“I enjoy encouraging people to be creative,” explains Angela Maynard, carefully threading the dried stems of honesty, plantain, Daucus, Rumex and Festuca under and over the strings wrapped tightly around a vintage picture frame. The floral wall hanging she’s making is one of many projects that make up her recently published book, The Art of Gifting Naturally.
Angela wanted to write a book that explores gifting as a creative practice that enriches both the maker and the recipient. “Our seasonal celebrations are now so tied up in the act of present-buying and giving that any other meaning seems to have been lost,” she says. “If you are creating something for someone, it doesn’t have to be extravagant,” she comments. “It’s about the time, thought and effort you’ve put into it.”
Care and resourcefulness are at the heart of Angela’s creative practice – and why she developed an interest in dried flowers in the first place. As well as being a published author, Angela is a dried flower florist, indoor plant specialist, and workshop host. After 12 years in the fashion industry, Angela opened Botany Shop in 2014, originally a multipurpose store, gallery and event space centred around creativity inspired by nature, now currently based online. As well as offering houseplants, she sold colourful bouquets until realising it was impossible to maintain a constant selection of fresh flowers without them wilting and being thrown away. “The waste made me uncomfortable,” she says. “So whichever stems I brought needed to dry as well.”
Angela quickly fell in love with the unpredictability of dried flowers – how they took on a different appearance as they decayed. “Rumex changes from bright pink or green to a deep burnt orangey-red hue,” she explains, pointing at one of the stems. The sustainable aspect, colour and form encouraged her to pursue the historically popular practice of drying flowers. “I helped turn something that had previously been perceived as old-fashioned into something contemporary… it was like I was giving these blooms more than one life,” she explains. “When I was a child, we didn’t have an enormous amount, so this philosophy of “make do and mend” is something I’ve grown up with.”
The stems she’s weaving into the floral wall hanging were responsibly gathered on walks (having dried in situ) just minutes away from her London-based home studio at the Hackney Marshes. When starting out, Angela believes the most environmentally friendly way to dry flowers is to use a bunch you’ve been gifted for a birthday or other special occasion, gather a few stems from an abundant patch (only what you need and definitely intend to use, cutting and never pulling a stem from the ground with the root) or even better, or grow your own organically. “When you grow your own, you can only harvest at certain times of the year,” she explains. Summer is ideal for harvesting flowers, and autumn and winter are perfect for picking seed heads, sedges and grasses. Any dried flowers brought outside of the warmer months will likely be imported. “I love spotting wildflowers where other people wouldn’t, in unexpected places like cracks in the pavement,” she explains. “Working with natural materials makes you more observant of them in daily life.”
The way Angela dries flowers depends on the stem; if they’re robust, you can dry them standing. But typically, you hang dry them upside down, tied with string and out of direct sunlight, in a cupboard or wrapped in brown paper. “The only method I use is air drying,” she explains. “Barely any materials are involved, and there are no chemicals.” Anyone can do it at home, and if you want to achieve the bleached look, leave the flowers to dry by a window. Echinops or globe thistles transform from blue to a beautiful golden under the sun. “Just make sure to start the drying process before they start to wilt and go brown.”
Angela’s desire for a sustainable practice feeds into how she harvests and dries flowers and the bouquets she creates. Many projects in The Art of Gifting Naturally utilise small, possibly broken bits, from the floral wall hanging to making buttonholes, creating posies with shorter stems, and using petals for potpourri or wax melts. “You can even dry flowers such as chamomile and lavender for herbal tea,” she explains. Much of Angela’s time is spent devising creative projects for books or workshops, but one factor always remains constant; whatever she creates can’t just get thrown away. “If I make something or encourage others to, I want it to be used all year round or re-used,” she explains. “So even if I’m creating a wreath in wintertime, it can’t be too festive.”
When making floral arrangements, Angela looks at how the plants naturally appear in the landscape and emulates their movement, placing together the species that grow alongside each other. Angela has learnt that crafting with flowers means you become more mindful of how they grow and transform over time. “When you pay attention to something, I feel that’s when respect starts,” she muses. Angela’s practice proves that art and environmentalism can go hand in hand. Through craft, Angela honours the natural world around her. “If you respect your environment, then that becomes the basis of your decision-making,” she explains. “It starts with a thought and then becomes behaviour.”
Dried Flower Wall Hanging
Takes 1 - 2 hours (or an afternoon, if including a walk to gather stems)
You will need:
An old picture frame with the back and glass removed
Roll of brown string
Autumnal dried flowers, twigs and and grasses
Scissors or secateurs
For gifting (optional):
Recycled tissue paper
1. Remove the back and glass from the frame, taking care not to damage it.
2. Keeping the string on its roll, tie one end in a secure knot roughly one-third of the way down the right-hand upright. Wrap the string across and over the left-hand upright, then across and over the right-hand upright, repeating until you reach a point one-third up from the bottom of the frame. Secure the string with a knot.
3. Lay out your dried stems over the string to decide on a composition that you like. Then take the first item you want in your wall hanging and begin threading it over and then under the strings.
4. Repeat this process with the other stems until your design is complete. Make sure each stem is held securely between rows of string and won’t fall out.
5. To gift, build a nest of newspaper or recycled brown paper inside your box to cushion your frame. Lay the frame on top of the paper and place a sheet of brown tissue on top to protect the stems. Finish with ribbon and a decorative dried stem.
Interview by Emma Latham Phillips.
Photographs by Aloha Bonser Shaw.
Watch Angela create the Dried Flower Wall Hanging on our Instagram.
Extract from The Art of Gifting Naturally by Angela Maynard, published by Hardie Grant.
For information on Angela’s upcoming workshops sign up to her mailing list via her website.