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Who knew that the Bronx smelled this good?

Updated: Jul 24, 2019

New York, New York //

Every once in a while, I will get a whiff of something that makes me feel like I’m at home. There is that Saint John Kanty smell when it just turns spring, and it’s a little too warm for a windbreaker or maybe the early morning fish water in downtown Flushing when the fish markets dump yesterday’s ice. Fish slime runs down Main Street towards the 7 station for all commuters to enjoy.

Lately though, the city has been very pleasant. Working at the New York Botanical Gardens has make me look forward to smelling the Bronx. (Now there is a sentence I never expected to say.)

I had the pleasure of working with Sonia Uyterhoeven, Gardener for Public Education on workshop building for the NYBG discussing the tradition of flower pressing, the creative uses of pressed flowers, and a few important tips for successfully pressing flowers and making your own designs.

So for your Thursday pleasure: a set of botanical tidbits for flower pressing - an olfactory experience more pleasant than burning rubber and exhaust fumes.

Flower Pressing by Sonia Uyterhoeven @NYBG

Collect flowers when they are at their peak

Avoid any excess moisture on your flowers by collecting them in late morning after the dew has burned off. Below are some simple techniques for pressing flowers.

Waxed Paper The simplest way to press flowers is the one we all experimented with in grade school—the waxed paper technique. Take two sheets of waxed paper and place your flowers between them.

Cover the waxed paper with a thin cloth and press with a warm iron on a low to medium setting. The cloth prevents the iron from acquiring a waxy residue. Waxed paper today is not as waxy as it used to be, however, so you might need to add some melted paraffin. You can use dried or fresh flowers. Flat flowers and foliage are easier to press.

Homemade Press Homemade presses are made with items you can easily find around the house. These include corrugated cardboard, newspaper or blotting paper, tissue paper or paper towels, flat boards, heavy books, and bricks.

Place flowers and foliage between two sheets of tissue paper, paper towel, or any thin, porous paper. Take time to arrange the flowers the way you would like them to appear once dried.

Carefully surround the porous paper holding your flowers and foliage with absorbent paper. Newspaper is the cheapest and most easily available. Blotting paper is more expensive but is more absorbent and can be reused.

Experienced flower pressers recommend using 3–12 sheets of folded newspaper to absorb moisture. If you use the lower number of sheets, replace the newspaper with fresh dry paper on a daily basis for several days and then every few days thereafter.

Make sure you do not disturb the flowers and foliage or remove them from between the sheets of porous paper during the drying process otherwise they will wrinkle and curl. You can dry flowers in layers by using corrugated cardboard to separate each layer.

The drying chamber that you have just constructed must be weighed down. Place flat boards above and below and weigh the press down with heavy books or bricks. It will take approximately 2–3 weeks for your flowers to dry.

Standard Press Most craft stores sell standard presses. They are usually made of plywood boards secured with four bolts and wing nuts at their corners. Plants are pressed between sheets of blotting paper separated by corrugated cardboard.

Plants should not be stacked too high in the press. Thoroughly dry and remove one batch of flowers before you add another batch. Flowers at different stages of the drying process have different moisture levels. Remember that it is important to dry the flowers as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

The pressure is adjusted with the wing nuts. Start with gentle pressure so that the flowers have some air circulation at first. Tighten the press after a few days.

Telephone Book Leftover telephone books make adaptable presses and work well for small flowers. Place the flowers either directly between the pages or put them first between two sheets of paper towel. Make sure that you have approximately 50 pages between flowers. Weigh the phone book down with a brick and let the flowers dry for three weeks.

Microwave If you want a quicker method, take your telephone book full of flowers and place it in the microwave. Blast the book for 30–60 seconds at a time and check your flowers as you go. Dry the flowers in this way until they are almost completely dry, and then leave them in a warm dry location for 1–2 days to finish the process. This way you will not fry your flowers.

You can buy specially designed microwave plant presses. If you don’t want to invest in one, you can make a simple microwave press with ceramic tiles, rubber bands (to hold it together), paper towels (absorbent layer), and 2 sheets of plain paper. You can substitute corrugated cardboard for the ceramic tiles.

Helpful Hints Small flowers are easily pressed and are ideal for framing. Grasses, ferns, and other types of foliage make wonderful additions to any pressed floral design. Three of the easiest flowers for beginners to press are pansies, geraniums, and daisies.

A trick for keeping daisies flat during pressing is to layer several pieces of absorbent blotting paper and cut a hole the size of the center flower disk. Place the hole over the daisy flower disk and lay a sheet of blotting paper on it. By creating a nest or a collar for the daisy flower disk you ensure that the entire flower is in contact with the blotting paper and will dry evenly.

Large flowers such as roses can be cut in half and pressed. Baby’s breath may need thinning with a scalpel to produce a nice clean display.

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