Archives for December 2012

A Holiday Wreath

A wreath is first and foremost an expression of unity.  No matter the materials used or style, every wreath begins as a circle.  A circle is a complete, continuous, and visually satisfying form. That decorated shape displayed at the holidays expresses the sentiments of the season, as well as a point of view about beauty.  This simple grapevine wreath adorned with a few dried bits from the garden and a wired paper bow says hello and welcome.

The history of wreath making is long, dating back centuries.  Holiday wreaths traditionally begin with a circle of evergreens.  The evergreens last a long time, despite being cut.  There is a strong element of hope associated with evergreen wreaths-that despite the quiet winter season, the natural world is still very much alive, and will persist through the winter. 

All of the evergreen wreaths at the shop are locally made to a certain size and heft that will keep its shape, no matter how much I may add to it.  The handmade part of them is obvious-they are not perfectly round, and they have a lively textured surface.

I like a basic mix of different types of fir.  Douglas, concolor, silver, noble and frazier fir stay fresh looking a long time.  Adding bits of other greens, such as boxwood, incense cedar, berried juniper and the like makes each wreath different-more personal.   

Decorating a wreath spices up the evergreen stew.  Natural materials-cones, mosses, dried berries, magnolia leaves, twigs, and eucalpytus provide color and texture of a different sort.  Arranging all of the materials-a satisfying and contemplative exercise in composition.    

I probably make upwards of 50 wreaths a year-how I enjoy this.  Each client has a singular idea about what they like in terms of color, materials and style.  Some are quite formal-others more low key.   

The mechanics of fastening has everything to do with the weight of the material and size of the material you are trying to attach.  Wire can be wrapped around the base of a pine cone, and poked through to the back of the wreath.  Anything that gets wired to the steel base of the wreath will stay put, no matter how blustery the weather.  I buy rolls of paddle wire.  The 22 gauge green wire is a continuous length wound round a paddle shaped spool.  I always have the perfect length of wire available.

Florist’s wire comes in different lengths and weights.  The advantage of this wire-it is straight.  A straight wire can be easier to poke through the evergreens.  Smaller materials like twig bunches can be easily fastened with a single piece of wire. 

Some wreath materials are available already attached to heavy wire stems.  They can be wedged in between the evergreen branches. More often than not, I take the picks apart.  Many are just too large, or too long for the spot where I need them.  The acorn branches in the wreath pictured above came from a single pick.   

A jute bow is easy to attach with a zip tie that goes through the center knot, and around a stout branch.  Really heavy materials, such as faux fruit or ornaments like the bead ball pictured above need a fastening device that is both strong and rigid. Floral picks, or skewers come in various lengths, and can handle the heaviest ornament with ease.  Faux fruit is really tough skinned.  I pierce the surface with a steel awl,  butter the pick with hot melt glue, and insert the pick.  The wood pick can them be wired to the steel wreath frame.

The hot melt glue gun is an indispensable, albeit dangerous tool.  Hot melt glue will stick to your skin just like anything else it touches.  My downfall almost always involves gluer dripping from the back of a piece of moss.  If you are using a glue gun more than 1 step from a sink, keep a bowl or glass of water handy, so you can put out the fire fast.  Gluing the sticks in the wreath above-not so dangerous.  The glue is at the other end.  This gluing project just took lots of time.  A wreath like this can last many years-and can be repaired if need be.   

I don’t really have a favorite wreath.  The favorite part is in the making, not in the end result.  Having some time, and a good sized space to make a mess is a big help.  Wreath making-a primitive form of cutting and pasting.  Much more ends up on the floor or table, than on the wreath. 

Hand made holiday decorations have a very special feeling about them.




At A Glance: More Holiday Wreaths




























I suppose I could have exercised a little restraint in the numbers of pictures that are posted here, but this time of year, who wants to edit?

