Gifts from the garden
Preserving some of life's fleeting pleasures
My mum is a gardener. Last time I visited, I commented on the beauty of the flowers in her garden to which she replied, ‘Yeah, well…they’re just annuals…they’ll be dead soon.’
Gardening is relentless like that. The experienced gardener knows that present beauty and abundance is under constant attack from the seasons, weeds and pests. Even when the flowers are in full bloom, Mum is thinking of the next thing to plant, the next layer of mulch and the next session of weeding, on her hands and knees in the dirt, digging and pulling, digging and pulling.
A garden is never finished. It expands and contracts, flourishes and withers in correlation with the energy and attention of the gardener who tends it. And yet, even when neglected, the earth is abundant. A plant re-shoots years after being pulled out. A tomato plant bears sweet fruit despite dry conditions. A rosebush blooms again after the kangaroos feast on its first flowers.
I’m not a gardener. My friend bought me an arrangement of succulents for my birthday last June and they were dead by October. My partner and I attempted a vegetable garden, which has gone to seed and been taken over by thistles. But regular doses of greenery keep me sane. I spent an afternoon in the gardens of the Convent Gallery in Daylesford recently and was happy as a clam. Dappled sunlight through the leaves of a tree. Small flowers carpeting the ground. Fine blades of tall grasses trembling in the breeze.
When Mum went to the shops I snuck into her garden and picked a selection of flowers and leaves. I sat in her kitchen and pressed them between wax paper in the pages of my book. Dad saw me but promised not to tell. A few weeks later I arranged and glued them on card and framed it. I gave it to Mum for her birthday. No weeding to be done. No pests to repel. Just the beauty of her collaboration with the earth.
How to press and frame flowers and leaves
Pick a selection of flowers and leaves. You may want to pick large ones if you are thinking you will frame ONE thing (nice and dramatic) or lots of little things if you would like to have a go at creating an arrangement or bouquet. Either way, pick as many as you think you need…then pick some more. It’s hard to tell which ones will be the beauties once they’re dried and pressed.
Find some large hardcover books that are not too dear to you. I’ve never found pressing flowers to damage book pages but you can’t be too careful. If you’re worried about it, pick up some hefty harcover books from your local secondhand shop.
Cut pieces of baking paper to roughly the same size as the pages of your books. You will need two sheets for every page of flowers/leaves.
Placing one sheet of baking paper over a middle page of your book, arrange your flowers or leaves on the paper, taking care not to create any creases in your paper and leaving plenty of space between them - if they touch each other while pressing, you won’t be able to separate them afterwards!
Place another sheet of baking paper over the top of your flowers and leaves and close the book. If you have more flowers and leaves to press, pick another book. I find pressing flowers and leaves in multiple spots in the same book is asking for trouble. It’s just too easy for your flowers on the first page to accidentally move around while you’re arranging the second lot. Maybe if you’re doing a single large leaf per page…then it’s not so risky. See what you think!
Keeping a firm squeeze on the covers of your book, place it under something heavy. I find a stack of other books in the bookshelf works well - as long as you can remember which book your flowers are in! Leave your goodies to dry for a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, source a pretty picture frame and some craft card to which you’re going to glue the pressed flowers/leaves. Choose a decent weight of card - nothing too flimsy or it won’t sit nicely in your frame.
Cut the card to fit in the picture frame and make a light pencil mark in the middle of your card, so you have a rough idea of where to glue things. If you’re using a frame with mountboard, take the mountboard out of the frame, place it over your cut-to-size card and make a light pencil dot in each corner, so you know where to glue your flowers without hiding them behind the mountboard.
Play around with your flowers and leaves to see how you want to arrange them. You might want to use tweezers if they’re a little fragile. Once you’re happy, take a photograph with your phone so you can refer back to it when you’re sticking things down. If your arrangement has overlapping flowers or leaves it’s a good idea to put them aside in the order you need to glue them down or write numbers next to them on a piece of paper.
Get gluing! If you have a nice big individual flower or leaf, I recommend applying good ol’ glue stick to your card then placing your pressed leaf or flower where you want it and applying firm pressure (put some baking paper over it first to stop any moisture from your hand ruining things). If you’re arranging multiple things and want them overlapping at points, use a toothpick to apply small dots of craft glue to the reverse side of the flowers/leaves, taking care not to overdo the glue. Less is more! Once the glue has dried, give the glass in your frame a thorough clean and pop your beautiful work in the frame. You are done!