As the summer fades and autumn marches on, there may still be plenty of flowers in bloom in your polytunnel and elsewhere in your garden. But soon, even later season blooms will start to get past their best and as winter approaches, you may begin to miss the vibrant colours of the earlier seasons. Learning how to press flowers from your polytunnel is one way to preserve their beauty and vibrancy, so you can continue to enjoy them over the winter months.
Why Press Flowers from Your Polytunnel?
Pressing flowers is one way to dry out flowers so that they can be kept to enjoy for longer. You might press flowers for household displays. You might use them to make cards or presents for family or loved ones. Having colour around us is important, and when we press flowers, we can have a reminder of the vibrancy of the earlier seasons to cheer and sustain us, even in the bleak midwinter.
Which Flowers Can You Press?
Many flowers are suitable for pressing. You can press any healthy, fresh flowers that are not too thick and fleshy. Single blooms are easier to press than large, full flowers like certain roses, for example. But even these can be pressed if you cut each one in half with a pair of scissors. There are certain flowers that are too thick and full, which will not usually dry out effectively. But most flowers can be pressed if you prepare them correctly and choose the right technique.
It is also worth mentioning that autumn leaves can also be pressed, along with other attractive foliage. To make great displays, you could consider combining these items along with your pressed blooms.
Choosing Flowers for Pressing
When choosing flowers for pressing, it is a good idea to select only those blooms that are at just before their peak. Some flowers will open a little more when pressed and dried. Cut off any blemished or faded petals and check each bloom carefully for pests or problems.You should select and cut the best blooms early in the morning for the best results, as soon as any dew has dried.
Preparing Flowers for Pressing
When cutting flowers for pressing, it is best to cut the stems at an angle. This will ensure that they can take up water well during the rehydration stage. Rehydrating flowers before pressing is a good idea as this will help them to retain their colour and freshness. Place the cut flowers in a vase or other receptacle filled with water and keep them in water, in a cool, ventilated place out of direct sunlight, for a few hours. Make sure that you remove any leaves that are below the waterline in your receptacle. If you leave these leaves on, they can rot and create bacterial conditions which can shorten the life of a flower.
Once rehydrated, your flowers can be cut in half if required, or arranged to look good when flattened. Then it is simply a case of deciding the specifics regarding how you will press your flowers, and assembling all of the things that you will need.
Choosing Paper To Press Your Flowers
Flowers are usually pressed between two layers of paper. This paper will act like a sponge to soak up the water from the blooms and wick it away as they are pressed. A number of different types of paper are suitable for this. For example, you can use:
- parchment paper
- printer paper
- flat, untreated cardboard
- plain non-treated facial tissues
- coffee filters
Avoid using any coloured paper, which may affect the colours of your flowers, and also paper towels, which have a textured surface which could imprint on the petals. Of course, whichever paper you choose must be an absorbent one. To be more eco-friendly, try to use paper you already have to hand, rather than buying new paper for the purpose. You might even be able to make your own paper from recycled paper and card, or even using plants from your garden.
Choosing How To Press Flowers
Once you have selected your blooms, and your paper, the next stage is to decide how you will press your flowers. There are a number of different methods that you could consider. A few popular options are explained below:
Press Flowers With Books
The easiest way to press flowers is simply to arrange them between two paper layers within the pages of a book.
- Once you have arranged the flowers how you would like them, simply close the book, taking care not to disorder that arrangement. You can press multiple flowers at once – but it is important to make sure that these are not touching, so moisture does not transfer one to another, and they do not stick together.
- Next, take several other heavy books, bricks or other heavy objects and place these on top of the book containing your flowers, to apply pressure that will press water from the flowers and flatten them.
- Place your stack of books or whatever where they will not be knocked over or disturbed. They will have to stay there for 3-4 weeks. During that time, however, in order to prevent browning, it is best to carefully change the paper sandwiching your flowers every 3-4 days.
- After 3-4 weeks, the flowers should be completely dry. These dry flowers will be very delicate and fragile. It may be helpful to have a pair of tweezers on hand to move them, so you can keep them intact.
Use a Wooden Flower Press
If you would rather not deal with teetering stacks, you can also consider making a dedicated flower press. A wooden flower press can be made relatively easily and cheaply. To do so:
- Cut two pieces of plywood of around 30x22cm in size.
- Drill holes in each of the corners of the two boards, taking care to make sure that they line up properly with each other when one is placed on top of the other.
- Position your flowers, sandwiched between two paper layers, between these two plywood sheets.
- Then use wingnuts and bolts to tighten everything together. As with the method described above, the flowers should be dry and pressed in 3-4 weeks. Again, however, it is best to change the paper layers every 3-4 days to prevent browning.
Of course, if you will be pressing a lot of flowers, you could also consider simply purchasing a dedicated flower press from the stores, or from online retailers.
Press Flowers Using an Iron
If you would rather not have to wait 3-4 weeks for your pressed flowers, there are other methods that you can use to achieve the same result more quickly. One of these methods involves using an iron to press your flowers.
- First, place your flowers between your absorbant paper layers and flatten them partially using a heavy book.
- Ready your iron (making sure that there is no water in it). The last thing that you want to do is add moisture during the pressing.
- Heat the iron on low. When it has warmed, place the flowers sandwiched in the paper on your ironing board. Press the iron to the upper sheet of paper for 10-15 seconds. Hold it still rather than gliding it as you would when ironing clothes.
- Wait another 15 seconds or so until the paper has cooled and then repeat this process. Lift the paper to see if the flower is stiff and dry. Repeat if necessary, always allowing the paper to cool between applications of pressure, until the flowers are ready.
A minute or two should be all the time that is required to press flowers in this way.
Press Flowers Using a Microwave
One final way that you could consider pressing flowers is in a microwave. There are microwave presses that you can buy. But you can also make your own fairly easily as well. All you need is two ceramic tiles, and rubber bands to hold them firmly together.
- Layer your flowers between two layers of paper, and place this sandwich between two layers of cardboard, and then between the two ceramic tiles. Secure using elastic bands.
- Using a low temperature (high heat can turn flowers brown), heat this in your microwave for a maximum of 30 seconds at a time, allowing everything to cool between each heat cycle.
- Check to see whether the flowers are dry, and repeat as necessary.
- When the flowers are dry, complete the process using a book press or wooden flower press, and they should be completely ready and completely dried within a day or two.
Press flowers from your polytunnel and you could enjoy them not just for one fleeting season, but for some time to come. Pressed flowers will fade over time, but you can keep them for years in the right place, especially if you put them into a frame behind glass.
Have you pressed flowers from your polytunnel? Let us know how you got on in the comments below.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.