My obsession with growing my own flowers has extended to preserving some of them in order to enjoy them throughout the year - a thought that is especially welcome as yesterday we woke to a frosty garden. A hard frost signals the end of the tender dahlias, cosmos and zinnias that I've been cutting for months. They are so beautiful that it seems a shame to not enjoy them for longer.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower picture using Astrantia, Roses, Rose petals, Forget-me-nots and Cornflower petals.

My favourite method of preserving their fleeting beauty is to press them in a traditional flower press and display them in a modern glass frame. You could group your flowers to make a picture, such as my butterfly below, arrange them in a pretty pattern or just use one type of flower - the possibilities are endless. I've had so much fun making them that I've started selling my makes on Etsy.

Pressed flower butterfly
Butterfly made from real pressed flowers and petals

Pressing flowers

I press them for between 2-4 weeks in some large flower presses that I bought online. I started off with my six-year-old daughter's mini press but she was none too pleased and told me to get my own! Ensure that the cardboard used in your press is flat and not corrugated or you will leave an imprint in your flowers. Blotting paper is preferable to paper towels which again may leave an imprint.

Flowers from the press
Flowers fresh from the press

Bulky flowers such as roses and dahlias will not press well but I like to just use the petals. Strong, bold colours should retain their colour well after pressing but some, like blue cornflowers, do lose their colour as they age, often turning white in the press. Choose flowers with strong colours which you have observed keep their colour as they age in the vase. Good candidates are dark rose petals, larskpur which keep their colour beautifully, vibrant pelargonium petals, buttercups, marigolds and hydrangea petals which dry to give a lovely, antiquey hue.

I have had some success with retaining the colour of blue cornflowers and other flowers prone to fading, such as Iris reticulata, in a press that you use in the microwave - I got mine in the children's section of Toys R Us! I find this method good for flowers which don't retain their colour well with traditional presses but find that it can give the dried flowers a more wrinkled appearance over time and you have to be careful not to use a high setting and scorch the petals.

Once you start pressing flowers, you'll find lots of uses for them. I like making birthday and christmas cards with mine and have even filled some glass baubles with dried flower petals for hanging on this year's tree!

Christmas cards
Christmas cards using pressed flowers

Drying flowers

I've really grown fond of everlasting flowers such as Helichrysum bracteatum and Acroclinum. They look nice freshly picked and added to vases or you can dry them for using in wreath-making. These flowers keep their shape and colour really well and are easy to dry. Cut them before they are fully open as they will continue to open once cut. Tie them in small bunches with string. Hang upside down in a dry, dark cupboard for a week or so until they feel papery to the touch. They make nice floral wreaths for indoor decoration and look effective mixed with dried seed pods from poppies or love-in-a-mist. I use a hot glue gun to attach the flowers and seed heads to natural grapevine wreaths.

Autumnal wreath
Autumnal wreath with seed pods

 

 

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Dried Flower Wreath

Dried flower wreath
Dried flower and seed head wreath

The festive period brings a host of opportunities for some crafting. I'm no Kirstie Allsopp but I do love spending a bit of time making a few decorations with cuttings and clippings from the garden and some materials foraged throughout the year.

I have written about displaying seed heads before. For this Christmas wreath, I've used some of the seed heads I collected earlier in the year (poppies, Nigella, Scabious 'Ping Pong' and Crocosmia), along with beech nut cases and a few dried flower heads of feverfew and hydrangea. I've used a bought grape vine wreath for the base. It's great for poking in the stems of dried materials. I haven't used any glue or wire to secure the materials but you could use some to make it a bit more robust.

Fresh flower wreath

I've got some lovely sea-urchin type Chrysanthemums growing in my potting shed (they've been flowering since November and should flower on into January so they are a good choice if you have some space to grow them under cover). They make fantastic additions to foam wreaths (the floral foam provides the cut stems with water), looking like bright baubles over a base of yew, golden ivy, Vibrbum oplus and holly clippings from my garden hedge. You'll need a foam wreath base (I've re-used one from last year but they do have a limited life-span). Give it a good soak in a bath then hang up over the bath taps to drain before placing on some newspaper. It's then a case of poking in the stems of whatever greenery you can find in the garden to cover all the foam before placing your fresh flower stems at intervals around the ring.

Fresh flower Christmas wreath
Fresh flower Christmas wreath with Chysanthemums, ivy, holly, Viburnum opulus and yew

Budget wreath

My final wreath is a simple and cheap option, requiring no pre-bought wreath base. I have simply cut long lengths of trailing ivy from the garden and formed it into a circle, holding here and there with a small amount of thin florist's binding wire (rescued from last year's wreaths). I've then wired in a few holly clippings, poked in the stems of some Viburnum opulus berries and attached three foraged pine cones with the florist wire. Tied up with a length of red ribbon (you could also use garden twine) that I had in my craft stash, this wreath has cost me nothing but if you bought the wire and ribbon it would still cost about £1 to make! (I found some binding wire for £1.99 online but you only need a small amount of it and it can be used in years to come, ditto the ribbon).

Budget Christmas wreath
Festive budget wreath using the minimum of materials

Pressed flowers

I've had great fun pressing flowers from my cutting garden to make into pictures for my walls and have started up an Etsy shop to offer them for sale. They are a great way to enjoy the beauty of flowers all through the year.

Pressed flower art
Pressed flower pictures

I saw these tiny frames for sale and thought they'd be ideal for hanging on the Christmas tree. Just a single dried flower or leaf in each frame, looks very effective. Simply glue in place with a tiny dab of clear-drying glue.

Dried flower frames for Christmas tree
Dried flower frames for hanging on the Christmas tree
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Although it's only October and we are experiencing some lovely Autumn weather here in Norfolk, my mind can't help thinking ahead to the Winter and the first frost which will spell the end of my annual flowers and dahlias.

There will still be flowers to pick from the cutting garden to display in the house over the winter months (Hellebores, Snowdrops, Cyclamen etc..) but production does inevitably slow down. A lovely way of prolonging the season is to display the dried seed heads of flowers grown in the cutting garden.

The spectacular, explosive seed heads of Allium christophii dry with a fabulous purple tinge to the flower spikes. Sprayed silver, they make great hanging Christmas decorations but I do prefer them 'au naturel' for displaying year-round.

Allium seed head
Allium christophii

Smaller, but still impressive, are the seed heads of Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong' which I have grown for the first time this year, purely for their seed heads. The actual flowers themselves are a rather underwhelming wishy-washy lilac colour whereas the seed heads, with their papery cups encasing each seed, are very unusual.

Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'
Scabiosa stellata 'Ping Pong'

Poppies dry easily and are very sculptural. I love the frilly end cap.

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Nigella or 'Love-in-a-mist' produce lovely balloon-shaped seed heads, some with attractive vertical strips.

Nigella seed heads
Nigella seed heads

How to dry your own seed heads

Allow some flowers to go up to seed and pick the seed heads when they are fully ripe but before they start to degrade and weather. Mature seed heads of poppies and Nigella will rattle, Scabiosa 'Ping Pong' will feel papery, whereas the heads and stems of Alliums will have started to fade in colour. It's important to harvest them on a dry day as any moisture will cause them to go mouldy. Pick with as long a length of stem as you can (you can cut them to size later). Tie the stems together in small bunches (singly for large Alliums) and hang them upside down in a warm, dry place such as a shed or airing cupboard. They should be ready in 2-3 weeks.

 

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