Sonya Patel Ellis, founder of The Herbarium Project, has come up with an easy-to-make, Christmas herbarium project – a flower-inspired Advent calendar that gradually reveals a seasonal message, plus is the perfect introduction to the art of flower pressing.


"To make your own Advent calendar, you need at least 24 contrasting shapes, silhouettes, colours and textures, with some spares. Perfect specimens of winter’s signature plants – holly, ivy, rose hips, seedheads and berries – highlight the season’s glory,” explains Sonya. “The best time to pick plants or flowers is when they have dried, mid-afternoon on a sunny winter’s day or, alternatively, pick a bunch of flowers and bring them inside to dry in a clean, warm place.”

Christmas wrapping paper: making Christmas wrapping paper
© Jason Ingram

How to make your own Advent calendar

Press your chosen advent calendar flowers

  • Cut your chosen specimens to lengths of around 8cm so that each one will fit on a luggage label.
  • Then carefully clean with a small brush or fine tweezers to remove debris, such as insects or pollen, and spread out on a drying sheet or piece of white blotting paper. It’s best to take your cue from nature, and allow each one to fall naturally into place, simply intervening to spread out petals or show the best side of a leaf.
  • Cover with a second drying sheet and press in a hobby press, or between the pages of a heavy, hardback book. This should take between ten to 17 days, although for best results you should allow three weeks.
  • Once all your specimens are dry, mount the best ones on to luggage labels (numbered one to 24) with gummed linen tape.
  • Shuffle the labels so they are in a random order and then add your Christmas Advent calendar message – such as ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ – to the back of the labels using Lexicon cards.
  • Attach the labels, so they spell out your message, on to evenly spaced nails on a wooden backing board, then turn each flower side up, so that as you turn a tag each day in Advent your message is gradually revealed. Far more personal than any shop-bought Advent calendar, and a lovely seasonal reminder of the beauty of nature.

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'We wish you a Merry Christmas' floral advent calendar

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Sonya Patel EllisNature writer, editor and artist

Nature writer, editor and artist Sonya Patel Ellis is the author of The Heritage Herbal (British Library Publications, 2020), Collins Botanical Bible/The Botanical Bible (William Collins/Abrams 2018) and The Collins Garden Birdwatcher’s Bible/The Backyard Birdwatcher’s Bible (Harper Collins/Abrams 2020).