Gary Jensen's Pressed Flower Compositions
By Amber Galusha
Photos: Tracey Hedge
Gary Jensen remembers the exact moment his love for flowers blossomed. He was a young boy on a road trip to visit his grandparents near Salton Sea. “We came over a rise and the desert below was full of flowers,” says Jensen. “We pulled to the side of the road and I got out and started picking them.” He hadn’t heard of a flower press, but he knew he wanted to save his collection, so he improvised. With his little boy hands, he carefully placed each delicate flower between the pages of a book he was reading.
Decades later, Jensen continues to press flowers and enjoys teaching others what he has learned through horticulture therapy and at garden club meetings. In fact, the inspiration for the art form through which he expresses himself today came when he was sharing his knowledge with children. “I had my nieces and nephew over to spend the night so we could make flower pictures for Mother’s Day,” says Jensen. “I had pressed hundreds of flowers and had so many left over that I decided I needed to do something with them myself.”
Jensen took several framed flower arrangements to work, where coworkers snapped them up. The pieces were so popular, someone suggested he sell his art at craft shows. Jensen took their advice and Pressed for Time, his cottage business, sprouted.
Around this time, a back problem that had been lingering since his 20s flared, making it impossible for Jensen to return to work. Although quitting was difficult, it allowed him the opportunity to focus on what he loves.
After enduring several spinal fusions to stabilize his back, Jensen still experiences pain, though he has found that working creatively gives him something beautiful to concentrate on: his artwork.
Jensen’s art falls into two categories: flower arrangements and “florascapes.” Using a vibrant palette of flowers like viola, pansy, hydrangea, common verbena and larkspur, he creates one-of-a-kind pressed bouquets.
“Basket of Flowers,” one of Jensen’s more popular pieces, incorporates the leaf of the fruitless mulberry. “I have a process where I put the leaves in a bucket with beetles and they eat the soft part of the leaf,” says Jensen. What’s left is the stalk, mid-rib and lateral veins. Jensen uses the leaf skeleton as a lacy basket that he fills with a colorful array of delicately pressed flowers.
To create florascapes—pieces that resemble natural landscapes such as autumn fields, meandering rivers or underwater worlds—Jensen uses textural elements like tree bark, moss and leaves. With handmade paper as his canvas, Jensen works meticulously, converting his panoply of foliage into realistic scenes: velvety lamb’s ears become snowy drifts, fern-like yarrow is transformed into pine trees, and palm fronds give the impression of towering sea bluffs.
For snow-capped mountains, Jensen has found the ideal foliage. “I use the variegated ivy leaf for my Mt. Shasta and Mt. Lassen pieces,” he says. “It looks like a watercolor painting.” Once the leaf is pressed dry, the gloss sheen dulls, allowing the contrasting shades of green to pop against the white leaf edge.
To ensure he has a variety of plant materials to work with, Jensen has learned what species are available throughout the seasons. When the time is right, he harvests plants from the wild as well as from his diversely planted garden.
And sometimes, materials come to his attention when he least expects it, like the day he sat in his garden inspecting a weed he had just pulled. “My wife was looking out the window and said I had been looking at the thing for five minutes,” says Jensen. “All of the sudden it was, ding!” The fibrous golden root he held in his hand was lightning.
Whether his next creation is a florascape inspired by lightning strikes above the North State’s foothills or a flower arrangement custom designed using flowers from a wedding bouquet, Jensen uses nature’s gifts to preserve memories in flowers.
Manton Apple Festival - Oct. 6
Dairyville Orchard Festival - Oct. 20
Red Bluff Garden Club Luncheon at Rolling Hills Casino - Oct. 27
Dunsmuir Community Center - Nov. 10
Simpson College Fair and Trade Show - Nov. 17