How do I preserve the colour in my pressed flowers?

How do I preserve the colour in my pressed flowers?

I am having problems with my pressed flowers fading, some as they are in the press, others in my glass frame. Can you help?
–Nancy McPherson, Alliston, Ont.

“All flowers will fade,” says Henry Kock, an interpretive horticulturalist at the University of Guelph’s Arboretum. But this isn’t necessarily a problem. “Pressing is not about preserving colour. It’s to preserve form and structure.”

Carol Anne Campbell, a naturalist and author of Cottage Life’s article on building and using a plant press (“Pressed for Time,” Apr./May ’99), suggests you “think beyond colour. Try pressing leaves, seeds and tendrils. Also consider using different plant and leaf shapes in your projects.”

That said, drying plants as soon as possible after picking is the best way to preserve some colour. One technique is to immerse them in silica gel crystals, available at craft shops for $5-$10/lb, and seal them in an airtight container for a day or two until they’re dried out.

The modern technique is to dry them in a microwave. Lee Valley Tools, for one, sells a terracotta press for microwave use that dries plants in a matter of minutes.

If you use a conventional press, you should change the newsprint at least once, tighten the press every day or so, and ensure that there is plenty of air circulation around it – try putting the press in the path of a fan or suspending it over the warm air from a radiator or heating duct. Don’t use a hair dryer – the intense heat will cause browning.

Once dry, your pressings should be kept out of direct sunlight or strong artificial light as both will cause further fading.