The December Better Homes And Gardens


February last, Jane McKeon, garden editor at Better Homes and Gardens called-would we be available to host a photo shoot of my winter containers?  Why wouldn’t we?  Better Homes and Gardens reaches an astonishing number of homes all across the US.  Even better, they have been publishing, and encouraging great design for many decades.  BHG came every month in the mail to my house when I was a child.  My Mom poured over every issue.  Home, garden, design, health, food-a compendium of articles and pictures about daily life, touched by design. 

I am not sure I read any of the articles as a child, but I am quite sure I studied the pictures.  BHG has evolved over time, but a few things are quite the same.  They have the idea to share, explain,  teach-and support.  What could be more American in nature? The magazine had run an article about my spring container plantings, but I was excited about this article that would feature containers in winter.   

I have to credit Rob for the seminal idea that no container should be empty over the winter season.  Many years ago he described a plan to offer materials in the shop that could be placed into containers, and not only survive, but enrich our winter season.  What a gifted idea!  The containers that make a home for summer annual and tropical plants could be a home for cut greens, preserved and dry natural materials during our long winter months.  We take such great pride that this idea has spread, both to other designers, and to clients who like to do for themselves.    

No gardener loves the winter.  The frozen ground, the deep freeze, the dead stalks and the gray skies are daunting.  If you are like me, you are longing for spring.  But spring is an impossibly long way off.  Every gardener needs a big idea to occupy at least part their winter.  Seed catalogues, plant research, forcing bulbs, design planning-these things help.  But dressing the garden for the winter season takes such a lot of thought and effort- this extended activity helps to keep the fire burning through the end of the year.

 Our winter 2011 was anything but ordinary.  Warm.  No snow.  BHG wanted a little snow.  The shoot-on hold.  We considered fake snow.  Once that idea was nixed, we held our breath-hoping for snow from the sky.   

At the first sign of an inch of snow, BHG put Chicago based photographer Bob Stefko on the road to our place.  We had but a moment to record the winter pots, in an environment that looked momentarily wintry.  One of my landscape crews was most obliging-moving pots, snow and lights. 

I will admit that both my crew and I about froze,  styling Bob’s shoot.   I was amazed by him-he shrugged off the long hours of cold, and focused on the work.  His photographs-each and every one of them-were beautiful. A great photographer creates opportunity and invention despite trying circumstances.  Bob was no exception. 

Though we had no idea what he was seeing, we kept him company. 

We have had lots of calls and emails from many places, about the materials and techniques used in the creation of these winter arrangements.  All of the excitement, discussion and expression generated by those 5 pages in Better Homes and Gardens-such fun.  

This year’s winter containers-I try to post pictures as soon as they are done.  Any gardener interested in yet another expression featuring the garden needs a timely nudge.  You see it when I see it.  I try to keep up.

Our work is just about non stop this time of year.  No matter that the time frame is short.  We plan to give every project its just due.  All of our clients rightfully feel as though their project is a one of a kind.  No matter how busy we are, we take the time to make every holiday and winter container specific.            

Your winter containers and holiday decor is specific to you, and your point of view.  An original and personal winter display enchants-your family, your friends-and your neighbors.

The creative process is very hard to describe, much less document.  What I like is the idea that so more creativity goes on than I could possibly absorb.  Great winter displays and design are world wide.     

This client came in for a consultation.  In the end, she did all of her own work.  Her holiday display on top of these pillars dating back to the 1920’s-personal.  Singular.  Swell.  Gorgeous!  What we do every day at the shop, Better Homes and Gardens made available to every gardener everywhere.  Many thanks for your confidence and interest, Better Homes and Gardens.   


A festoon is a decorative chain or strip hung between two points-this I relay to you from the dictionary. The holiday celebration provide plenty of encouragement  to drape, swag, run, attach, and hang garlands-both inside and out.  A garland can be a wreath-hung on a door.  Or placed horizontally over the top of a birdbath.  Or over the light fixtures at the front door.  Or in the windows. A wreath in every window-lovely. 

A length of garland, or a festoon, can be made from lots of materials, strung together.  Evergreen garlands are our most popular garland.  An evergreen garland is not only beautfiul to look at, it smells great.  All of our garland is custom made, from three diferent types of fir.  Douglas, noble and concolor fir make an evergreen garland with lots of volume.   

