Retirement has brought many joys, not the least of which is the opportunity to indulge a passion for the wildflowers of East Texas. Being seasonal, wildflowers provide a few months of extraordinary beauty here in East Texas before the searing heat of late summer turns the fields to crisp and crackly beige and brown. I decided that I would like to preserve at least a portion of the gorgeous display so that I might enjoy wildflowers year-round.
Techniques for wildflower preservation include drying by pressing which results in a flat profile, and air drying to maintain the dimensionality of the wildflower. Preservation methods are similar for both techniques. Many wildflowers dry beautifully and even retain a substantial portion of their color. Gaillardia, goldenrod, corn flowers, wild ferns, native grasses, and white flowers work particularly well for pressing, but experimentation will guide you. It is unnecessary to purchase expensive flower drying equipment because it is simple to dry wildflowers and grasses using easy low-tech methods and materials.
To retain the shape and form of a wildflower or grass, simply cut the plant with a sharp scissors leaving as long a stem as possible. Using a soft fiber string, tie a length of string around the stem and hang the plant upside down in a cool, dry place. After two to four weeks, the plant will be dry and ready for use. A shadow box makes an excellent choice for displaying a dried plant, particularly one that is fragile. Depending upon the sturdiness factor, dried plants look good in vases as table or shelf arrangements.
Materials for drying by pressing include white tissue paper, large heavy books, and flowers or grasses for drying. Cut the stems as long as possible; they can later be trimmed as needed. Place the flower or grass specimen between two sheets of white tissue paper being careful to arrange leaves and petals in a pleasing fashion. Be sure to keep the specimen arranged as you want it while sliding the specimen encased in tissue between pages of a large book. You can dry several specimens in the same book by placing the specimens at several different places in the book. Use three or four heavy books to weigh down the book containing the specimens so that they will flatten completely. After two to four weeks, the specimens should be thoroughly dry and ready for whatever project suits your fancy.
Dried flowers and grasses make excellent choices for framing to add botanical interest to the home. They also make unusual decorations for other artistic projects. I have used dried specimens to decorate gourds with truly beautiful results. Dried herbs also perform well both in framed formats and on dimensional pieces. Dried flowers and plants are fragile, but with care they can be mounted in frames or onto dimensional objects.
When framing a specimen, choose an appropriate art paper for the background to highlight the elegance and color of the dried flower. Experiment with various placements on the paper until you are pleased with the arrangement. Using white glue and a small brush, apply a thin coat of glue along the back side of the stems and along the backs of leaves and petals. Apply slight pressure to the piece until the glue begins to set. After the glue has dried thoroughly, check to see if any parts of the dried plant need more glue. Apply additional glue as needed.
Once the dried plant is firmly glued and completely dried, choose a frame in a color that compliments the dried plant. A frame with glass provides maximum protection for mounted dried plants. Mats can be used to great advantage as well although mats are optional.
When using a mat, use mounting tape to securely fasten the art paper-backed dried plant to the back side of the mat with the tape placed horizontally across the top and bottom edges. Side edges should be taped vertically. Tape should be narrow enough that it does not show through the art paper. Insert the glass into the frame followed by the mat with the mounted piece. Last, insert the frame’s backing board and secure all pieces with mounting tacks or glazier’s points. Attach a hanging wire across the back of the frame about one-third of the way down. The piece is now ready for display.
I have successfully mounted dried plants onto an art piece such as a decorated gourd. This method requires patience and careful use of super glue to avoid getting glue on the surface of the project or on the fingers. Super glue is, of course, a bit more difficult to use than white glue, but the results will be better because super glue dries much more quickly than white glue. Tools such as extremely thin tweezers are useful for holding the dried plant in place while the super glue sets. When the glue has dried completely and the flower or botanical is securely mounted, apply several coats of clear acrylic varnish or polyurethane to protect both the dried plant and the piece on which it is applied.
I find it relaxing and gratifying to preserve dried wildflowers, grasses, and herbs for year-round enjoyment and pleasure. Such pieces provide lovely natural decorations for the home and can also make excellent gifts for friends and family. Books about preserving plants are readily available along with numerous online resources. A dried flower project can be a wonderful activity for the wildflower enthusiast, providing artistic satisfaction and delight in natural beauty for years to come.