Ringing in the Wreaths of the Season

The beauty of the garden in winter is a unique pleasure: fragrant, fresh evergreens, bright berries, frosty mornings. Photo: Frosty Indian hawthorne on a cold North State morning.

Seasonal greens, winter fruits, and sculptural cones have long been associated with the winter holidays–with brightening shortened days and long nights, with the universal hope for the return of the light, and symbolic wishes of prosperity for the coming fresh start of the new year. Photo: Seasonal wreath of North State pomegranates.

When I was a girl, my florist/garden designer mother would transform her workshop and much of our lives into wreath-making and holiday-greening central. We were taught early how to bundle pine cones, how to double wire each green we attached to a frame. When my children were small, I would send them out into the early December garden with clippers and they would come back with trimmings of whatever they liked the look of: seed heads, annuals not quite frosted yet, evergreens, nuts and cones would come back into me and we would wire these into little wreaths, add a ribbon of choice and place them proudly on their bedroom doors for the season. Photo: An petite window wreath made of the Indian hawthorn foliage. A broadleaf evergreen with leaves just a little large than those of boxwood, these wreaths last a nice long time looking fresh inside or out.

We are not alone in loving the rich look and the iconic form of the wreath. According to Adrienne Edwards, who will be leading a native plant wreath workshop for the Chico State Herbarium on Saturday December 8th, “Wreaths have been created since ancient times to represent the virtues, harvests and cycles of many cultures and religions. The Greeks used oak leaves to symbolize wisdom. Hollies have been used in wreaths since at least the late Middle Ages to symbolize eternity and new life.” Photo Top: A wreath of native California bay leaves, which will be available at the Friends of the Herbarium workshop on December 8th. Bay is intensely fragrant to work with. Below
A participant at last year’s workshop by Chico Horticultural Society goes home with a lovely traditional evergreen wreath plump with a variety of greens and cones.

Wreaths date back to ancient Greece & Rome when ring-shaped head pieces were made using fresh leaves, small fruits & flowers. The word wreath comes to us from the greek Diadema, “a thing bound around.” In the Christian tradition, evergreen wreath-making began well before the common era to symbolize perseverance through dark winter. Photo: A wreath of green olives and olive branches. Lovely to behold, this one holds its fruit for only a short amount of time. Perfect for a dinner party or single event.

“Anyone can do it – and all you need is whatever looks good in your garden right now, a pair of clippers, a pair of gloves, some floral wire and your imagination,” says gardener and veteran wreath-maker Dorothy Showmaker of Chico Horticultural Society.Photo:Materials prepared for wreath or swag making.

“Sometimes I like to use a variety of different greens from the garden for a tapestry effect, and sometimes I like the simple elegance of a wreath or swag made from just one type of green.” For making wreaths, Showmaker pre-cuts her greenery into 4 – 6 inch pieces, ready to wire. For larger wreaths, she wires together greenery bundles (see photo), which are staggered along the frame and wired separately into place. For simple wreathes she staggers and wires individual sprays of greenery. In either case, she wraps each bundle or spray twice with wire to secure it. “It’s important to wire tightly to account for the drying and shrinking of the greenery over time.” Photo:Dorothy Showmaker of the Chico Horticultural Society and Bidwell Designers at work on her greens.

“Once you are done with the main structure of the wreath or swag, you can embellish with fresh flowers, colorful berries, cones, acorns, buckeyes – whatever strikes you as lovely. You can wire in cones and sprays of berries, but if you have a glue gun you can use that as well. I glue gun a lot – including myself!” Showmaker said wryly. “If you use the glue gun, be careful with the liquid glue – IT’S HOT!” Photo: The small bundles that Dorothy will make many of and then wire these into the box frame of a larger wreath.

Conifer greens that Showmaker used and recommended for our wreaths included fir, cedar, juniper, and redwood. Broadleaf evergreens included magnolia, Chinese fringe flower, toyon and sage: “I love that fragrant silvery foliage of the sage in a design,” Showmaker enthused. Good berries include the blue berries on Indian hawthorne, and the red berries on toyon, holly and pyracantha. Photo: Native coffee berry wreath.

“If you are using a fleshy berry or fresh flowers, you can either secure them into your arrangement with some damp oasis or in a floral flower tube to help keep them fresh. Or you can tuck them in at the end and replace them as needed over the course of having the design inside,” Showmaker advised.

Showmaker uses floral clippers and a mid-weight floral wire. For larger wreaths, she recommends a three-ring wreath frame, for a simple/small wreath, a single round of metal or twisted vine also work well. For swags, wire the bundled greens together at their tops. Wire, wreath forms, clippers and glue guns are available at local craft stores. Photo: Tools useful for holiday green creations: clippers, floral wire, simple frame, box frame and soft straight wrapped wire which can be wired into a circle and used for a small wreath.

Once you get fully around the entire wreath frame, make a twisting loop to hang it by – add a ribbon, tuck in some flowers or berries or cones. Homemade, fresh-scented gifts to ring in the holidays – greenly.

You too can enjoy the fun of hand making wreaths, swags and centerpieces from garden trimmings at one of the many upcoming holiday greens workshops held annually in our region this time of year. These workshops, like the handcrafted wreaths you will take home from them, are fun and festive, they connect you to community, to our great outdoors and gardens this time of year, and to some of the best parts of this meaningful season: celebration, beauty, thanks and giving. Photo:Frosty rose foliage on a North State winter morning.

