How to bring nature indoors by pressing botanicals into beautiful art
Story and Photography by Cindy Shapton
Pressing botanicals is just one more way for plant lovers to get their fix while feeding the artist within. Just pick a basketful of your favorite flowers, herbs, leaves, seedpods, or whatnot to place between papers in a press and forget about it until the process is finished.
This is such a fun project … and educational as well. Once a plant or parts of a plant are pressed, it is easy to see the details that might otherwise be missed. The shape and texture of leaves, the way the flower(s) are attached to the stem, unique variations and leaf proportions, seed formations, and lots of other intricate elements suddenly come to life.
People have been pressing plant material for hundreds of years. The oldest examples were found in an Egyptian tomb dating back to about 300 B.C. Before cameras, botanicals were pressed for collections and herbariums around the world as a way for botanists to record their finds. Although pressed botanicals were used in art long ago, it was the Victorians who really brought botanical pressed designs into fashion.
Isn’t there something so romantic about opening an old book in an antique store and pressed flowers fall out? Or going through a box of your grandmother’s books where you find a posy flattened on the page of her favorite poem. Those botanicals tell a story.
Flower pressing is a great way to get children (of all ages) outside – away from electronics – opening up their senses and imaginations. Not to mention this activity gives you “two to one,” the pressing and then later, the creative process that turns it into a work of art.
The good news is you don’t need expensive equipment to become a plant presser. Let’s break it down and get started:
There are many items that can be used for a press, such as old telephone books, and how about those encyclopedia sets? Check out thrift stores for large heavy books without glossy pages.
I sometimes use scraps of plywood cut into squares about 15 by 15 inches. This size can vary depending on the size of the paper you use to separate plants that will go between the plywood squares. Newspaper is what I use (8½ x 11 inches) as blotting paper between the plywood along with various cardboard pieces added to the stack to make the press more substantial. The order of the stack is plywood on the bottom, newsprint, plant material, newsprint, and cardboard, repeating until the stack is the height you want then add the top square of plywood.
Don’t scrimp on the blotting newsprint paper – use 10-20 each time. I usually build my stacks 12-18 inches tall.
Add a cement block or a couple of heavy bricks to sit on top of your makeshift press or books to do the actual pressing and you are in business. Store your press in a warm or cool, humidity-free spot for a month to complete the process.
Of course you can buy an actual flower press or make a flower press using any of the many ideas online. They are prettier and handy if you want a portable press; these are nice for children as well.
Harvest only the best blooms at the peak of their perfection; some discolored or bug-eaten leaves are okay if real is what you are going for, but blooms need to be at their best. Pick mid-morning after the dew has dried or early evening before dew sets in. Of course you can prune away a bad leaf on a plant before pressing if it is not essential or discard later.
If a complete botanical, including the roots, is your objective, carefully remove as much soil as possible from roots, gently run water over roots until clean, blot with paper towels, and then proceed with pressing the whole plant.
Experiment with plants to press – thinner material dries easier, but thicker plants, such as sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) or Zinnias can be done with extra sheets of blotting paper. Sometimes you will want to cut the stem away from the flower or leaves so they will lay flat. They can be put back together on paper.
A few of my favorite botanicals
Annual and perennials: sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Aster, bachelor’s button (Centaurea montana), pansy (Viola x wittrockiana), Vinca, ‘Victoria Blue’ salvia (S. farinacea ‘Victoria Blue’), ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), ferns, Hydrangea (separate flowers), Dianthus, Cosmos, roses (Rosa spp.), Japanese maple (Acer palmatum), ornamental grasses, dusty miller (Senecio cineraria), Geranium, Celosia
Herbs: Cilantro, dill, sage (Salvia officinalis), lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina), thyme (Thymus spp.), tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), fleabane (Erigeron spp.), lavender (Lavandula spp.), mints (Mentha spp.), chicory (Cichorium intybus), comfrey (Symphytum officinale), borage (Borago officinalis), parsley (Petroselinum crispum), milk thistle (Silybum), bee balm (Monarda spp.), pineapple sage (Salvia elegans), Mexican sage (S. leucantha), papalo (Porophyllum ruderale), hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum).
Once the pressing is finished, very carefully lift the plant material from the blotting paper or book pages. A pair of tweezers is helpful. Unused materials need to be kept in a covered container (I use a small plastic tub with a tight cover) out of humidity.
Making a Picture
• Telephone or other large book with non-glossy pages
• Newsprint newspaper for blotting-drying
• Scape plywood
• Flat cardboard pieces
• Cement block or heavy bricks
• Glue – white, rubber cement, tacky, or spray adhesive
• Toothpicks and a small paper plate to put glue on for dipping
• Acid-free card stock, watercolor paper, handmade paper, etc.
• Number two pencil
• Various sized frames with glass – check thrift store or yard sales
1. Use card stock, watercolor paper, handmade paper, or whatever you wish as long as its acid free and sturdy. Cut to the size needed for the frame you use.
2. Arrange your picture with the pressed plant materials.
3. Carefully add drops of glue (Elmer’s white or clear, rubber cement, and tacky glue are some I have used) to the backside of each leaf, stem, and flower with a toothpick. Just make sure the glue you use dries clear. I have found that the spray adhesive glue works great for large fern leaves.
4. Using a number two pencil, label botanicals and sign your name and date if you wish.
5. Place your finished picture in the frame and voilà – you have a beautiful art piece to help bring a little nature indoors.