I purposely titled this post Winter Wreaths, not “Christmas” Wreaths. This isn’t a political statement but a simple acknowledgment that Winter Wreaths have pagan roots. At the Winter Solstice, the early Northern Europeans created wreaths to symbolize the circular rhythm of the seasons. Winter wreaths made from freshly cut greens will last well into February. There’s no need for red bows and Christmas tucks when you use beautiful plant material.
Wreath making is a family tradition worth keeping. For years now, I’ve offered “The Day after Thanksgiving” Wreath Making Workshop here at Avant Gardens (an alternative to mall shopping) using cuttings and branches gathered from our garden and nursery. Of course it helps that the many conifers we planted years ago have matured to give us ample material to work with (and I’m able to get in some much needed pruning at the same time!).
So what are some of my favorite conifers to work with? Early on I learned that Spruce and Fir, often used in commercial wreath production, did not prosper here in southern New England; both prefer cooler summer climates. However, the many selections of Cedar do thrive: Hinoki Cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa cv.), Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), Korean Arborvitae (Thuja koraiensis glauca prostrata) and Elkhorn Cedar (Thujopsis dolobrata) offer a variety of texture in shades of gold to darkest green. If you live in warm winter climates, you have different options…I want to make a wreath using various asparagus ferns and semi tropical evergreens.
Notice I placed some of the conifer branches so that the back side faces up...it reveals a delicate tracey, and a lovely silver color in the case of Korean Arborvitae and Elkhorn cedar. Last year our native red cedar, Juniperus virginiana had an amazing blue berry set. Alas, this year was disappointing; there was no fruit to speak of and I worry about the poor birds who relish them. What will they feed on instead?
Our holly cultivars regularly produce a great berry set thanks to our pollinating bees. We grow ‘Blue Princess’ (Ilex x meserve cv) and the smaller leaved Ilex x pernyi ‘Dr. Kassab’. We have the native American Holly in the woods at the back of our property, but they are a tad more prickly. I also use other broadleaf evergreens such as Boxwood, Inkberry, Laurel, Andromeda and even Ivy, but take note. Broadleaved evergreens desiccate quickly, especially indoors. To compensate I use a wreath base wrapped with moist sphagnum moss. Keep the moss hydrated and your holly wreath will stay fresh much longer.
More and more people are finding the informality of foraged plant material preferable. Use woody plant stems with a wilder character, such as curly willow, rose hips, winterberry, or various colored osier dogwoods. Search for moss and lichen covered twigs that may have fallen to the ground after a windstorm. Collect dried grasses and seed pods to add a variety of textures.
if you haven’t done so already, and are inspired, take a walk about your property to see what branches you can gather. Don’t hesitate to experiment; that’s what wakens your inner child and makes your wreath an original.
Note: Please, do not harvest greens and cuttings from public spaces or private property without permission.