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News / Life / Clark County Life

A pressing need: Vancouver woman opens Washington’s only flower-drying business to balance nursing career

By Monika Spykerman, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 29, 2024, 6:04am
6 Photos
Daphne Andersons holds a completed, framed bouquet. Her business, Vancuterie, offers bridal bouquet preservation using ancient Japanese flower-pressing techniques.
Daphne Andersons holds a completed, framed bouquet. Her business, Vancuterie, offers bridal bouquet preservation using ancient Japanese flower-pressing techniques. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Flower preservation is now de rigueur for many brides, a must-have wedding expense on par with cake and champagne. Yet very few artisans in the country offer this service. Vancouver-based Daphne Anderson, 55, owner of Vancuterie, is one of them — and business is blooming.

“I’ve been able to land in a space where I can live my dreams,” said Anderson, who started the business in May of 2023 and works from her home studio near Leverich Park. “I did not think it would be this successful so quickly but there just aren’t any flower pressers around here.”

Before Anderson began her life in flowers, she worked as a forensic nurse, collecting evidence in sexual assault cases. She’s worked for the same company for 14 years and still picks up a few shifts a month, she said, as well as serving as an instructor for the Oregon Sexual Assault Task Force. In her 20s, before becoming a nurse, she worked for fashion designer Steve Madden in New York. She said she still travels to New York City fairly frequently, and might eventually open a studio there, although she said she feels very connected to Vancouver’s small-business community.

From petals to MBA

Anderson learned flower pressing from her grandmother and never forgot the joy she derived from the process. She’s inspired by oshibana, a 16th century Japanese art form wherein dried flowers and other botanical elements are used to create faces or landscapes.

It’s not “aristocratic British women pressing flowers as they drink tea,” said Anderson. It’s an ancient art form said to have been practiced by samurai warriors to develop patience, concentration and harmony with nature. For Anderson, thinking about flowers was the antidote to a job that made her “so unhappy and unfulfilled.”

“During the pandemic, it was very hard on health care workers,” Anderson said, “I thought to myself ‘Can I do this for another 15 years?’ And the answer was ‘No.’ ”

Anderson enrolled in a Master of Business Administration program at George Fox University in Portland. By the end of the first term, she’d decided to open a flower-focused business, though she wasn’t sure what form that would take. Then, in 2022, Anderson’s brother died. She said she was overcome by grief. Her husband, an engineer, built her a flower press and she began pressing flowers every day as a therapeutic practice, experimenting with more complex blooms and techniques. She opened an Instagram account so family and friends could see her arrangements. She now has 1,500 followers.

At the urging of friend Rachel Deems, owner of Hot Yoga Vancouver, Anderson led a flower-pressing workshop. That settled it for Anderson. She opened Vancuterie, making her the only person in Washington who offers bridal bouquet preservation using this technique.

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Bouquets by the numbers

Seventy percent of her business comes from Washington and about 30 percent comes from the greater Portland area, Anderson said. Of her Washington clients, 50 percent of those are from Seattle, where she does regular bouquet pickups and deliveries. She said she took in 100 bouquets last year. Her peak season is September, when she received 25 bouquets in one week. She’s gearing back up for an even busier season this year. She said she’s poised to hire a full-time employee while her husband handles the production flow, as well as building presses and soldering frames.

Anderson said each completed arrangement takes about 50 hours of work, starting from the moment she receives the bouquet. She disassembles and indexes every petal from each bloom. The average rose has about 50 petals. Chrysanthemums have about 75 and dahlias might have even more, depending on the variety. Most bouquets have 30 or 40 flowers.

Anderson takes photographs to record each bloom’s condition. If the flowers are too wilted, she contacts local flower farmers to get replacement petals.

Then the flowers go into the press, separated by 12 to 15 layers of papers and cardboard. The papers must be changed daily for seven to 10 days, or the blooms turn brown, Anderson said. After paper-changing, the flowers go into a “state of rest,” Anderson said. That’s where they remain for the next three months until they dry completely.

Next, Anderson removes the dried blooms so she can “color correct” or restore a natural hue to each faded petal with dry paint, alcohol markers or even, occasionally, eyeshadow. A single ranunculus blossom takes 45 minutes to color-correct, Anderson said. Then she reconstructs each flower in two dimensions, using design templates for consistency. Each bouquet contains 300 to 500 petals in the finished design, meticulously arranged with tweezers on glass or matboard. It’s delicate, detailed, totally absorbing work, but that’s why Anderson likes it.

“I can turn on music and have a glass of wine and get into a really great flow,” Anderson said. “I’ll look up at the clock and several hours have gone by and it’s felt like 15 minutes.”

Pricing is by size and complexity, ranging from $190 for a 5-by-7-inch frame with just a few blooms to $845 for an 18-by-24-inch frame with 60 flowers and 1,000 petals. She said her biggest seller is a 16-by-20-inch arrangement for $655.

Clean and green

Anderson’s business is not only green in the botanical sense but also in the environmental sense. Her pressing boards can be recycled. She donates used drying paper to a local Montessori school. She sources replacement flowers from five women-owned flower farms in Clark County: Field and Floral, River Road Farm, Flowers on the Five, Mooncake Flower Farms and Joy B. Blooms. She’s also saving local brides from shipping bouquets across the country at a cost that’s more than the price of the preserved arrangement, Anderson said.

“Everything I do can be recycled or melted down 100 percent,” Anderson said. “I have received flowers from California and Idaho, but if I can find brides a flower presser that’s closer, that’s going to be so much better than them.”

Anderson is aware that her work in nursing and in the bridal industry brings her into contact with women in very different circumstances. She sees women at their worst and at their best, she said, but believes she can make a positive contribution in both cases. She said she’s fascinated by the women she meets, especially local women business owners. They “support each other in making Vancouver a clean, green space,” Anderson said.

“I’m finding a new part of myself that’s always been there,” Anderson said. “As we progress through life, we’re put into these boxes. In my box, it’s been ‘Shut up and put up and just do.’ That box has come down and now I’m living my life like I should have been.”