One question I get asked a lot is: How do I know what bits of nature will last and what won't? It's a great question that I don't have an easy way to answer. Because the short answer is that I just guess. (Or, in the words of a colleague, I use the S.W.A.G. method: Scientific Wild Ass Guess.)
Basically, I pick something and try it out and see what happens. Some plants and flowers work really well and some just shrivel up and turn brown. So, it has truly been a long and interesting experiment.
One thing that I have learned which is really important is to make sure that whatever I'm incorporating is completely dry before using it. If I take a leaf or a flower and glue it in and shellac it before it's fully dry, it basically rots from the inside out until it's brown and totally unappealing. (Which is partly why I'm so interested to see what happens with Kait's Project Runway challenge necklace over time.)
What I find most interesting about working with real plants is the variety you wind up with after they've been dried. Some leaves dry flat and keep their green color. Some curl up and turn yellow or brown. Some flowers dry into a really pretty, vintage-like version of what they looked like alive. Some flowers dry into a miniscule version of themselves. And some just shrivel away.
These big, bright pink flowers keep their color beautifully when dry...
What all of this means is that I'm continually trying out new plants, which means that I'm continually picking up new plants everywhere I go. (Sometimes, I'll clean out my purse and find dried flower stems and leaves crushed at the bottom.) I've actually experimented with so many plants that it's hard to keep them straight, so I'm going to start keeping a notebook to record what I'm finding. (Which will also be a great way to learn the names of the plants that I'm working with.)