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How to Preserve Flowers Print E-mail
1. Air Drying

Pick flowers when they are dry - never after a shower, as moisture can be trapped between leaves and petals and can cause mould to develop. Divide the flowers into small bunches, and tie each bunch with an elastic band. Don't use string or wire, as the stems will shrink as they dry, and may fall out of their tie on to the floor, causing damage and if unnoticed, the flowers will dry into strange shapes! In the majority of cases (though not all, see below), hang the bunches upside down in an airy and warm place, preferably in the dark, but at least in low light. Strong light will bleach out the colours. Allow plenty of room for air circulation between the bunches, as this will aid the drying process and prevent mould forming. Most flowers will take around a fortnight to dry. You can tell when they are dry by carefully flexing the head of the flower - if it gives, then it is not yet ready. Some flowers need to be dried upright in water - yes, I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. Flowers such as Hydrangea, Gypsophila, and Alchemilla mollis should be picked, then the stems placed in a vase with about an inch of water in the bottom. By the time the flowers have used all the water, they will have dried successfully.


Picking the flowers at the correct stage of development is very important to the success of the drying process. Hydrangeas need to be turning "papery" to the touch before drying, otherwise they will just shrivel. Most other flowers should be well developed before drying. Flowers with a papery feel (often known as "immortelles") usually dry very well. One point to note about Helichrysums (straw flowers) however, is that these are an exception to the rule of picking when fully developed. Helichrysums should be picked when the outer two or three rings of petals have developed. If the centre of the flower is on view, then it is too late to pick and dry them successfully. This is because Helichrysums carry on developing for a while after they have been picked, and will open out backwards on themselves, eventually shedding all the petals when dried.



2. Glycerine

This method is more suitable for foliage than flowers, but certain flowers with "bracts" (modified leaves), such as Hydrangea and Molucella laevis (Bells of Ireland), will glycerine well. Both the flowers and foliage of Garrya elliptica preserve well, turning almost black. Grasses are also very successful, as is Gypsophila and Alchemilla mollis. Conifers also produce some lovely results.

Evergreens can be preserved all the year round, as long as they are kept reasonably warm during preservation, but deciduous material should be preserved between the end of June and mid-September. New spring growth will not take up the solution, nor will leaves which are turning colour in Autumn (Fall). Foliage should always be mature when preserved.

The colour of foliage preserved in glycerine is usually brown, but different types of plant material will glycerine to different shades of brown, from straw colour, through olive, to tan to nearly black, and every shade in between! The time of year that material is glycerined, and the light levels will also make a difference to the finished colour. For example, Beech leaves will preserve to a different brown when glycerined in July, than they will in August, and if they are kept in the dark whilst being preserved, they will turn a deep olive colour, but if done in light, they will turn tan colour. Experimentation is the name of the game! Laurel, White Poplar and Garrya elliptica leaves all turn black when glycerined, which is a lovely contrast in colour, from, for instance, Molucella laevis (Bells of Ireland), which turn very pale straw colour. One way to test what colour foliage will turn when glycerined is to pick a leaf and allow it to dry naturally. Whatever colour it goes will be roughly the colour it will turn when preserved. Autumn is the best time to observe this process, as the results are more accurate.

Pick your foliage, and remove any damaged leaves, as these tend to show up even more when glycerined, and is a waste of glycerine! Cut the stems at an angle, and split woody stems about an inch up the stem. It is important to condition your plant material before glycerining to be sure they are drinking, as the glycerine solution is thicker than water, and will often clog stems, resulting in wilting. Place the stems in warm water, and let them drink for a couple of hours, or preferably overnight, before placing in the glycerine solution.

To make the glycerine solution, mix two parts very hot water with one part glycerine and stir thoroughly. Hot water must be used as glycerine is heavier than water, and will sink to the bottom if cold water is used. Allow the mixture to cool off until it is just warm before use. **SPECIAL NOTE - The solution can be re-used time and again. Just sieve it through a fine sieve (or a pair of old tights!) to remove any debris, and re-use it or add it to a fresh batch. Although it turns brown after use, this is perfectly normal, and won't affect the finished results.**

Once conditioned, place the stems in the glycerine solution. The time it takes to preserve the plant material very much depends on what type of plant material is being used. Some things such as Cotoneaster horizontalis will be ready in about 30 hours, whilst things like Aspidistra elatior may take two or three months! Check the material daily, you will be able to see the brown glycerine solution being taken up the veins of the leaves, and when it reaches the top, it's done! Don't allow material to stand in the solution any longer than necessary, as this will result in the glycerine "bleeding" from the leaves, and this can cause a black sooty mould to form, as well as being very messy.....

For a list of plants suitable for glycerining, CLICK HERE.



3. Desiccants

This method is suitable for most flowers and foliages, except for very fleshy things such as succulents. Flowers preserved in this way will retain their shape and bright colours for a very long time, as long as they are kept airtight, and out of direct sunlight. There are several types of desiccant available for drying flowers and foliage. These include silica gel (not really a gel - it is fine crystals), silver sand, borax and cat litter (yes, really, but not very effective for delicate flowers!). Whichever type you use, the method is the same. Silica gel is the most expensive, but is also the quickest and most effective, and in my opinion, worth the extra money. It often comes with a built-in colour indicator, usually blue, and this turns to pink as the gel absorbs water. Once this happens, it means the gel must be dried out in order to work properly. You can put the silica gel into an old baking tray and pop it in the oven on a low heat until it dries out and turns blue again.

