Daffodils and irises: walking to her great-grandmother’s house. Roses and lilies: playing in her grandmother’s garden. Ranunculi and delphiniums: marrying her best friend. To Lauren Whiteside Mann ’07, flowers are memories. And she is doing what she can to preserve them.
“Flowers are connected to memories for me, and I think a lot of people have memories tied to different flowers and plants,” says the senior development officer with the College’s Division of Institutional Advancement. “When you think about it, flowers are part of a lot of life’s big moments, but those moments don’t always last.”
And neither do the flowers. But if you can somehow hold onto the flowers, the memories last forever.
That’s why, after her wedding, Mann decided to press her bouquet and her husband’s boutonniere.
“And then I got hooked and made gifts for my family and our guests from the wedding,” says Mann, adding that it was her husband, Jordan Mann ’07, who first encouraged her to keep going. “He was like, ‘These are great … but, they’re kind of filling up our house! Maybe you should sell these!'”
He didn’t have to press hard: Mann was looking for a creative outlet, and making art out of flowers seemed perfect for her. (As a child, she had an American Girl doll that came with a miniature flower press, and she loved playing with different flowers and leaves. “I would even play with pollen,” she laughs. “I remember sitting on my grandmother’s steps playing with that and being like, ‘Here’s a soup!’ I’ve always associated flowers with my great-grandmother and my grandma.”)
“My day job is about numbers, building relationships and meeting fundraising goals, so this is a really creative outlet for me – to have my side hustle,” says Mann, who established Southern Bloom Press in 2016, starting with selling ornaments and framed pressed flower art on Etsy and at local florist Roadside Blooms, and then doing pop-up shops at stores like The Skinny Dip-Charleston and West Elm, eventually becoming a full flower-pressing service for wedding bouquets, memorial bouquets and other commissioned pieces.
“I’m lucky that I get filled up with just word of mouth. It really helps me continue this wonderful, creative process,” says Mann, who was featured for her work in both Charleston Magazine and Charleston Weddings magazine. “I’m so grateful that it took off like it did. It’s really amazing when someone I don’t know buys something I’ve made or wants me to create something that is special to them.”
Whether she’s picking up brides’ fresh bouquets on their big day, working to help re-create bouquets for anniversaries or making pressed flower art for the guests of a memorial service, Mann knows how much these keepsakes mean to her clients.
“Working with this medium, a lot of people have requested certain flowers because of really special, personal memories,” she says. “I honor that. I love preserving the memories, because I feel like you can hold onto it forever. It’s just a really wonderful way to preserve a special moment and to capture the beauty of flowers. It means something to each individual I’ve worked with.”
And that includes the students in the flower-pressing classes she’s taught for the Charleston Horticultural Society, the SC Herbal Society, the Charleston Museum and Cannonborough Collective. She has scheduled classes this fall with Trident Technical College’s continuing education programs.
“I’ve taught such a variety of different groups, and not one class has been the same,” says Mann. “I make it very casual. Anyone can do something like this. So that’s the great part about it. It’s fun. It’s not complicated.”
Her two-hour classes typically begin with 30 minutes of instruction with real, fresh flowers before the students start working with pressed flowers to create their own designs.
“You have to do a lot of deconstruction with flower pressing – the thicker the flowers are, you may have to take them all apart, you might have to cut them. So, they practice that, and I can go around and give one-on-one advice,” she says. “Then it’s putting it all together, so I already have some pressed flowers that are ready to go, and we work on design together. In the end, everyone goes home with a piece of art. I think it’s really cool to see how different each one looks when they’re given the same materials – all the different ways they’ve made it their own.”
“I’ve had students from my classes go out and buy a press, and they’ll send me their designs that they’ve done or tag me or Southern Bloom Press on Instagram and say, ‘Look what I did!'” says Mann. “It’s been really fun, and a lot of people keep in touch with me. That energizes me to go and do the classes.”
It also motivates her to keep learning different techniques and designs, even attending the World Wide Pressed Flower Guild conference in Pennsylvania in 2017.
“It was cool,” says Mann, noting that one of the things she practiced at the flower show was using the flowers to make art that doesn’t necessarily look like a flower. “That was challenging for me. Most of my designs look like the original flower, but I’ve been trying to challenge myself to do other things outside the box.”
And her clients don’t mind challenging her either. Recently, for example, she was commissioned to do a floating frame that included a photo with the flowers for a bridal design.
“It was just much more than the typical process, and I hadn’t done anything like that before,” she says. “A lot of this is about trial and error. And sometimes I try and I fail at pressing things. I’m not afraid to try different flowers and test certain things out, but you just never know how they’ll turn out. Sometimes you open the press, and the flowers are brown – sometimes they’re just OK. But when they turn out brilliant, you’re like ‘Oooh! This is perfect!’ It’s like life: It’s not always going to turn out perfect! And then you just clean up and start over.”
One thing she’s learned is which flowers give the best results.
“Not all flowers press well,” she says, admitting that roses – a very common flower when it comes to bridal bouquets – are her least favorite to work with. “They’re probably one of the more challenging ones.”
That’s because the more absorbent the petals take longer; the flatter and thinner the petals are, the better.
“Hydrangeas are classic, they’re easy to work with. But, if I had to pick, I think my favorite flower to press would be anemones, because they grow them on the local flower farms and they press beautifully,” says Mann, who tries to use local farms because she knows when they’ll cut the flowers and how fresh they’ll be.
“The hardest thing now is just to buy flowers to appreciate them and not press! I mean, it’s really hard!” she laughs. “If I bring some home just to enjoy in a vase, I’m literally like, ‘I just have to stop and smell the flowers.’”
Fortunately, the art of flower pressing provides plenty of time to do just that – the whole process can take two to three months from start to finish.
“It’s a lot of waiting around, relaxing for a few weeks while the flowers are in the press,” says Mann, noting that she prefers to leave her flowers in the press for four weeks – which can be an exercise in patience. “It’s kind of like baking a cake: You don’t want to open the oven too soon. So I just ‘set it and forget it.'”
Of course, let’s be honest: she never really forgets. She’s always got the flowers to remind her.