The forgotten hobby of flower pressing is back – here’s how to master it

Once beloved of Victorian ladies, the art is on the rise again. We explore its (very mindful) appeal and reveal how to join the trend

The modern aesthetic of flower pressing is about capturing beauty as if the flowers were still in the meadow Credit: Helen Cathcart

On a summer evening post-lockdown in 2020, over an Aperol spritz on a Peckham rooftop, my sister handed me a mysterious object she’d found abandoned on her garden wall: two squares of plywood, clamped together by long bolts secured by four little wing nuts, one in each corner. Immediately I recognised it as the rudimentary equipment to press flowers, a favourite hobby of my childhood. ‘Ours were just like this, weren’t they?’ she asked, taking me back to sitting crossed-legged surrounded by petals on the carpet in her bedroom.

That summer, I’d just bought a house and had my own garden for the first time. So the following spring, with my beds in bloom, I started to press the flowers I grew: irises, crocuses, fritillaries. As the seasons turned, so did the colours – from deep purples to warm oranges of nasturtium, geum and poppy. I wrote the date on scraps of paper and slipped the petals between sugar paper and corrugated cardboard, imagining a future version of myself reminiscing about the year’s flowering through pressed memories.

Even before my sister showed me the press she’d found, I’d seen pressed flowers drifting into my Instagram feed for a while. There had been pansies glued delicately on to greetings cards posted by independent gift shops; rose petals and hydrangea flowers sandwiched between glass by artists and jewellers, who strung smaller versions on pendants; violas stuck on biscuits by adventurous bakers.

Of course, ‘cottagecore’ style, which fetishises a more traditional, whimsical way of life, has become de rigueur everywhere from fashion (the floral maxi was 2021’s summer uniform) and interiors (think chic chintz wallpaper and Agas) to the restaurant scene, where serving coffee in granny’s mismatched china crockery is now cool. Taking up crafty hobbies has also seen a comeback, with sewing circles, knitting clubs and flower-arranging courses. So it’s no surprise that this most traditional (and almost forgotten) of crafts is having a resurgence.

Beyond the scroll of social media, Tricia Paoluccio, the American artist behind botanical art store Modern Pressed Flower collaborated with Oscar de la Renta on a print that dominated the fashion designer’s fall 2021 collection. The previous year, New York label Dauphinette incorporated real pressed flowers in their coats, bags and earrings, made of recycled PVC.

This season, among the chore jackets and dungarees on fashion and homeware brand Toast’s website, you can also find a tastefully minimalist flower press for sale. And earlier this year, a new book on the subject from JamJar Flowers, the British floral design studio run by former model agent Melissa Richardson and Amy Fielding, was released. JamJar are flower pressing pros and their book, The Modern Flower Press, celebrates pressing’s surprisingly glamorous history, and offers plenty of practical advice, too. 

‘There are so many fascinating stories to tell,’ says Richardson of the hobby’s history. From the 15th-century Italian scholar Luca Ghini, thought to have created the first educational herbarium (a collection of pressed botanical specimens), to the Victorian fascination with ferns (pteridomania) and the habits of Princess Grace of Monaco, who pressed flowers she picked from her palace gardens. She even wrote a book about it, called My Book of Flowers. In it she wrote: ‘Through working with flowers we began to discover things about ourselves that had been dormant.’

Richardson and Fielding embarked on their flower-pressing journey in 2014, following a bespoke request from Mulberry. It was a tall order: could they press 5,000 flowers in less than a month ahead of the launch of the brand’s spring/summer collection? ‘Despite the frantic turnaround and our lack of knowledge, we managed to pull off the job,’ Fielding explains. ‘Neither of us had pressed flowers before except for a little in our childhood,’ she adds. It was the start of what the pair call ‘a botanical journey’.

Since then, they’ve pressed flowers for Penhaligon’s and collaborated with Issey Miyake. I remember being captivated by one of their first pressed flower installations in a pop-up exhibition space in Covent Garden in 2017, in which foxgloves and cosmos floated on illuminated screens. That show was rooted in its own botanical history: Richardson and Fielding had been inspired by a collection of antique pressings plastered into the walls of Christian Louboutin’s boudoir in Paris.

