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.




Turning Up The Volume


I was at market Saturday morning at first light, shopping. The market is full of beautiful greens, wreaths, integrifolia, Christmas trees-and everything else to go with-including these feathered cardinal ornaments.  I ran out of all of the evergreen holiday wreaths I ordered-I needed to shop for more. I was impressed; what was available at market this morning is first rate quality.  The greens are fresh, and each wreath is stuffed full.

There are all kinds of reasons to shop local farmers and merchants-no one disputes that a vital local economy is good for everyone.  Vegetables and fruits that have to be shipped suffer the consequences.  Tomato varieties that ship well are grown more often by farmers dependent on shipping to sell their produce- than tomatoes that just plain taste good fresh off the vine.  I could see that idea at work this morning.  A grower whose materials I shop in the spring  comes to market in early winter with hand made wreaths, roping and greens. 

All of the locally made wreaths had such astonishing volume.  The wreaths I have shipped to me are stacked up and tightly baled in twelves.  This prevents shipping damage.  This shipping process turns my wreaths into wreath pies-they are pressed flat.  A wreath should not be a two dimensional pie of evergreens-it is a three dimensional sculpture.  The shipping process means I have to add greens to restore the volume that once was.  Or perhaps these wreaths are made to be flat-so they occupy as little shipping space as possible, and transport easily.  However, a reasonably priced base wreath that ships economically suits what I do.

I buy wreaths in bulk from my greens supplier.  No one comes to me for a fresh wreath they can take home and hang on a door-end of story.  They come to me for a wreath that has some individual elements added to it. I get a direction, a color scheme, a style idea from a client.  My base wreaths are a foundation, not a road ready green sculpture.  No two that I decorate are just alike.  Some may feature bracket fungus and moss.  Some may glitter in the low winter light.  Others may be just plain fun.  Some are meant to delight kids. 


   What I collect from the field, what I buy and glue or wire in-anything goes.  I like any beautiful natural material, and any beautiful not natural material.  More than any other form of gardening, holiday gardening encourages exuberant free expression. My holiday garden is not about life and death-it is about celebration.  If my neighbors choose to have a trio of lighted snowmen in their front yard, who am I to criticize? A wreath is a holiday diorama of a manageable size.

But back to my visit to market this morning.  My pie-faced wreaths-I add more greens to them-after I have glued in all of the other elements.  This is a step I need to take. I like a wreath that comes off the page, and speaks volumes. Never mind that a magnolia wreath has no end of leaves stuffed into it-I always buy bunches, and add leaves where I think that wreath needs more dimension. Not everyone can articulate why this looks good, and that which looks rote-but people have an uncanny ability to discern the difference.  I like being a member of that group, The Differences. This means I may have to go back in, and make subtle changes. 

Dan Prielipp’s concolor and noble fir wreaths at market this morning were sparse, but beautifully volumetric. So much air.  Concolor fir has a big, rangy, open texture-his wreaths capture that perfectly.  I could have taken a bunch of them home, and hung them everywhere.  They would look great wired to the back of a garden bench, or laid over a sundial.  His mixed noble fir-boxwood wreaths are the natural equivalent of an inflated intertube you would feel utterly confident riding downstream.  His greens and wreaths are available in all sizes and shapes, and his range of material is good.  The Oakland County Farmer’s Market-he is there Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.  Everything fresh, everything hand made-and local.  Nothing has been smashed flat to ship.

 Do not take this to mean that a pie of a wreath cannot be redeemed.  It can.  That part is up to you.  Hang it up, and put your eye to it.  What is your pleasure?  Build a wreath that talks about that. Welcome to my home-that is what a wreath says.  No matter your persuasion or point of view, I will be interested in what you have to say.


The history of wreathmaking dates back thousands of years.  Round forms decorated with evergreens, berries and pine cones, symbolizing the harvest, are thought to have begun in ancient Rome.  A fall wedding I once did with a decidedly Shakespearean flavor featured wreath shaped headpieces for the bride, and her attendants.  A wreath constructed from fresh and beautiful materials from the garden speaks to the life that persists in spite of the onset of winter.  The wreath pictured above began with an unadorned circle of  the dried branchy stems of sweet huckleberry.  To this I added dry and steamed wood stems and twigs from many other species.  A tuft of dried grass at the bottom doubles as a bow.

2007 Larson, Bonnie Wreath for daughter (2)
I buy my evergreen wreaths already made; a mix of fir, juniper and incense cedar makes for a lively textured base. Lots of natural materials make great decoration for a wreath.  The mushrooms in this wreath are made of tree bark; the giant faux green acorns are a big textured accompaniment to the small brown real ones.  White berry stems cut into pieces, and natural reindeer moss highlight the natural cones. I buy barked wire by the roll, and weave it in and out of the greens. I like some decoration  that stands out and away from the flat circle of greens.  A coppery brown raffia bow completes the look.   


I have a commercial glue gun that I power up with industrial grade hot melt glue.  Scraping cooled blobs of this glue off of my layout table will rip the wood right off the surface; it’s tough stuff. The worst burns I have ever had came from this tool; the hot glue sticks instantly to your skin, and keeps on burning.  I try to remember to keep a glass of cold water on the table big enough to hold my whole hand; this helps a bad burn from becoming a horrendous burn.  The raffia in this wreath is wired to the wreath frame every so often, as are the natural material ornaments.

larsonThe grocery store is a great source for natural materials; you can find cinnamon sticks this time of year in the spice department. Nuts and dried fruits, sprigs of fresh rosemary-all these things look great.  Artichokes and pomogranites are easy to wire and attach fresh, and dry just fine. I avoid piercing any fresh material if I can; there is no need to invite rot. Forest floor litter can be a good source of materials as well-bracket fungus, cones, moss bits and twigs-all these things endow a wreath with a garden feeling.  

Larson_0009Some faux material is too awkward to wire.  In the case of this nest, and the bark birds, I pierce the back of the object, and glue in a florist’s skewer; kitchen skewers would work just as well.  Transparent materials, such as these skeletal leaves, gain visual weight when used in numbers. I can wedge the skewer into the woody branches of the evergreens.  I try not to push the skewer in too far; avoid making your birds look pasted on the greens. Transparent materials, such as these skeletel leaves, gain visual weight when used in numbers; these are wired and glued on a short skewer.  Loose and airy looks good.

Larson4Any faux berry stem needs to be tested for water resistance before it is used.  I learned this the hard way; five window boxes full of white styrofoam berries, gel coated in a clear red acetate, dissolved all over the greens and pavement in front of the store of one of my commercial clients. What a mess. A short piece of  dried kiwi vine chosen for its curl as a loose element to the mix. 

Larson _0003Ornaments made from natural materials are readily available.  As with any ornament or stem, I deconstruct some things so the proportions are good with the size of the wreath.  Sometimes I only need a wedge cut from a ball, or a portion of a stem.  A wreath is a little world that needs to be built accordingly.

Baumgartner (6)When the front door is a long way from the street, a shot of bright red makes a cheery statement from a distance.  Raffia bows have great texture and resilience to the weather.  The worst enemy of any wreath is not snow-it is rain.  A wreath subjected to a lot of rain can have a good bit of its original shape restored. Take the wreath to a dry place, and dry up side down, and face down; gravity will do wonders.

Larson (1)

Our mild November weather right now is perfect for collecting materials outdoors. A wreath on the door is not only a beautiful way to say welcome, it is a way in which to keep on gardening.