I will describe the method for silica gel, but it is roughly the same for all the different materials mentioned above. Pick the flowers and foliage which you want to dry. If you intend to make them into a picture, then cut off the stem completely at this stage. However, if you want to make an actual arrangement out of them, then leave about ½" of stem attached. (You could leave a longer stem than this, but then you would need a much deeper container, and more desiccant, which would work out very expensive.) At this stage it would be a good idea to add an artificial stem of florists' stub wire. If the stem is thick enough, push the wire up through the stem, and into the head of the flower, making sure it doesn't pop out of the top of the flower, if the stem if very thin, then push the wire into the head of the flower next to the stem. This wire will provide an anchor for you to lengthen the stem after the flowers have dried. (Just a word of caution here, which I will repeat later on - NEVER use wire stems if you are drying flowers in the microwave!!) if you don't add the wire before drying, it is very difficult to add it afterwards, as the flowers are very delicate and brittle.

Next, find a container with a lid which is about 6" deeper than your flowers or foliage, and big enough to accommodate the number of flowers you want to dry. Fill it with about 1" of silica gel, and place your flowers stem side down on the surface of the gel. Push the stems into the gel until the head touches the surface. Then, using a small spoon, start to add the gel all around and over the flowers, making sure you have added it between the petals so that there are no air gaps. Continue to add the gel until you have covered all the flowers with about a 1" layer. Most flowers and foliage will be dry in one or two days, depending on the thickness. Check by carefully uncovering a flower, and if it feels dry and papery, then it is ready. Carefully tip out the flowers, and shake out any excess gel. You can use a small paintbrush to remove any which remains. Add a false stem to the flower using a long stub wire attached to the stem with florists' stem tape (this used to be called gutta-percha, but is now made of plastic!) If you wish to store the flowers before arranging them, then they must be put into an airtight container with a little silica gel (one of those sachets you get in new handbags and electrical goods is ok for this). Once the flowers have been arranged, the arrangement should be placed in an airtight container, such as a sealed glass dome, as the flowers will begin to absorb moisture from the air again and go limp (not a pretty sight!).

For a list of plants suitable for using with desiccants, CLICK HERE.



4. Pressing

Pressing flowers is something we have probably all done as children. I can remember pressing four-leaf clover leaves between the pages of books when I was a child, and sometimes I still come across them, brittle and faded, as I look through an old book.

Most flowers and leaves are suitable for pressing, with the exception of those with bulky centres, or leaves which are very fleshy, such as succulents. Succulent leaves tend to just squash when placed in the press. Odd shaped flowers such as daffodils need to be cut in half and opened out before pressing, and thick flowers such as Chrysanthemums need to have the calyx reduced in thickness (don't take off too much, or the flower will disintegrate). Single petals can also be used, and reassembled when making your picture. Cut the flowers and foliage you want to press when the weather is dry. Any water trapped in the flowers before pressing will turn them mouldy. You can buy commercially made flower presses, which are effective for a small amount of flowers, but if you wanted to do a lot of pressing, you would be better off making your own press from two pieces of plywood, about 2 or 3 feet square, with four holes drilled in the corners. You will need four coach bolts with wing nuts for tightening the press. Small commercially made presses, such as those sold for children, often have layers of blotting paper, alternating with layers of corrugated cardboard. Discard the corrugated cardboard straight away, as this leaves lines across your flowers, rendering them useless. Substitute it with plain cardboard. If using a home-made press, you will need layers of blotting paper, interspersed with thick layers of newspaper.

Once you have cut your flowers and foliage, you will need to begin at the bottom layer of your press. You will need several thickness of newspaper, then a layer of blotting paper. Place your flowers onto the blotting paper so that they are not touching each other. Always use flowers of the same thickness in each layer, so that they press evenly. Cover the flowers with another layer of blotting paper, then several more layers of newspaper. Keep doing this until you have finished all your flowers. Finally, add the top of the press, and tighten the bolts. After a few days, tighten the bolts again, as the flowers shrink as they dry. Flowers can take between one and three weeks to dry.

There's no list of plants suitable for pressing, as most flowers and foliages can be pressed, with those exceptions stated at the beginning of this section.


5. Microwaving

It is possible to dry flowers using a microwave oven, and this is incredibly quick, taking minutes rather than days or weeks. As there are so many variations in ovens, there is no one recipe for using them for drying flowers. Experimentation is the name of the game! Obviously, you should start with a low setting, and only set your oven for a few seconds at a time. Different settings will produce different colour variations. For best results, use silica gel or silver sand, using the method described above, to support the flowers whilst drying, to retain their shape. ALWAYS use a non-metallic container, and NEVER use wired flowers in a microwave oven. There are various books on microwave drying which offer guidelines, and these should be available in your local library.

There's no list of plants suitable for microwaving, as most flowers and foliages can be microwaved, with the exception of very thick, fleshy leaves, which contain too much water to dry successfully.

 

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Florist Tips

Flowers are great for improving ambiance and can be used to create some remarkable decorative effects - especially when used in lieu of traditional home décor items. Instead of curtains, why not try a row of simple vases holding your favourite flower stems? Or, for art, how about hanging a vase of flowers instead of a watercolor? Now you get the picture. Don't just limit yourself to the living room... have some fun!

 

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