The phone rang. But I let it ring for a while, somewhat annoyed that the ringing was interrupting my train of thought. I finally picked up the receiver and said, "Today section. Richard Christenson speaking."

"Hello," said a pleasant voice on the other end of the line. "I'm Marion Johnson of Sandy. And I've just finished decorating my home for Valentine's Day. It's filled with posy holders, tussie mussies and house blessings. Do you think you could stop by and see them?"I was really bogged down with work, so was tempted to say "no." But I was fascinated by the words she used - posy holders, tussie mussies and house blessings. They were foreign to me. My curiosity got the best of me, and I made an appointment.

As Johnson graciously ushered me through her home, it dawned on me that these terms referred to her

dried-flower arrangements.

It didn't take long for her to detect that I was unfamiliar with the terms she was using. So she carefully explained - and spelled - them for me.

"Tussie mussies" are small garlands of flowers placed on doilies. "Victorian ladies attached ribbons to them and wore them on their wrists," Johnson said.

"Posy holders" are an arrangement of flowers that are sometimes called nosegays (if they are all-around bunches of flowers) or bouquets (if they are flat-backed). Johnson's posy holders were made of dried snap dragons, German statice, Euonymus and ivy, tucked into fabric edged with lace.

"House blessings" are larger arrangements of flowers that can be placed on mantles, tables or other pieces of furniture. "The term comes from the South," Johnson explained. "Everyone in the South has a house blessing."

Other dried-flower arrangements graced some of the walls. Pointing to an attractive grouping, Johnson said, "This one was made up of white hibiscus, purple German statice, white German statice, pink rosebuds, baby's breath, ivy, twigs and a pink satin ribbon for accent."

Arrangements attached to heart and circle shapes adorned some of the rooms. She said that except for an occasional basic form, artificial flower and satin ribbon, she uses flowers, foliage and other materials she has found and dried.

Johnson pointed out that what's so exciting about these dried-flower arrangements is that most of them didn't cost her a penny.

"Anyone can go out and buy artificial flowers that look artificial. And silk flowers are often very expensive. So why not save your money and use the real thing?"

She added that they're ideal for birthdays, Christmas and anniversaries. They also make darling Valentines, luncheon favors and greeting cards.

Although it's hard to believe, Johnson has been involved with

dried flowers for only a few months.

Last November, she mustered up enough courage to enter two of her dried-flower wreaths in the Festival of Trees. Right off the bat, they sold. Their popularity was the motivation Johnson needed to pursue dried-flower arranging in earnest.

When spring finally arrives, Johnson will be outside scouring the valley to collect bunches of flowers and foliage for drying.

"Thanks to the pioneers, sweet peas grow wild along many irrigation ditches in Sandy, Draper and West Valley. They start blooming in May and continue until it freezes."

During her search, she often ventures into other people's yards and fields. "But, first, I ask permission," she added.

Johnson explained that she dries flowers in several different ways.

The easiest, most effective way is air drying. She ties flowers in small bundles and hangs them upsidedown so they don't lose their color. "But, remember, you have to hang them in a dry, warm place - like a garage."

Another method is using desiccants - drying agents like silica gel, borax, alum and sand.

"You can buy silica gel powder at any crafts store. Just lay flowers carefully in a box and sprinkle a layer of silica gel over them."

When she uses sand, she takes a bucket with her to the shore of the Great Salt Lake, fills it and strains it. "The salt in the sand acts as a preservative," she said.

There are a number of other techniques that Johnson uses: spraying fragile flowers and foliage with a light coat of hair spray; dipping larger roses in melted paraffin wax; placing a layer of newspaper over ivy when drying it; and using a glue gun instead of wire to attach many of the flowers.

Johnson didn't learn all of these tricks of the trade through trial and error. She gleaned much from monthly publications such as "Victoria" and "Country Magazine."

Readers Digest came out with an excellent book, "Flower Arranging," in September, 1990. This 240-page handbook is a complete, practical guide to choosing, preparing and arranging fresh and dried flowers for every occasion.

There are 550 color photographs and illustrations. This RD Home Handbook was specially created for the Reader's Digest Association Inc. by Dorling Kindersley Ltd. To order, call 1-800 733-3000.

More and more people are getting hooked on drying flowers. It's an inexpensive hobby. And these dried-flower arrangements are popular because they can be made in advance, can be used year after year and can stimulate creativity as people design their own striking arrangements.