Last weekend as I was lamenting the end of the growing season, I picked up the most recent copy of BBC Gardeners World (December 2009). The first article ('Festive foraging') includes an excellent primer on making holiday wreaths from materials gathered in the garden. I'm not generally a "crafty" person, but thought making a few wreaths would be a good way to bring the garden indoors during a winter that promises to arrive on schedule in just a few weeks.
Yesterday morning, even before the sun had the chance to dispose of the frost from our first night under 20 degrees, I grabbed my hand pruners and headed out into the garden looking for branches that could be used as the base of the wreath. A few snips here an there, careful not to take too much of any one shrub, I ended up with armfuls of dogwood, crab apple, birch, willow, and honeysuckle. A hike in the woods later in the day netted a variety of wildflower seed heads, rose hips and drying crabapple fruit.
From the wood I harvested, I was able to assemble two wreath bases. Since I wanted to make at least four wreaths, I traipsed back out into the garden this morning, looking for additional woodies that would be good candidates. Today's pruning netted more dogwood, willow and crabapple, as well as new additions of forsythia, Rose of Sharon, and weigela.
The first step was to trim all the branches into 4-6 foot lengths and trim off any sections thicker than 1/4" (too hard to bend) or thinner than 1/6" (too flimsy).
To start the wreath base, I took one of the branches and slowly bent it into a circular form. (One note here: I found it very difficult to get a near perfect circle, but decided against using a wire wreath frame to limit cost and keep the project more natural.) Once I was satisfied with the shape, I'd fasten the branch to itself with three small pieces of green florist wire.
Next, a second branch is woven around the first.
After each branch was woven into the wreath base, I would gently reshape the entire wreath to get as close to circular as possible.
It took 6-8 branches and about 20 minutes to complete a wreath base. It's hard to rush the bases, because you end up snapping the branches if you don't bend them gradually. In the base pictured above, I also wove drying foliage from siberian iris and miscanthus.
Next came base decoration. Added to the items previously found in the woods were sprigs of fir from our recently purchased Christmas tree, holly cuttings, pine cones we had in the house, rose hips from 'Carefree Sunshine', sweetgum seed pods, dried cotton boll pods from a friend's family farm in Alabama, and hydrangea and echinacea seed heads.
I considered trying to attach what I could by weaving the items into the base, or using additional florist wire, but ended up using a glue gun to attach almost all the items.
Below are the five completed wreaths. The first three will help decorate our house for the holidays; the final two will be given as gifts.
Overall, I'm pleased with my first effort at making these natural wreaths. For the cost of the florist wire, ribbon and glue gun supplies, we have five relatively attractive holiday decorations that recycle a large number of garden materials that otherwise would only be seen when we are outside in the winter months.
I prefer if the wreaths more "true to round," but without using a wire frame, I'm not sure if it's possible. I'll also be interested to see how long the different materials -- especially the fruit and evergreen foliage -- last before starting to desiccate.
I'll certainly be on the lookout for more plants for next year's garden that can be "brought in for winter" in the form of holiday wreaths.