JamJar’s Melissa Richardson and Amy Fielding Credit: Helen Cathcart

They have also done workshops at Daylesford and Soho House. ‘We always get a lovely bunch of people keen to learn – and are always fascinated by the individuality of everyone’s artworks,’ says Fielding. They’re not alone: florist Ellie Jauncey offers nature-led workshops from her Somerset-based studio, Ede Flowers, while dried-flower experts Roseur offer a Van Gogh-inspired workshop at Coal Drops Yard in London.

While both admit that the basics of pressing flowers are easily grasped – ‘our classes are two hours long and by that time, people pretty much know everything that we know’ – Richardson says that they’ve had a few hiccups along the way. In an early narcissus-pressing crisis, hundreds of half-cooked flowers flew out of Fielding’s oven (a last-ditch attempt to dry out fresh blooms) when her husband attempted to cook dinner. They were intended for Penhaligon’s, to sit between the pages of a notebook to celebrate a new fragrance launch. ‘We got there in the end,’ Fielding adds, obliquely. ‘I even think an iron was used at one point.’

Contrary to what this might suggest, the method of pressing flowers hasn’t changed much from what botanist Joseph Banks described in 1770, when leaving instructions for his team: ‘They are to be put between the leaves of a paper book, two leaves of which should be left between each plant…. The books are then to be filed upon each other.’

What is different now is how people display them. ‘When we started pressing flowers they were still viewed as something you’d expect in a dusty Victorian herbarium,’ Richardson admits. Now you’re more likely to find pressed flowers elegantly placed on a napkin at a dinner party or tucked beneath the ribbon of a present. While Edwardian ladies would create fantastical bouquets, a millennial approach is more authentic: JamJar’s aesthetic is about capturing beauty as if the flowers were still in the meadow – a dozen fritillaries together or a clutch of chocolate cosmos.

A light-pink cosmo and purple anemone make for magical prints Credit: Helen Cathcart

At MR Studio London, artists Mike Pollard and Rika Yamasaki have been making clean and minimalist prints, calendars and installations from dried flowers for nearly a decade. ‘When we were art students buying materials such as porcelain, latex, metal and wax for our own work was depressingly costly,’ Yamasaki says. ‘We always loved growing plants even when we only had a small balcony. As we started pressing flowers more, the notion that we could actually grow materials ourselves was quite liberating.’

Like the JamJar duo, Yamasaki and Pollard first pressed flowers as children. Nostalgia may lure us back, say Fielding and Richardson, but the sense of future-proofing and preserving keeps people pressing. ‘People feel intensely sentimental about it,’ says Richardson. ‘When you come across specimens in herbariums that are sometimes 300 years old, you will feel this fragility. The evanescence of it is very touching.’

With the trend for more natural ways of living taking hold across our homes, wardrobes and downtime, it’s hardly surprising that there’s a pull to preserve – slowly and simply – the flowers we’ve grown in our outdoor spaces. ‘We didn’t imagine that pressed flower art could be this trendy, especially when we started it as a business back in 2014,’ say Pollard and Yamasaki. Their earliest commissions included brides who wanted to keep their wedding bouquets beyond the big day, before Angela Maynard of Botany – one of the first plant design stores in London – took a punt and started stocking their work. Now, MR Studio sells wholesale. ‘We find those that have a nostalgic feeling towards flower pressing from their own families and upbringing are drawn to our work,’ they say.

Two years on from the seed-sowing mania of lockdown, there’s still plenty to be anxious about. We value our gardens more than ever before; perhaps we want to press the flowers we’ve come to appreciate as a way of holding on to beauty when it seems increasingly hard to find. The care, thought and precision involved in the simple act of pressing flowers is meditative in itself – something still in a world determined to spin too fast.

As artists, MR Studio are constantly pushing the boundaries: their latest work has involved single blades of grass suspended against translucent paper and fern leaves wafting from wires. As for those I pressed last year, a collection of poppies and sweet peas, my husband ended up sticking them to the table plan at our wedding in a last-ditch crafting panic.

