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The botanist's art: pressing and drying flowers and leaves.

The botanist's art: pressing and drying flowers and leaves

The ancient term for a collection of pressed flowers was hortus siccus, "dried garden.' It's apt because many flowers, when dried, keep most of the beauty they had in the garden. Knowing this, many botanists love herbariums--collections of pressed plants--as much for art as for science.

You can practice the botanist's art of pressing and mounting garden flowers and learn much about garden plants along the way. Use pressed flowers to make decorative arrangements like those shown here or to supplement your garden records. On the next page we list, by color, some common flowers that work especially well for pressing, including several that hold their color up to several years.

Presses, paper, tools

Flowers and leaves are best pressed as soon as they're picked, so get your pressing and mounting equipment ready before you start out on a collecting expedition.

Many people just stick flowers in old books, but this is hard on the books and doesn't to justice to the plants. A press is better by far. You can buy one or make your own: we tell you how on page 169.

Presses come in many sizes and types (see the photograph on page 168). Small ones are made to slip into a pack or under the seat of a car for field collecting, while most larger ones, 12 inches wide and 18 inches long, are sized to accommodate standard 11 1/2- by 16 1/2-inch herbarium paper. Extra-large presses are made for oversize specimens.

Ready-made presses usually come with blotters and ventilators (pieces of corrugated cardboard) to wick moisture away from drying plant parts. If you make your own press, you can get the accessories separately at art supply stores, from scientific supply houses, or by mail order from Carolina Biological Supply Co., Gladstone, Ore. 97027. For prices, call (800) 547-1733; within Oregon, call (503) 656-1641.

Buy mounting paper no larger than the press you're using (or cut it to fit), and be sure it's acid free: check the catalog or ask the clerk. (Caustic chemicals in most paper will eventually yellow it and alter the color of dried plants.) The pros prefer all-cotton papers, but even 50 percent cotton works well.

Which flowers?

Gardener-artist Jeanne Kantor, photographed at left in her garden in Gig Harbor, Washington, uses mainly perennials for pressing. She grows them in beds by color, one color per bed.

Many annuals also press successfully: lobelia, love-in-a-mist, single-flowered marigolds, and sweet alyssum do especially well. Experiment freely, keeping an eye out for interesting leaf and flower shapes.

Pressing is a pastel art; expect flower colors to fade over the years. In general, purples, oranges, and whites hold their colors well. Blues very by plant, sometimes holding, sometimes fading quickly to beige.

Drying the plants

In the pressing process, you reduce three dimensions to two overnight, often with delightful results. Here's how to do it.

On one side of an open plant press, lay a piece of corrugated cardboard, then blotter paper or four thicknesses of newsprint. The plant specimen, which must be free of waterdrops and dew, goes on top. As you cover it with a second blotter, shape the flower petals and leaves so they won't crease in the pressing. Top everything with another piece of cardboard and as many additional layers of plants, blotters, and cardboard as you want. Some presses can be stuffed a foot thick.

Put the top on the press and cinch it down. Fleshy plants and leaves need to be cinched more tightly and dried longer than thinner, less succulent ones.

Change the blotters daily for the first two days, then twice a week until plants are dry. When they're ready to be removed (usually 1 to 10 days after first pressing), they'll slip easily from the paper.

At that point, lay them in a sunless spot indoors to air-dry for a day. If leaves or petals show any curling, re-press them. Store dried flowers by variety or by color. Add moth balls to keep insects at bay.

Making the arrangements: "What you don't do is sneeze . . .'

There's much to be said for putting only one plant on a page, as botanists do: simplicity often brings out the best in leaf and flower forms. But for a single plant or a composition, the process is the same.

Working on a desk top that's protected from wind and air-conditioner drafts, lay the dried material on herbarium paper. Have tweezers, white glue, pencil, ruler, scissors, and a fine paintbrush handy. Move plant parts around with tweezers and cut off any parts that don't fit in.

If you're making an arrangement, it's usually best to leave more room at the top of the design than at the bottom and to work from the center of the page toward the sides. Leave extra room around the edges if you plan to frame your creation, and try not to use too many colors in any single arrangement.

When everything is in place, lift leaves, flowers, and sections of stem one at a time with tweezers. Brush the back of each with a light coat of white glue, then quickly set it back in place, pressing it against the paper and flattening stubborn leaves and petals with the blade of a knife.

With all parts glued in place, set the paper aside to dry for several hours before framing. Then lift it slowly to make sure that all pieces are hanging on; reglue those that aren't.

To minimize fading, keep the mounted plants out of direct sunlight.

Photo: With beds laid out by color, this gardener harvests perennial flowers as they come into bloom, then presses and stores them to use later. Here she picks orange tiger lilies; gold-band lilies in foreground are also ready

Photo: Using pressed flowers and leaves, she experiments until she develops a strong design. Craft glue mounts plants to herbarium paper (it's acid free)

Photo: Cobra lilies pressed by Ruth Hansen for Berry Botanic Garden become part of herbarium

Photo: Finished arrangements in different sizes and shapes can be mounted on note cards, matted and framed as well art, and even laminated for place mats. Most will fade slowly with age

Photo: You can make or buy plant presses in many sizes. Small, carry-along ones are for away-from-home collecting; larger ones preserve oversize garden specimens
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Aug 1, 1984
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