22 Nov 2015

A Garden Craft project for December: Botanical advent calendar

You know how it is when you come across a project that you just want to get started on straightaway? Well, that happened to me the other day.



There I was, happily skimming through the December issue of Gardens Illustrated in my lunch break when a particularly beautiful article called out for my attention.  It highlights the work of Sonya Patel Ellis of the Herbarium Project, an artist who gathers botanical samples from her garden throughout the year, presses them for preservation and uses them in her artwork.  She's exhibited recently at the Garden Museum and has now created a project for the magazine's readers - a flower inspired vintage looking advent calendar that gradually reveals a suitably seasonal message.

Never mind that the artist collects plant material throughout the year, I reckoned that there might be enough still in the garden to embark on this project.  And what's not to love about a bit of crafting that involves collecting flowers and leaves, drying them, sticking them onto luggage labels (serendipitously, I have these in my stationery drawer) and then tying them onto a board? That's the sort of christmas decorating that's right up my street.

So, even though it was getting dark (and decidedly chilly) by the time I'd finished work on Friday, I tucked a large paper bag (thank you, local bread shop) and scissors into my pockets and went to the garden to make a start.  I've wandered through the garden often enough to know what's still growing and where, so cutting samples in the dark didn't thwart my intentions and there was a bright half moon to light my way.

I quickly found sage (purple, pineapple and blackcurrant), fennel fronds, feverfew, honeysuckle, strawberry flowers and leaves, geum (I'd spotted one last flower earlier in the day), geraniums, pelargoniums, artemesia, petrovskia, erysimum, lavender, violas, helichrysum, nasturtiums, heuchera, thyme,  ivy and sweet cicely.  Other options might be hydrangea, bay, fatsia, holly, rosehips, box or Lonicera 'Baggesen's Gold'.



I returned with a large bag of cuttings within the half hour.  These were set out onto double sheets of kitchen paper, topped with another double sheet when I was satisfied with the arrangement and sandwiched between the heaviest of my gardening books. I threw Nigel Slater, Sarah Raven and Mrs Beeton on top of the stack for good measure.  Now I wait.  (Oh, alright then, yes I have had a peek to see how it's all going; I can't help myself.)  The flowers and herbs usually take one or two weeks to dry; ready or not, I'll be coming for them on 30th November when they'll be mounted with linen tape onto a board (cork? wood? cardboard? Not sure but hopefully something recycled).

In the meantime, I'm preparing the luggage labels by printing out letters from vintage Lexicon cards and glueing my message to the back. What will it be? 'Peace and Love to all mankind' would seem appropriate after recent events.



The photo below is of Sonya Patel Ellis' finished calendar, image taken from her website, link above. I'm not sure mine will be as beautiful as this one, but I'll have fun trying! 

(Image copyright Sonya Patel Ellis)

I'm wondering if any readers are working on craft projects for christmas? Do tell! 

22 comments:

  1. That looks, and sounds, like a really good idea. Have fun. Flighty xx

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    1. Thanks Flighty - I hope so! I'm already having fun spotting potential specimens as I wander around the neighbourhood.

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  2. What a lovely idea. They would make very beautiful gift tags too.

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    1. Ohhh yes! I hadn't thought of that although I once made some pressed leaves into cards. I hope I don't need to refer to any of my gardening books in the next two weeks … !

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  3. It's absolutely gorgeous Caro, what a fantastic idea. I shall look forward to seeing your version. CJ xx

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    1. Isn't it fab? I just had to have a go at this. Perhaps pressing flowers and leaves might be something your youngest boy might be interested in? I find that kids love collecting leaves and doing crafty things with nature. The Ta-Dah moment for my calendar will hopefully be 1st December!

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  4. I read the same feature Caro and thought that the advent calendar looked most striking. I look forward to seeing your finished article. I'm planning to make some seasonal potpourri as a gift for friends and will try to compose a blog post about it soon :)

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    1. Oh yes please, Anna - I'd love to read how you make pot pourri. I thought this article made a nice cosy change from all the pictures of snow or frost laden gardens in the rest of the mag!

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  5. That looks simply gorgeous. My Christmas project spraying the cut fatsia flowers silver didn't quite work but I'm now onto the spent flower-heads of agapanthus. The huge stems are drying in the warmth of the kitchen and will be sprayed silver in a week or two. I shall blog it whether it works or not and I'm more optimistic with this plant -it's somehow crisper !!!

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    1. That should work out much better, Sue. I had a bundle of allium seedheads which semi-dried on the plant then I had them propped in a jar at home to finish them off. I gave them to my niece who will spray them for christmas. I look forward to seeing how the agapanthus turn out! Good I hope!

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  6. I know a great new book that even shows making your own flower press for crafty-gardeney types.

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    1. Hahaha! Yes, I know it well and am about to post a review…. :o)

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  7. Gosh, that's lovely Caro. It looks like a gorgeous collection of plant material and a fun project. Sam x

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    1. Thanks, Sam. I didn't think there would be much about in the way of interesting samples to gather but have been pleasantly surprised. I've since doubled my original stash of drying plants! It's also a good motivation to get walking outside on a cold day. C xx

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  8. What a lovely, unique idea!!! Glad you had a go...your selection looks great. I shall look forward to seeing the finished product.xxx

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    1. I love this idea, thanks Dina. Luckily it's still mild enough that there's quite a bit of plant material in good nick still. I'm quite taken with the idea of drying flowers throughout the year as well. Caro x

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  9. I saw this, but I didn't get off my lazy backside and try to achieve anything like you did! I look forward to seeing your take on it and I hope you don't miss your books while they are otherwise employed.

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    1. LOL! I think they're being put to the best use at the moment but do rather wish I had one of those lovely flower presses. Apparently you can get microwave flower presses now! Amazing.

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  10. I spotted that project too. It looked so pretty. I've still got some pressed material left over from my book project on pressed flowers so I might give it a go. A quick tip I discovered is kitchen roll can sometimes leave an imprint on the pressed material so blotting paper can work if you've found that an issue. Looking forward to seeing the finished project. Lou xx

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    1. Thanks for the tip, Lou. I've pressed leaves in the past which haven't been affected, being tougher, but gosh, yes, hadn't thought about plain paper or blotting paper. That makes much more sense for delicate flowers. Would love to see how it turns out if you find time to make one of these calendars. Caro xx

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  11. That's a wonderful idea if it wasn't dark I would be like you rushing outside to see what I can find! Sarah x

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    1. Aha! A fellow enthusiast! I was motivated to rush outside by the weather forecast of rain for the following day. It had been relatively dry for the past few days here so it was a case of now or never once rain fell and made plant material soggy again. Might still be worth gathering a few samples to dry - it's been pointed out that they would make lovely cards or table decorations… C xx

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Caro x

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