Holiday Wreath and Seasonal Greens Workshops around the area include:

December 1st and 2nd at The Plant Barn in Chico: Come make your own holiday tradition at one of our annual wreath workshops in our warm greenhouse with an amazing assortment of gathered greens and botanical treasures. Two classes on Sunday at noon and 2. One class on Saturday at noon. Cost is $28-$3 off if you bring your own 18″ wreath form. Call today as we are filling up! 530-345-3121 We will have goodies galore to drink and eat!Photo: Wreath of native toyon with its bright seasonal berries.

December 6, 7 & 8 with Red Bluff Garden Club Scholarship Christmas Boutique: 9:30 am – 6:30 pm each day at 616 Cedar Street in Red Bluff, former Holiday Market. Wreaths, Arrangements and more; handmade; custom orders. For more information please call 530-526-4578. All profit for high school scholarship.

December 8th at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding Holiday Wreath Making Workshop : 9 a.m. – noon Floral designer and instructor Darlene Montgomery leads this creative and fun holiday workshop. Each participant will create their own fresh, full-size holiday wreath for the front door or family room. All materials provided. Space is limited to 12 participants, adults and youth ages 16+. Members $35, nonmembers $40. Pre-registration required – Please call 242-3108 to pre-register. Turtle Bay Visitor’s Center – JSS Classroom.

December 8th at the Chico State Herbarium Wreath Making Workshop 1 – 3 pm. Bring a little native plant cheer into your Holiday Season! Make one or two 10-12 inch wreaths for your home or for gifts. Learn some history about wreaths and the plants they are made from. The instructors for this workshop are Jennifer Jewell, garden writer and creator of “In a North State Garden” (www.jewellgarden.com) and Adrienne Edwards, Adjunct Faculty at Chico State; botanist, ecologist and arborist (aledwards@csuchico.edu) . This workshop will meet from 1pm to 3pm in 129 Holt Hall at CSU, Chico. Cost is $20.00 for one wreath or $30.00 for two. Please register in advance. For more information about registration please contact the CSU, Chico Biology office at (530) 898-5356 or jbraden@csuchico.edu. Detailed workshop descriptions and sign up forms are available on the Chico State Herbarium website: www.csuchico.edu/biol/Herb/Events.html. Photo:The fleeting pleasures of an oak leaf wreath. Live oak works nicely throughout the season, but most of the deciduous oaks have dropped their leaves before Thanksgiving.

December 15th Chico Horticultural Society hosts their annual Holiday Greens Workshop: 2 – 4 pm. Designers will demonstrate how to make an elegant swag, a table centerpiece or a wreath out of garden materials, flowers and cones. For all supplies and all the fun of making one table design, one 12” wreath or one 24” swag , the cost is $15. For more information or to register please email: Jennifer @Jewellgarden.com or call 530-588-6369.

Follow Jewellgarden.com/In a North State Garden on Facebook. I also have some fun on tumblr. Photo:The large lustrous leaves of southern Magnolia make striking winter wreaths and other decorations.

To submit plant/gardening related events/classes to the Jewellgarden.com on-line Calendar of Regional Gardening Events, send the pertinent information to me at: Jennifer@jewellgarden.com

Did you know I send out a weekly email with information about upcoming topics and gardening related events? If you would like to be added to the mailing list, send an email to Jennifer@jewellgarden.com.

In a North State Garden is a weekly Northstate Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum – Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell – all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday mornings at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time. Podcasts of past shows are available here.

Jennifer Jewell
In a North State Garden is a bi-weekly North State Public Radio and web-based program celebrating the art, craft and science of home gardening in Northern California and made possible in part by the Gateway Science Museum - Exploring the Natural History of the North State and on the campus of CSU, Chico. In a North State Garden is conceived, written, photographed and hosted by Jennifer Jewell - all rights reserved jewellgarden.com. In a North State Garden airs on Northstate Public Radio Saturday morning at 7:34 AM Pacific time and Sunday morning at 8:34 AM Pacific time, two times a month.
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5 Responses

  1. Avatar Canda says:

    Great ideas. Thanks, Jennifer. There's nothing like a fresh wreath to welcome in the holidays!

  2. Avatar Carrie says:

    Wonderful ideas as always! Thank you.

  3. Jennifer Jewell Jennifer Jewell says:

    thank you….I get sort of swept up by places to put wreaths, different foliage from my garden with which to try making wreaths. Some have been more successful than others – I was amazed at how fragrant and nice it was to work with the soft fuzzy foliage of Cleveland sage and how nicely it dried. Wreaths, as many of you know, make very nice table top centerpieces – a la the traditional advent wreath. I always like one for my garden gate each year too.

  4. I'm so glad you wrote this column. Just in time. And so many options for classes throughout the north state.

    Also, just a practical note about hanging wreaths on doors … all the doors in my house have glass in them (but no, I don't live in a glass house 🙂 so I've bought a couple of those mega-suction-cup hooks. They work great. The trick is to make sure the glass is warm and dry before applying the suction hook. I just swapped out my autumn wreaths for the heavier Christmas ones yesterday. Still holding strong.

    Thank you for your wonderful columns, Jennifer. We appreciate you!

    • Jennifer Jewell Jennifer Jewell says:

      🙂 Good tip! Glad your winter wreaths are up already – always cheers me to see them in December. And I appreciate Anewscafe!