Suddenly the world is full of flowers and plants. The markets showcase stunning bouquets of sunflowers, zinnias, roses, cosmos, Queen Anne’s lace, and more. “The earth laughs in flowers,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson. August’s plethora of blooms in bright summer reds, yellows, and purples shouts joy and happiness.
A vase full of summer flowers are lovely, but before the week is out, the petals are dropping, and the flowers are drooping. What if there was a way to preserve our favorites as a reminder of our summer days? There is.
Local gardener, trained landscape architect, and artist Hailey Rohn has burst on the DC scene with her pressed flower workshops and trainings. She opened her business Wildry during the pandemic and is offering many events and workshops this summer including some at Union Market. Her classes range from a small group of eight to as many as 30 people. “My classes often bring young twenty-something people together for an evening of drinks and flower creation,” says Hailey. Her classes show you a fun way to preserve your favorite flowers into small art works, candles, and more.
An Ancient Art Form
Pressed flowers can be traced back to 16th century Japan. Samurai warriors are said to have created the practice known as Oshibana–drying the flowers in presses, then using the flowers, petals, and leaves to create an artistic painting. The art is said to promote “patience, harmony with nature, and powers of concentration,” according to Mirian Tatsumi, a teacher of Oshibana in San Paulo, Brazil.
Pressed flower art had a resurgence in popularity during the Victorian era. More recently, during the 1967 summer of love, dried flowers worn in hippies’ long flowing hair became very popular. “If you’re going to San Francisco, wear some flowers in your hair” sang Scott McKensie in a popular song of that era. Producing pressed flowers is an art form as simple or complex as you like and it involves negligible expense.
Today the quest for sustainable practices is leading a new generation to find ways to use flowers and plants not just for beauty and food, but to explore how flowers can be made everlasting. There have been several flower organizations started to promote flower art including the International Pressed Flower Art Society, the Pressed Flower Craft Guild, and the Worldwide Pressed Flower Guild (WWPFG). The WWPFG was incorporated in 2008 in North Carolina and has members in 20 different countries. These groups note that there is a growing interest in the craft and they have seen increases in membership during the pandemic.
Steps in Pressing Flowers and Plants
Hailey says pressing flowers can be as simple as picking some blossoms off a flower, or taking leaves from a fern plant, and sticking them between the pages of an old encyclopedia. In fact, that is how she got started in creating her art pieces. Two factors are important – moisture and weight. For beginners, she recommends “zinnias, larkspur, Queen Anne’s Lace, and flowers that are light and not too dense. Using leaves from ferns and similar plants can also be quite successful,” says Hailey. It is also important to pick the flowers and use them while they are fresh. Some of the professional guides recommend picking them in the morning after the dew has evaporated. Flowers like roses, orchids, or sunflowers are too dense, although they can be deconstructed and dried petal by petal, and then reformed with glue on paper.
What you use to flatten the botanicals can be as easy as using a book. But you can also build your own press or buy one online for about $20. The key is to use paper that is absorbent, not waxy or slick like a magazine. Use two pieces of the paper, carefully arrange the flowers, and then close the book. You want a lot of weight so it helps to place several books on top of your dictionary or whatever book you have chosen. If you’re using a flower press, it can be tightened to produce a good result.
The drying process takes two to four weeks, depending on the type of flower. Every four to six days, it is important to change the blotting papers, which helps prevent brownness or mold. Once done, you can carefully remove your flowers from the press and begin to create your work of art.
Hailey likes to use free floating frames to display her dried flowers. She keeps a few different sizes and shapes on hand to work with. Her students in the workshops are usually able to take home a framed piece at the end of the class. Her website shows other forms of flower art, including candles, stickers, and even bath salts. In addition to creating dried flowers, Hailey is a botanical illustrator, and sometimes incorporates the actual flowers into her drawings.
The one flower she says she has never been able to dry in its original form is the rose. “Since many bridal bouquets have roses in them, I have learned to take the rose apart, then dry them, and put them back together.” She says preserving flowers from a wedding into a dried flower display is very popular and she takes special order requests for these.
Fun to do
Hailey’s workshops last about an hour, and she brings the supplies for you to work with.
“Almost all my flowers used come from my own front yard garden,” says Hailey.
“Another good source for flowers is Trader Joe’s. Their flowers are fresh, their pricing is great, and they have a good selection to choose from all year. I also now keep my eyes open when I am out and about and have been able to pick a lot of great wildflowers along the Anacostia Trail.” Hailey says she does this work because flowers just make her happy.
To find a Wildry workshop in the coming weeks, check out Hailey’s website https://www.wildry.co/ She also appears in pop ups around the DMV region with her art works for sale. Just think, with a pressed flower art piece, summer can stay with you as the colder weather approaches. August is a great time to begin.
Rindy O’Brien is reminded of her great-grandmother’s botanical pieces and loves the idea that history, art, and nature can come together this way. You can contact Rindy at email@example.com