 Our garlands are triple the size of ordinary garland. I like a generous look over a door, or swagged on a gate.  In places where an entrance is really large, I double over the garland, which makes it between 15-18 inches wide.  Fresh garland of this size is extremely heavy-all of those branches are attached to wood from whence those green branches came. 


If we need 50 feet of garland to go over an entrance or porch, we cut that garland in half, and reattach it in the center, so the branches are pointing in the same direction, whether they are on the left side, or the right side.  I find a garland where the branches go up one side, and down the other visually disconcerting. All up, or all down-take your pick.

 Should the branch tips face up, or down?  I like all of the leaves of a magnolia garland to face up.  As the leaves dry, they succumb to gravity, fall, and open up.  This makes the garland wider.  The leaves curl beautifully as they dry.  An upfacing position will give each leaf room to make its own statement.   If magnolia leaves face down, they will close even tighter as they dry-gravity will make the leaves hug the woody stems.


Evergreen garland hung with the branches facing up will have a wild, cottagy, and rustic look.  The branches will fall out and down.  This is a great look for a large stone fireplace, an oversized wood arbor, a wood fence of good size, or over the barn door.  An evergreen garland for a more formal home might be more subtle and contained, with the branches facing down.

Many garlands are created by tieing boughs to a stout rope.  Thus the word-roping.  The rope is much more flexible than the boughs-eventually the greens will conform to the shape in which they are hung.  A small garland designed for a dining room table might have small branches wired to make a length, as pictured above.  A garland can be very short, and very striking.  Or very long, and equally striking.

Garland on a mantel can be a challenge, if the mantle is very shallow.  I have never been successful in convincing a clients to put brads in a mantel, so I can wire the garland to it-I have no idea why.  This is why garland clips and heavy candlesticks are so popular on the mantel-they keep the garland in place.  I sometimes put heavy pots on a mantel, and tuck the garland behind them.  This keeps everything secure.

We do on occasion attach boughs to a stout bamboo stake, cut a foot or two shorter than the mantel.  The stake keeps the entire assemblage where it belongs on a very shallow mantle.  If you choose this method of construction, be sure to cut off the branchlets on the back side, so the pole can sit right next to the wall.  We almost always insert extra greens into the garland after it is in place, so it looks thick and full.

To drape, or not to drape?  In very formal rooms, I like the garland the width of the mantel.  If the garland in a formal room drapes to the floor, how the garland pools on the floor is very important.  Pooling garland on the floor like heavy taffeta drapes can be beautiful.  On occasion, on a formal exterior portico, I will widen the garland at the bottom, so it pools like heavy drapes.  This means adding extra branches, or an extra section of garland about half way down. 

 In informal rooms, I love the evergreen mantel garland to the floor.  Bulky, not too controlled, and friendly.  I like it loaded with  other natural materials.  Sugar pine cones, dried stems, eucalyptus, berries-the list of materials that can festoon your garland is long.  Wired burlap ribbon, twisted and swagged, can be a beautiful companion.

Not all garlands need to be constructed from evergreens.  Rob is well known for his light garland design-we make lots of them.  They may look a little stilted when they are first hung-be sure you measure the lengths you are swagging-do not count on your eye.  Once those light garlands come on, the heat warms the wires-when warm, they swoop beautifully.


Any material can be attached along a flexible base to make a garland.  Pine cone garlands are dense and stiff.  They are great in a straight run.  Need them to drop?  Cut them, and rewire at that spot you need them change direction.  A few years ago I found tubes of platinum colored bead garlands in 30 foot lengths at English Gardens.  They were beautiful on my tree-like jewelry.  Gorgeous garland.

Festive-this is what  garland provides to a home and a garden at the holidays.  This holiday garland is quietly elegant.  Just like my clients.   My garland over my front door-I leave it up all winter.  If the neighbors think I am eccentric, they don’t say so.  It could be they like it as much as I do.