A simple touch of holiday style

Wreath-maker crafts 19th-century decor with backyard finds

November 19, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

Lena Caron's search for something to do in her spare time 50 years ago has led her to this: standing in her kitchen cradling a wad of items that includes electrical wire, shrub greens, an apple and a homemade needle.

"At a very young age, I decided that I didn't have any talent for sports - I fall flat on my face on a tennis court," the 77-year-old Bel Air resident said as she grabbed a bundle of boxwood.

What Caron stumbled on was "making something out of nothing," creating 19th-century style wreaths, swags, garland and fruit boards.

Caron's works are featured on local public television and in Colonial Homes, Southern Living and Southern Accents. She will present a lecture on making 19th-century-style decorations on Nov. 30 at Christ Episcopal Church Parish Hall in Forest Hill.

Caron's works are made mostly with things from her backyard: boxwood and nandina shrubs, nuts, wisteria, holly berries, evergreen boughs, southern magnolia leaves and pine cones. She also uses fresh apples, pears and Osage oranges.

"A big part of what I do is improvisation," Caron said. "It's mostly whatever I can find around the house or the yard."

She makes wreaths using wire coat hangers wrapped in wisteria that grows on a trellis over her patio. Then she takes bundles of boxwood from bushes in her yard and wraps them with floral wire and uses fruit and ribbon for embellishments.

Caron's creativity and her passion for working with nature's objects began in 1956 and was enhanced when she became executive director and later also head gardener at Ladew Topiary Gardens in Monkton.

To raise money for the gardens, she began giving workshops on growing herbs, planting window boxes, cooking and making decorations, she said.

"I teach people how to construct swags and wreaths and not spend all day doing it," Caron said.

Caron's ideas for her decorations are modeled on ones crafted in Williamsburg, Va., that include items made with natural, fresh products, including wreaths that range from 16 to 46 inches in diameter, swags and garland.

"I like simple," Caron said. "The decorations in Williamsburg are so elegant and just enough. You don't need these plastic Santas and gaudy decorations, just greens of some kind with some ribbon to spruce up the fireplace mantel or a mirror or picture frame."

Caron's decorations are reminiscent of things that would have been used in the 19th century, said Laura Viancour, coordinator of garden programs at Colonial Williamsburg.

"Decorations didn't exist in the 18th century," she said. "Back then Christmas was geared toward religious celebrations and feasts. They didn't have decorations of any sort."

Instead they used basic adornments made with items that people of the 18th century would have been familiar with, Viancour said.

"When decorations began being used they were very simple," Viancour said. "People never would have used fresh fruit on a decoration, it was too precious."

In Williamsburg last week, decorators began making wreaths, swags and mantelpieces for the 80 sites in the town, Viancour said. They also conduct workshops that routinely sell out.

"More and more people seem to be going back to decorating with greens rather than the more modern decorations," she said.

Caron also has been gearing up for her busy season. For years, she has donated the proceeds from the sale of her works to county organizations, including Ladew, and to Harford Day School.

Her latest effort is raising money for the Historical Society of Harford County.

"The roof leaks, and the building is in a bad state of disrepair," she said of the society's headquarters in downtown Bel Air. "I'm trying to do whatever I can to help them out."

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