The Woolly Birds

I have a client that sends a number of my holiday wreaths as gifts every year.  The wreaths themselves are handmade by a local nursery.  I decorate the lot of them.  Monica orders all of the boxes, JP drops off the cards, Jenny prints out all of the UPS labels; Pam and Salvadore wire the wreaths into the boxes (UPS states very clearly that a box has to withstand a drop of 3 feet)-after I make them.  Lots of people are involved in making this event happen.  My favorite moment?  The UPS man hauling away all of those boxes.  They are on their way.

This years group of wreaths revolve around 2 elements.  Pam made all of the bows out of red jute twine that came from England. The knitted birds-who could resist them?  Bows and birds-so simple.  Those black bead eyes make eye contact.  Making eye contact-elemental, and powerful.  Look me in the eye-anyone would respond to this!  My little knitted birds have an emotional impact that far outweighs their simple construction and small shape.   

The other elements may vary-I want every wreath to be different.  Handmade-and one of a kind.  I would have a hard time making 16 wreaths all the same-so I am happy that I have free reign, provided the wreaths emphasize natural materials and forms. 

The knitted birds with felt tails and feathers caught my eye last January-when I was shopping for the holidays. Rope covered spheres, eucalyptus, pine cones, dried white canola berries and reindeer moss-festive. Natural.  This brown knitted bird perched on a red jute bow-my idea of holiday cheer.


I have to confess, my berries are faux berries. My cherries are faux cherries.  The red color?  That red is very real, very bright, very holiday. 

These wreaths are not your machine made variety.  They are handmade-thanks Dan.  They are less than perfectly circular.  Some wreaths I had to prune; some sections I have to wire back, or add to.  But for a wreath predicated on a love for natural materials,  I like these wild and wooly green wreaths as a base for this group of wreaths.

This knitted bird has a companion on his jute bow perch.  A knitted mushroom.  I have no idea which person on the gift list will get this wreath-but I hope they are pleased.  I did only one wreath with this detail.   

Making these wreaths has gone on long enough to become a holiday tradition for me.  Many thanks for this, BL. 

Did I photograph every wreath?  Yes, I did.  I send the pictures of every wreath to my client.  She cares much for every person to whom she sends a wreath.  I care much that she feels that I have represented that feeling of hers appropriately.  There are lots of pictures.

All of them have a look that says happy holidays.

The best of the holidays is about personal expression. 


At A Glance: Woodland Style
















How Long Will It Last?

 How long will it last?  This question is asked of me many times over the course of the gardening season.  The questions come in many forms.  The summer season is so short-can I plant my annuals the beginning of May?  How long will the annual plants bloom?  What perennials bloom all summer long?  What perennials bloom the longest?  Which varieties of tulips are perennial? How long will this magnolia bloom ?  What trees bloom all summer long?  How can I have color in my perennial garden every day?  How long will my Becky shasta daisies live?  How long do fiber pots last-can I keep them for more than one season?  How long will a fall planting last?  You get the idea.  Pictured above is the holiday wreath that I made for my front door-last year.  How long did it last?  



I put my holiday wreath in the basement in late February, as I am reluctant to let go of the holiday season.  I brought it to work, and and photographed it on my office door a week ago.  The best part of saving it was Rob’s reaction when he got to work.  He thought maybe I was making a critical statement about his dried weed arrangements.  That was not at all on my mind.  This picture just answers the question.  Many things in the garden are ephemeral.

Last year’s winter display in front of the shop took into consideration that I wanted it to last the winter.  The branches were fresh cut; I knew they would last.  The glass ornaments I prepared as best I could.  Each one had its metal cap glued on.  Enough glue was used such that the air holes in the caps were completely filled.  The day the shop decor was finished, every element looked fresh. 

Michigan winters dish out a lot in the way of stormy weather. Wind, snow and cold take their toll on everything in the landscape.  The burlap drapes and pot wraps shrugged off every insult.  But by late February, the ornaments were beginning to loose their shine. 

The ornaments began to fade; the ornament in the center of this picture has taken on a distinctly orange cast.  Did I mind this?  No.  The branches arranged to look like trees looked like they were loaded with berries.  In March we had red, orange, and silver berries-where the color coating had worn off all together.  How long did it last?  As long as it needed to.


Fresh magnolia leaves are a rich and shiny green on the top side, and a velvety chocolate brown on the obverse.  Magnolia wreaths are beautiful at the holidays; I love the big texture and great color. How long does magnolia stay fresh?  Magnolia kept cold, but not freezing, will stay fresh a long time.  What does a long time mean?  The length of the holiday season.  Subjected to very cold temperatures outside, the leaves will develop freeze spots, but we rarely have temperatures in the low 20’s during December.    

How long does magnolia last?  This wreath was a year old when I sold it.  It had never been hung outdoors.  Magnolia leaves dry beautifully to a pale platinum green.  The undersides if the leaves fade some in the drying process.  A magnolia wreath can be kept a long time, provided that great care is taken in the handling.  The leaves are very brittle when dry, and snap easily.  Storing them in tissue paper in a somewhat cool location will prolong their life.  Magnolia garland and wreaths outdoors will begin to look very tired the end of February.  If you have a covered porch, they might last well into March. 

I cut the elegant feather grass that grew in the roof window boxes all summer, and laid it out to dry.  Will it last?  I have no idea; this is an experiment.  The willingness to experiment can produce some startling results-we’ll see what happens with this.  But I know not to ask too much.  If it lasts until New Year’s, I will feel like it has given enough.

This boltonia is from my rose garden.  I am drying this, and my Japanese anemone as well.  What are my plans for this material?  I’ll take pictures. 

I made this arrangement for a client, using her metal basketweave wall hung container, and her collection of horns.  The arrangement is composed of faux rose hips, dried Queen Anne’s Lace, some unknown weeds, preserved and dried eucalyptus, and preserved bahia spears.  4 of her antlers are wired inside the container; the fifth was glued on to the surface of the container.  I like taking materials that belong to and mean something to a client, and creating something that makes beautiful use of them.  How long will this last?  Long enough for her to tire of it, and think about a new look.  No small part of the beauty of the garden, and the beauty of the season, is its ephemeral nature.  This is just cause for celebration.

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.