At A Glance: The Wreath Details

It does not matter whether you are stitching a quilt, designing a garden, composing a song, painting a picture, or writing a book-the creative process is a very special state of mind.  I don’t know that I could describe it very well, except to say that the moment when all of ones every day cares and obligations drop away, and all that is left is a collection of thoughts, a vocabulary, some tools, and a willing hand is a precious moment indeed.

wreath-detail.jpgWreath making is a personal description of the natural world, on a small scale.  One can easily hang the work on the front door.  It could be complex and rich.  It could be simple and spare.  It could be Williamsburg like in feeling.  It could be funny, or operatic.  It could be anything.  Imagining the possibilities is work well worth the time it takes to imagine.

wreath-detail.jpgThis 18 wreath project is a project I treasure, as it gives me the time and the space to focus, express, interpret, try out,  fiddle and fuss.  It would never occur to me to judge the importance or lack thereof regarding a holiday wreath.  What is important is the making.  Making is very important to my life-just like it is to so many other people.  Making it to work on time, making a sculpture, making a solution, making dinner-people make things.  There is an art to a life, but there is also a craft.

wreath-detail.jpgWe are pretty busy right now.  The holiday pots, the holiday decorating, the lighting, the clients interested in our take on how to dress their front porch winter, or how they should set a holiday dinner party table. We are in the thick of it.  I rather like all the commotion.  But I also like those moments when the work is not really work.  Those moments spent crafting a story.  There is a story about the relationship of one material to another, the scale, the texture, the color-the line and direction.  The story I interpret for a client.  The season, the materials.

wreath-detail.jpgIf you are keen to design and make, you know exactly what this moment feels like.  These 18 wreaths will be shipped out tomorrow.  I hope that each and every person scheduled for a holiday wreath from my client will enjoy them. I know I thoroughly enjoyed making them.









Making A Holiday Wreath

wreaths-2013.jpgWreath making is one of the great pleasures of the holiday season.  Relative to other holiday decor projects, a wreath is small.  A 30″ wreath will amply fill the space on a front door.  A 30 ” diameter evergreen wreath can be decorated with all kinds of materials.  A collection of pine cones or wood bits can be displayed on a wreath.  Greens from the garden can be added to a purchased wreath.  A wreath is a very personal expression, and anything from the garden that adds to that personality will make the end result all the more interesting.  Green and beefy is a great base from which to start.

wreath.jpgWhat happens next is up to you.  White pine cones from the yard, a particularly interesting branch, a dried stem or leaf, a leftover hank of jute twine-you get the idea.  Though the garden is in a dormant stage right now, there are so many beautiful bits waiting to be collected.  In my yard, I have hellebore leaves, rose hips, dried fern fronds, boxwood, dry magnolia leaves, dry hydrangeas, arborvitae, rhododendron leaves, dogwood twigs, wisps of grass-you get the idea.  In my garage at work I have boxes of other bits-stray pine cones, leftover stems of eucalyptus, random strands of string, leftover moss, wood plant stakes, sticks, and kraft packing materials.  None of them are so swell on their own, but in concert with other like materials, something beautiful may emerge.

wreath.jpgI will admit that I am a fan of birds in wreaths.  Corn husk birds.  Feathered birds.  felted birds.  Stick birds.   What I like so much about them are their eyes-their expressions. Those birds looking back at me from their perch in the wreath is to me a symbol of gardening.  Making eye contact with nature is what gardeners do.  This wreath-chopped up birch branches, canola berries, bark wire, pine cones-and the birds.

wreath.jpgI have a client for whom I make close to 20 wreaths-she sends them to friends and family for Christmas.  I like the assignment.  It gets me in the wreath making mood.  Meaning that I set up my work space, I cover it with all sorts of materials.  I also am sure I have wire, and florist’s picks.  Materials that are too heavy to glue directly to a wreath need an attachment vehicle-a pick.  I like some materials to float off of the wreath surface.  I pick these materials too.  Fresh twigs I wire up in bunches, and wire yet again to the wreath frame

wreath.jpgWreaths that I make for clients has every element wired in or glued.  I use a professional grade glue gun with a type of glue that never lets loose.  Be so careful with a glue gun.  That melted glue can produce really nasty burns-I speak from experience.  I keep a glass of cold water on my worktable.  The moment I feel heat, I quench.   At home, I stuff my materials in.  Should they fall out in a storm, I can make repairs. The wreaths that go out tomorrow to California, Vermont, Maryland and Florida have been glued up, and will be zip tied into the floor of their boxes.

