“Anything that’s quite flat will press nicely, like buttercups and ferns,” says Helen Ahpornsiri, 32, an artist who builds intricate collages using glue, a surgical scalpel and the pressed plants she collects near her home in East Sussex, England. Small, light flowers like forget-me-nots almost always look lovely squished, but don’t overlook the less obvious flora. One of Ahpornsiri’s favorite flowers to press is Queen Anne’s lace, bursts of small white blooms that look like fireworks when pancaked. Ahpornsiri has published a book filled entirely with images made from flattened algae.
Each bit of plant material should be spread out carefully and sandwiched between layers of nonglossy blotting paper and sheets of cardboard. Use a sturdy press made of two pieces of wood, connected by long bolts and wing nuts, that can be tightened down evenly. Keep your press in a warm, dry place — near a heating vent, say. Open it after a week to check whether your specimens feel completely dry and papery to the touch. Items with a higher moisture content, like algae, might need as long as three weeks to dry, and at first you’ll want to change out their blotting paper every day.
Ahpornsiri started pressing flowers after moving back home from London, where she was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks. “Rather than concentrating on how I feel nervous, I focus on plants,” she says. “They’re everywhere. They grow out of gutters and between railway lines.” When out walking, Ahpornsiri collects a small bouquet — on her way home, so it won’t wilt (freshly picked plants keep their color longer).
Know the rules governing plant collection where you live; it’s illegal on most public lands in the U.S. without a permit. While the laws are looser in England, Ahpornsiri gathers only abundant species and never uproots a plant unless she’s harvesting from her own garden. She also regularly poaches her mother’s flowers and occasionally gleans something beautiful from a stranger’s yard if it is hanging over the sidewalk like an offering. Look beyond fresh blooms; press leaves, stems and roots. “I’ll take buds, seed pods, even dying and insect-bitten plants,” Ahpornsiri says. “I like seeing how time changes things.”