The modern way of pressing flowers, then, is as an extension of a wider desire to ground ourselves. I ask Richardson and Fielding which garden varieties would work to press now, and their answers are pleasingly quotidian: along with ‘the darlings of the press, the geum’ are daisies and buttercups ‘with a little bit of root, pulled out of your land’. In short, Richardson adds, ‘Take the mess out of the lawn and press it.’ Turning weeding into beauty? It’s got to be worth a try.

How to press flowers: an expert guide

By Melissa Richardson and Amy Fielding

While the Victorians might have slipped a freshly picked flower between the pages of a book to preserve its beauty, we recommend using a flower press to get the best results.

We have found blotting paper to be most effective when pressing, as it does a very good job of drawing out moisture from the flowers, which is important to prevent them rotting. Most modern flower-press sets will come complete with blotting paper and sheets of card to separate the layers. We source our blotting paper from John Purcell, a family-run business in south London that stocks every kind of paper you can imagine.

The process of pressing flowers is a slow one. It takes between one and four weeks, depending on the type; for example, a wild flower with a tiny flower head and dainty stem will press in a few days, whereas a tulip may take several weeks to dry completely.

How to select your flowers 

Make sure you choose specimens that have a beautiful shape. Look out for pretty wild flowers with windswept stems, or cut blooms from the garden that have twisted and turned to trap the sun’s rays. Flowers with a flat petal structure and a slender stem will press best. Avoid flowers with large juicy heads, such as roses and peonies, because their petal structure is complex and will often result in mould forming in the press.

Pick flowers when they are dry rather than after watering or a rain shower. The less moisture on the flowers when they go into the press, the quicker they will dry and the less chance there will be of mould.

Choose flowers at their peak, when they are standing tall with their petals unfurled. If cutting annuals, this process will have the same effect as deadheading – encouraging more flowers to grow. If you pick flowers that are already beginning to fade, they will only deteriorate further in the press, resulting in petals wrinkling at the edges or flower heads falling apart.

Aim to press your flowers on the same day as cutting or at the latest the day after as this will give the blooms the best chance of retaining their colour and form.

JamJar’s easy guide to pressing flowers 

Credit: Helen Cathcart
  1. Lay out your flowers, blotting the ends of the stems with an absorbent cloth to remove any excess moisture.
  2. Position a sheet of card in the press, followed by a sheet of blotting paper. Place your first flower down in the middle of the blotting paper, trimming the stem if it is overlapping the edge of the paper. Leave plenty of room around the flower to allow the paper to absorb its moisture. TIP: Use your fingers to spread out the petals and leaves so they lie as flat as possible.
  3. Lay another sheet of blotting paper over the flower and press down gently. Place another layer of card on top, then another sheet of blotting paper.
  4. Lay down your next flower, alternating the placement of the flower heads on each layer to ensure an even distribution of moisture and thickness throughout the press.
  5. Repeat the same process until your press is full or you have used all of your blotting paper and card. Gently press down on the flower heads by hand as you add each paper layer, so your flowers don’t bounce up and out as you build up the press.
  6. After the last sheet of card, close your flower press by feeding the top of your press through the upright screws and pushing down firmly as you screw it shut, tightening the wing nuts one by one. Store your press somewhere dry and warm and wait for five days before opening it. If the screws loosen during this time, press down again and tighten them up. TIP: Store the press away from the cold. We stack ours on shelves on the warmest side of the studio.

How to open your press 

After five days, open the press and peel back each layer of paper, gently lifting the stems and petals. If the paper feels damp, move the flower to the opposite side or replace with a fresh piece of blotting paper.

Close the press and leave for another five days before repeating this process. When the flowers feel papery and the stems are dry and brittle, they are ready to take out of the press – usually three to four weeks.

How to store your flowers 

Flowers will be happy in the press until you need them, but can be stored elsewhere. We use mount board fixing them in place with thin strips of masking tape over the stems. As the flowers become brittle, it is important to keep them flat.

This article is kept updated with the latest information.


Extracted from The Modern Flower Press: Preserving the Beauty of Nature by Melissa Richardson and Amy Fielding (£30, William Collins)