wreath.jpgA wreath holiday wreath is the size of a dollhouse.  Make sure the scale of your materials look comfortable with the scale of your wreath.  I buy handmade wreaths from my local farmers market.  If you are in my area, Dan Prielipp is a regular exhibitor at the Oakland County Farmers Market.  His wreaths are fresh, and exuberant.  They are rarely perfectly round, but  any green holiday item can be tamed with your pruners, should you feel the need.

wreath.jpgOnce I start this wreath project, I rely on Detroit Garden Works to provide me with special materials.  In January, Rob and I will shop for materials for the 2014 holiday season.  Those little bits that are perfect for wreaths will be on my list.

wreath.jpgThere are those gardeners that hang a wreath on their front door every season. I am not one of them.  I save all of my energy for the wreath I will hang at home for the holidays.  The winter.  Making that once a year wreath in December does me a world of good.  Welcoming my company at the front door with a remembrance of the garden is my idea of saying hello.

wreath.jpgThe wreath tutorial will have to wait until this project is finished and shipped.  But pictures can help to spark an idea or direction.

wreath.jpgLittle holiday projects can have enormous impact.  What you hang on your front door for the holidays should express your own special point of view about nature.  A wreath might provide a display venue for a year’s worth of collecting from the garden.  This wreath features a bracket fungus from a tree in my tree lawn.  Though the tree was dangerously rotted, and had to be cut down, I saved this.  Though I was shocked at the loss of the tree, I was pleased to place this remnant of the story in a wreath.

holiday-wreath.jpgIf you have never made a wreath from the bits and pieces from your garden, I would highly recommend it.  Making something beautiful of a collection of memories is satisfying indeed.


The Week In Wreaths

Between Steve and I, two crews, and some help from Jenny, Scott, and Julie in the shop, we installed 15 projects this past week.  One crew came in Saturday, yesterday,  to do my pots at home, and start the holiday display outside the shop-where they got the energy to do this, I have but one idea.  They are consummate professionals, all of them.   Some jobs were small, and went in quickly.  Others were more complicated-holiday decor inside and out, and holiday lighting.  Steve worked on our last landscape project of the season every day but Friday-that project is not included in the 15.  Needless to say, I did very little in the way of writing, and a lot in the way of work this past week.    Any work for the holidays has to be done with dispatch-anyone who asks me to decorate for them wants to have the time to enjoy it.  Though we start our season the week before Thanksgiving, the first 10 days of December are always our busiest.  I find all the activity stressful, and exhilarating.   

I see that decorating schedule repeated in people who come to the Works to shop.  There are but a few weeks late in the year to dream it up, and get it done.   November and early December have been incredibly mild.  This meant more people took the time to decorate outdoors, and put up holiday lighting.  It means more people who have the inclination or passion to garden are staying outdoors a while longer.  In a good season, I may do 60 landscape projects, 80 annual plantings, and 40 holiday/winter projects.  This really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in a greater community the size of mine.  The shop is a way in which lots more people are exposed to ideas, materials, and encouragement.  When the weather cooperates, I see winter and holiday gardening in lots of places.  People we help in the shop go on to represent the holiday in their own special way.  The neighborhoods now are full of light, at night.  A big celebration going on outdoors-I love this. 

We have had only 2 days of temperatures below 30 this season-that is very unusual.  A holiday season when the ground goes rock hard before Thanksgiving is more ordinary, and is extra hard work.  I have watched my crews pry soil out of pots with a crow bar-it’s not work we look for.  It also discourages people from getting their materials out of the basement, attic or garage, and doing their own.  This year is shaping up to be a good one-I see good looking work every day, everywhere.  We are working-everyone is working!  Buck and I went to a party last night just 20 minutes from home.  The neighborhood was lit up, decked out, and looking very festive.  I almost ran off the road in a few places, trying to get a good look at everything.    

Once all of my work is done, Buck will drive, and I will look.  I am so interested to see how other people interpret the holidays, decorate their front porches and doors, light their yards.  What appeals to me?  People taking the time and effort to express themselves.  

