decorative elements, cut flowers, potted plants and baskets of produceneed no defenders. But beautiful as they are, flowers wilt, plants need to be watered, and dewy produce deteriorates quickly.

For a long-lasting look of freshness without fuss, there's freeze-drying. Lois Muller, owner of Juniper Farms in Locust Valley, N.Y., freeze-dries fruit, vegetables and flowers and claims that her arrangements will last indefinitely if kept out of direct sunlight and handled with care.

Muller sells arrangements at Juniper Farms for prices ranging from $95 to $1,200. If that seems steep, consider that the machinery--similar to that used in taxidermy--is expensive.

The two-stage preservation process starts with rapid extraction of all moisture. Then the dried product is coated or injected with preservative to restore plumpness and its fresh appearance.

"It is as if you went to the market and bought fresh fruit and vegetables and flowers every day and brought them home and arranged them," Muller says.

Among arrangements shown recently in New York were topiaries. One combined strawberries and gardenias ($650), and another was of cranberry beans in a bamboo container ($375). Muller also glues freeze-dried asparagus spears together to form a basket, uses a preserved eggplant as a vessel for tiny orchids and creates overflowing baskets of fresh-looking flowers, vegetables and fruits.

Juniper Farms isn't alone in the field. There are several companies using the technique, and arrangements are showing up at better florists and upscale decorative accessories shops around the country, according to Susan Colley, a New York floral designer.

Colley, for example, uses freeze-dried fruits and vegetables with such unusual dried materials as ranunculus, sunflowers and peonies in arrangements that she sells at her New York shop, Lexington Gardens, and markets wholesale to 258 retailers across the country.

"Freeze-drying can be used for virtually any material, so it gives you access to everything, including tomatoes, apples and oranges, that can't be preserved using other methods," Colley says.

Freeze-dried materials should last eight months to two years, depending on conditions. Direct sunlight, moisture, dust and airborne dirt are their main enemies, Colley says.

Flowers dried by traditional methods may be a little less fragile, but these too eventually fade and become dusty.

The advantage of dried products is not only their longevity but their adaptability to many kinds of creative arrangements, says Charlotte Moss, a decorator in New York and author of "A Passion for Detail" (Doubleday, $40).

Moss recently commissioned Lexington Gardens to create a fantasy landscape of dried flowers and other natural materials in a pewter urn about 12 inches in diameter. Three birch branches poke through a moss-covered surface. Surrounding the base of the "tree" are tiny watering cans and miniature clay pots full of dried pink delphiniums, lavender, coxcomb and such.

Moss says the $300 she spent was warranted.

"It will be a focal point on a coffee table in a big living room in my country house, and every weekend when I arrive, it will be there. I won't have to go out to buy fresh flowers to cheer myself up," she says. "I'll love it for as long as the colors look fresh."

Juniper Farms, 53 Birch Hill Road, Locust Valley, N.Y. 11560. Telephone: (516) 674-6080.

Lexington Gardens, 1008 Lexington Ave., New York City, N.Y. 10021. Telephone: (212) 861-4390.

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