Ringing in the season

Publication Date: Friday Nov 21, 1997

Ringing in the season

Fresh or dried holiday wreaths can be crafted from greenery in your own back yard

by Kendra Smith

It's time to begin decking the halls with boughs of holly. Local floral designers say many materials for making attractive holiday wreaths can easily be found in your own back yard.

"You can make a wreath out of anything, it just needs to be stiff enough," said Mary McCullough, who teaches a wreath-making workshop through Gamble Garden Center.

Boughs from trees like English laurel, boxwood, redwood and magnolia are ideal for wreath making, according to McCullough. "These are all things people have growing around their house," she said.

Eucalyptus boughs and bay tree branches also make attractive wreaths, but be sure to work outside when making wreaths with strong-smelling plants.

If you're thinking ahead to Christmas, try noble fir, juniper and Douglas fir, the boughs McCullough uses for the holiday wreaths made in her class.

Most types of wreath-making foliage can be bought at farmers' markets and grocery stores if you don't have trees in your garden, but try asking friends and neighbors if you can use a few cuttings from their plants.

"You kind of have to stake out the trees in your neighborhood," McCullough said.

Items to decorate the plain boughs can also be picked up off the ground or found in a backyard garden--yours or a friend's.

Seed pods, like pine cones or the spiky dark brown pods from sycamores, are falling off trees by the ton. Pepper berries, clumps of tiny, round, hard berries, grow locally at this time of year and make colorful additions to green wreaths. Although they can be purchased, they are usually prettier when found growing wild, McCullough said.

McCullough also recommends using oranges and lemons that aren't yet ready to pick.

"People have so much citrus--use it before it's ripe when it's small," McCullough said.

The unripened fruits are still hard and can easily be attached to wreaths. Their light weight won't drag the wreath down when it is hung on the wall or door.

Both McCullough and Sandy Oueis, floral department manager at Draeger's in Menlo Park, recommend drying smaller pomegranates for use as decoration.

"They dry really fast, and you can use them again from year to year," McCullough said.

Curly twigs such as kiwi or willow, which can be found in stores, and acorns are also options for adding to a fall wreath, according to Oueis.

Making a fresh wreath

One of the simplest ways to put together a fresh wreath is to use a concave wire frame available at craft stores, said McCullough.

Wire frames that come with clamps to secure the fresh greens to the frame are sometimes available at this time of year, and they make wreath making a lot simpler, Oueis said.

McCullough uses wire wound on a card to attach bundles of greens to the frame--"It's easy to unravel, so when you attach greens to the metal frame, you just keep unwinding it, rather than stopping to cut the wire," she said.

To make a wreath, McCullough recommends taking bunches of the greens and layering them like braiding. Tie the first bunch to the frame, and cover where you have tied with the second, and so on, continuing around the wreath in the same direction. Slip the last bundles in the hole between the first and last sections. Be careful about making the bunches too long; when you hang the wreath, the long bundles will sag and reveal holes.

Make sure the frame is the appropriate size. Any time big material like magnolia is used, a large frame--22 inches--ensures the wreath will have a hole of the right proportions when done, said McCullough.

Frames should be saved from year to year and used again. You can even buy a ready-made wreath this year and use the frame next year for your own project, McCullough said.

Some types of seed pod can be wired to fresh wreaths by winding wire around the bottom of the pod and twisting the ends until the wire holds, McCullough said. However, for an item that can't be wired, like fruit or a fragile cone, she suggests placing a skewer in the bottom and inserting the decoration into the wreath like a pick.

Dried wreaths

Many fresh wreaths can be saved for use later as dried wreaths, McCullough said. Though they go through what she called "an ugly stage," they become pretty again when completely brown. Dried flowers and fruit can then be added or interchanged, and the wreath can be used for different seasons.

Bases of Styrofoam and straw can also be purchased at craft stores for making an entirely dried wreath. Pine cones and pods can be mixed with dried and even silk leaves and flowers. In this case, a hot glue gun is useful for fastening materials to the base.

"Hot glue is the best because it's really strong. The wreaths last longer," said Rima Halaby, a floral design specialist at Michael's in Redwood City.

Finishing touches

Although some wreath books suggest otherwise, McCullough recommends waiting until the wreath is finished to add a hang loop at the back. She called it "insurance" if the wreath isn't perfect: If the wreath has a sparse section when you hold it up, that's a perfect spot for the hang loop and bow.

Some of the nicest ribbon for wreaths is French wired ribbon, according to Oueis. This ribbon has wire on both sides, so it can be shaped and sculpted into a flowing bow. Although it is expensive, McCullough said it's "the most forgiving" for those who aren't experts at tying bows.

McCullough also suggests using a large bunch of raffia for a bow, especially for fall wreaths, where the straw-like look of raffia complements the autumn colors.

To preserve dried wreaths, a spray-on or brush-on sealer is recommended. Even hair spray will work, said Oueis.

"(A sealer) will protect the materials from cracking," said Halaby.

Though there's no way to tell how long a dried wreath will last--the more fragile the material, the more likely it is to break--sealers can prolong the life of a dried wreath.

When materials such as dried pomegranates start to look old, McCullough said spraying them with a bit of gold paint gives them new life.

It's a little harder to keep fresh wreaths looking good.

McCullough recommends soaking cuttings in deep water, such as a vase, bucket or bathtub, before using them to make a wreath. This gives them time to soak up as much water as possible. A boxwood wreath can stay fresh as long as a month, but most other wreaths should be made only about two weeks before the event they will decorate.

Fresh wreaths that are hung inside should be taken out at night if you leave your heater on, McCullough said. Mist them with water before storing them in a garage or shed until morning. 

Back up to the Table of Contents Page