I decorated 14 wreaths for the shop this year.  All of them were made from twigs left over from the 2010 holiday season.  In January, Pam and I wove all of these twigs into small wreaths; we put them into storage the first of February.  I decorated all of them with natural materials, and knitted birds in late November.  This wreath-the last of the lot, was sold to an old client as a gift for his very elderly Mom.  He explained to me in great detail why he thought this wreath would be a good gift for her. His gift to me was considerable; we had a conversation, person to person.    

I have made 39 wreaths so far this season-I have 10 more to go.  I do each and every one of them personally.  The holiday pots and installations I design and draw; my crew creates and installs them.  But the wreaths cannot be drawn.  I just do them.  There is a client, an idea or place they have in mind, a color scheme-my clues are many.  I write most of that down.  I read over the notes just before I get going.  Next up?  I get going. 

14 0f this year’s holiday wreaths are Christmas presents I send out for one client.  She has a point of view which I honor; all 14 are different.  12 wreaths were for the shop, a handmade twig wreath was the starting point for all.  Thirteen others were individually made for individual clients. Individual places. 

I have 10 more wreaths to go.  Am I complaining?  Yes-I wish I had more.    I do truly enjoy this part of the holiday season.  I plan to have all 10 done by the end of the day Tuesday.  More likely, I will be done Thursday.

I have a few wreaths I plan to make as gifts.  A friend, a sister in law, and a client whose landscape is under construction.  Last of all, a wreath for Buck and I. 

This client?  They have been great clients for many years.  Would I please funk it up a little this year? In red and green?  Am I happy to oblige?  No doubt, I am.

Holiday Red

Everyone reacts strongly to color-I am no exception.  I am not crazy about red in the landscape.  I design with red foliaged trees and shrubs on rare occasions.  Something or someone has to nudge me in this direction.   I am a card carrying advocate of green.  All kinds, shades, and manner of green.  In summer container gardens, red can be ruthlessly overbearing.  Too bright and cheery.  But I will try anything-won’t you?  The year I featured red in my containers was a good year, but not my favorite.  Red in the spring-that color after a long winter is so welcome.  Red tulips underplanted with lavender pansies-scrumptious.  Red at the holidays is a blessing.  The skies, the ground, the trees- most everything in the landscape goes drab. Trees with persistent red winter fruit, and red-stemmed shrubs are prized by northern gardeners, for good reason. I decorated this Christmas tree some years ago; I still love this celebration arranged around red.  My clients had just moved in.  Moving boxes were everywhere.  This red ornamented tree, and its red sinamay tree skirt stood out-a reminder that the color red celebrates every warm gesture people make at the holidays.  Instantly this newly restored house felt much more like home.  

I have a client that orders up a pair of holiday wreaths.  One for her front door, and one for the library.  I concentrate on whatever natural materials are available to me.  Pine cones, anise balls, red preserved eucalyptus, reindeer moss, platys seed pods, dry tallowberries, fresh magnolia leaves pack this mixed green wreath with a variety of colors and textures.    

The red berry picks energize all of the other elements.  No real red berries exist in my garden  like these, but I have no problem with these shiny faux red berry picks.  It’s the red that represents the spirit of the holidays.       

I decorated this house for the holidays 6 years ago. I have published a few of my pictures from this project before; I still like it.  The red light covers look like glass ornaments during the day.  They glow red at night. The lit vertical stems are intertwined with a few very long red berry stems.  That red reads from a distance both day and night.  In early evening, the landscape is muted and somber.  This red in the wood boxes is a visual version of happy holidays, friends and family-welcome to this home. 



Holiday red can take a lot of forms.  Red ribbon, berry stems, preserved eucalyptus,  pomagranites, apples, red twig dogwood, glass ornaments-in this case, a red felt tree skirt with a felt pointsettia petal border.        

Red can be very dressy. 

Red can also be simple and striking. The client who gets this wreath has a collection of nutcrackers that sit on her porch for the holidays.  The colors of those figures are bright, and accented with lots of white.  In this case, the white ornaments and white based velvet ribbon help pop that red all the more. 

The cardinal on this wreath is the last of the 256 of them we had in the shop.  Gardening people appreciate the birds; cardinal red is the name of one of the cultivars of red twig dogwood whose branches we stock at the holidays.       


This wreath made of giant wood curls, and its wood rose have been dyed the most intense shade of red.  Though red may be a very traditional holiday color, it never fails to catch my eye.  Should your holiday decorating plans seem a little anemic, try a little red.