Native Plant Crafts and Decor for Autumn
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Preserving Autumn leaves
Choose leaves for their color and shape, whatever appeals. Northwest native maples, oaks, alders, and birches are just a few of our native trees that have very colorful leaves. Many native shrubs such as American Cranberry or Snowball Bush, the Oregon Grapes, huckleberries, and sumac put on an outstanding Autumn show.
Gather the leaves (and cut some branches) when they are dry. Don't pick them up right after a rain. Preserve them as soon as possible. A lot of leaves will just turn brown if held too long before using.
Waxed paper method: Place leaves between two layers of wax paper. Cover with an old towel or cloth rag. Press the fabric with a warm iron, melting the wax onto the leaves. You can press around each leaf, sealing the wax paper together with the leaf in between. Cut your leaves out, leaving a narrow margin of wax paper around the leaf edge. Or you can carefully peel away the paper and use your waxed leaves au naturel.
Microwave oven method: Place separate leaves or small twigs in the oven on top of two pieces of paper towel. Cover them with one sheet of paper towel. Run the oven for 30 to 180 seconds. The drier the leaves, the less time they will need. Be careful; you could start a fire in your microwave if they cook too long. Be attentive. Leaves that curl after removal have not been dried enough. Leaves that scorch, were left in too long. Let the leaves dry for a day or two, then finish the leaves with a sealant, such as an acrylic craft spray.
Microwave oven with silica gel method: Place a 1-inch layer of floral silica gel in the bottom of a cardboard box. Arrange the leaves flat on the gel. Leaves should not touch and should be at least 1 inch away from the sides of the box. Cover the leaves with a 1-inch layer of gel. Place the uncovered box in the microwave. You want the microwave to operate at about 200-300 watts, so if your microwave has 2-10 settings operate it at level 4. If the oven only has three to four settings, it should be set at half. If your oven has a high to defrost options, set the microwave on defrost. Estimated drying time is 2 minutes if you're using a half pound of gel or about 5 minutes for two pounds of gel.
Glycerine and water method #1 for leaves: Use a mixture of one part glycerin to two parts water. Place the mixture in a flat pan, and totally submerge the leaves in a single layer in the liquid. You'll have to weight them down to keep them submerged. In two to six days, they should have absorbed the liquid and be soft and pliable. Remove them from the pan and wipe off all the liquid with a soft cloth. Done correctly, the leaves will remain soft and pliable indefinitely.
Glycerine and water method #2 for branches: Using the same proportions, 1 part glycerine to 2 parts water, place this mixture in a bucket or large jar. Make a fresh cut on the ends of your branches and pound the ends with a hammer to make them take up the mixture. Stand the branches in the bucket, cut ends down, and keep in a cool, dry and dark place until the branches are dried. Not all branches you try this with will be successful so cut plenty to allow for those that don't take. Once they are dry, the "keepers" will have their beautiful colors and be sort of leathery in feel. Take care with them and they'll last for years.
Preserving Seed Pods (including Cattails)
Cut pods that are firm to the touch. Best to do this when the weather has been dry for a few days. Spray generously with hair spray, spray laquer or varnish. Hang upside down to dry. This also works for grasses.
What to do with Preserved Leaves
Not-falling leaves: Hang individual leaves by gluing dark colored string to them. These look really great stuck to the roof of a porch or patio--use different lengths of string. You can hang some on a curtain rod in front of a window. Hang a few from your ceiling fan.
Use as you would pressed flowers for crafts, as decoration for stationary.
Make a Fall wreath: Wire small bunches together and fasten on a frame, overlapping the stems. For the frame, we like to coil a few small branches and weave them together. If a little of this frame shows, it will look lovely. Put in some dried Pearly Everlasting, seed pods and cattails. Acorns are a nice addition.
Autumn corsage: Bundle a few of the most beautiful and appealing together, tie with raffia or ribbon, wear on your lapel, your hat or pin to your car's visor. A few acorns at the base would be excellent.
Floral arrangement: Select a rustic container such as old willow basket, metal florist bucket, cowboy or work boot, hollow log, etc. Arrange your branches of leaves in the container. Add some cattails, some Pearly Everlasting, some native grasses, maybe some paper birch branches. Tie a big raffia bow to a stick and tuck it into the container for extra pizzaz.
This list is subject to growth and change as education continues and new opportunities become available. Come back and visit often. If you have ideas for good ways to love our earth, please email them to me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll update this site from time to time with your ideas.