Account planner and arts blogger Hattie Bottom delves into the benefits of flower pressing on mental health, and why this slow-living activity might be just what we are all in need of right now. Read on for her top tips for pressing the perfect petals.
As I write this, the nation is slowly getting accustomed to the idea of spending our days and weekends at home for the foreseeable future. On the whole, spirits are low; dampened by the long wait from midwinter to spring, and now by the sense of uncertainty with which we are currently faced. Anxiety levels, on the other hand, are high; as we check the news at ten-minute intervals and scroll social media in the lack of our friends’ company. Disconnected from the greenness of the outdoors, I find myself craving some respite from the endless hours of screen time.
This is where the humble window box comes in to play. You see, I’ve discovered the subtle joy of flower pressing. The power of arts and crafts on our mental wellbeing are common knowledge, likewise with gardening. Flower pressing sits somewhere in-between.
Looking after a little window box and pressing small, imperfect petals between the pages of an old cookbook is such a contrast to fast-paced city life. Mesmerising and methodological, flower pressing slows you down and draws thoughts from your head to your fingertips.
Working with nature as your canvas, it’s a relaxing way to flex your patience – perhaps even more so than any life drawing or pottery class. You resign to the natural colours and shapes of your flowers, banishing any inkling of perfectionism and abandoning the need for instant gratification to which we have become so accustomed, all in favour of a delightful waiting game.
Psychologists have found that creative activities can be used as a ‘distraction tool’ to block out stress and anxiety, a ‘self-development tool’ to build up self-esteem and inner strength, and a ‘contemplation tool’ to get the headspace to reflect on problems and emotions. But even simply being in the presence of flowers can improve our spirits as well. A Japanese study found that “viewing roses is a simple method for decreasing stress and improving the health of office workers.” The paper even goes on to say that “ever-increasing urbanization and job pressures have resulted in an overly stressed society far removed from potential calming effects of nature.” It really resonates, doesn’t it?
I have some purple, orange and blue pansies fluttering on my windowsill. It surprises me how dainty they are, considering they can thrive through the winter months. At this time of the year in the UK, they’re one of the first flowers to start springing up outside. But bright and with dainty petals, they make great flower pressing candidates, ideal for note cards and artworks. Irises, Cyclamen, snowdrops, daffodils and hellebores are other options.
Paying attention to the trees in your local park or garden is another way to get creative whilst connecting with the seasons.‘Momijigari’ (紅葉狩り) is the Japanese phrase referring to an appreciation for the changing colours of Japanese Maple trees, as they turn a fiery shade of red for autumn. Translated literally it means ‘red leaf hunting’ or ‘leaf peeping’. If you’re in need of more inspiration, artist duo MR Studio London have been making beautiful calendars for the last two years with a series of 12-season pressed flowers and foliage, proving that just as you need nature’s uplifting power most- in the depths of British winter and early spring- there’ll always be a precious collectable that can be added to your flower press.
If you want to give it a try, here is my step-by-step guide to creating the perfect pressed flowers.
What you’ll need
Seasonal flowers, foliage or leaves
Watercolour paper (if you don’t have this, loo roll will do)
A stack of heavy books
Step One: Choose seasonal flowers, foliage or leaves
Take a look at what’s in season to choose your muse. I’ve recently rediscovered Cicely Mary Barker’s 1920s Flower Fairies through this Instagram revival – aside from the beautiful nostalgic drawings, they’re also very useful to see what you can forage for each season.
The shape of the leaf, flower or foliage can be the best feature of your artwork; I really like oak leaves and rose leaves. However, it’s much easier if the thing you’re pressing naturally lies flat. That’s why I like the end result of the pressed pansies. Daffodils, on the other hand, are very tricky to press.
If you’re pressing flowers, pay attention to the colours because they turn several shades darker. If you choose something white, the petals may turn a dark cream or yellow and reds and pinks will turn a deep crimson.
Step Two: Prepare your materials
To avoid mould, wipe clean any leaves and pat everything dry.
Step three: Be patient!
Leave the flowers in the books for a minimum of two weeks.
Step four: Get creative
Try out combinations of flowers and leaves for greetings cards and create your own seasonal artwork.