A circle of good cheer

Wreath: A ring or swag of greenery gives a warm welcome -- even warmer if it's made from plants in your own yard.

In The Garden

November 25, 2001|By Marty Ross | Marty Ross,Universal Press Syndicate

This is the season of holly and ivy, balsam and noble firs, cedars, cypresses, Scotch pines and junipers. Evergreens are in their glory and in great demand. It's also the season to hang a wreath on the front door. An evergreen wreath or swag, laced with fragrant cedar or fir, gives guests a hint of holiday cheer before they are welcomed inside.

Even if you're too busy -- or it's simply too cold -- to spend much time outdoors, a well-placed wreath adds a touch of romance to the winter garden. A wreath on the garden gate invites a quiet stroll away from the holiday hubbub; a swag on an outdoor bench has the grace of a soft wool blanket draped across the back of a sofa indoors. On the door of a potting shed, under the embracing arch of an arbor or hanging on the back fence where you can see it from a window inside, a wreath carries the holiday spirit outdoors. Just for fun, a wreath makes a fine hat for a garden statue, or a dressy collar for the faithful stone lion by the front stairs.

The tradition of hanging a wreath on the front door during the holidays has evolved to allow wreaths of all kinds, at every time of year. Twisted grapevine wreaths span the seasons gracefully, but evergreen wreaths, symbols of the holidays, remain the most distinguished and popular for winter.

Most people have at least some of the material needed to make a wonderful wreath in their own back yards, says Patricia Collins, who has been teaching wreath-making workshops at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., for 20 years.

"Absolutely anybody can make a wreath," she says. "You don't have to buy fancy greenery. Just open your eyes to what you have in your own landscape."

If you have hollies and other evergreens in your yard, judicious pruning should provide ample material, Collins says, but look beyond the shrubbery. "Pick dried flowers and seed pods to use as decorations," she suggests. "Look for things that are a little bit different."

In Collins' workshops, students start with a 12- or 16-inch metal wreath form (available at hobby shops) and wire a bushy base of fragrant evergreens to it, carefully overlapped so the wires do not show. Short pieces, cut to about 3-inch lengths, are easiest to work with, Collins says. After the form is covered with evergreens, the wreaths are decorated with tufts of holly or boxwood, juniper berries, pale lichen or Spanish moss, which are attached to the wreath with florist's pins (also sold at hobby shops). Just as skillfully combined colors and textures contribute to the character of the garden, a few rose hips, pine cones or clusters of mistletoe loaded with white berries create layers of interest against the greenery.

Collins prefers a full wreath, using unusual materials: yellow holly berries, crape-myrtle seedpods, golden leaves pruned from acuba or other shrubs with yellow or variegated foliage, and creamy white seeds snapped off chinaberry trees from her garden or gathered along the roadside.

"Some people make bows and use spray paint, but that's not my thing," she says. "I think nature is neat just the way it is."

Once you gather the materials, it takes only about an hour to make a wreath, Collins says. "Part of the beauty of this is the fact that you're making it yourself," she says. "Making it is part of the fun -- and if it's not fun, buy your wreath."

Garden shops, Christmas-tree lots, florists and mail-order suppliers sell ready-made wreaths of every size and description. Big, luxurious wreaths that combine two or more evergreens predominate with traditional accents: pine cones, berries, fruit and the occasional big red bow. This year, several mail-order companies offer charming smaller wreaths, 7 to 12 inches in diameter. Nearly every supplier also sells a wreath for birds, made from the ripe heads of sunflowers, sprays of millet or other seeds.

Evergreen wreaths stay fragrant and beautiful for two months or more. As the winter deepens, you can break up your wreaths and use the evergreens as mulch around perennials in your garden.


Garden stores, florist shops, mail-order suppliers and Christmas-tree lots usually sell wreaths of one kind or another, or the supplies you'll need to make your own. Here are three mail-order sources:

Smith & Hawken

P.O. Box 431

Milwaukee, WI 53201-0431



Gardener's Supply Co.

128 Intervale Road

Burlington, VT 05401



White Flower Farm

P.O. Box 50

Litchfield, CT 06759



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