When it comes to a certain type of Christmas wreath, Diane Walden admits she can be something of a grinch.
Walden, a horticulturist at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, teaches classes on wreath making, and would just as soon not see any more standard balsam wreaths decorated with plastic red ribbon and three — not two, not five, but three — pinecones.
“I tell people, really think outside of the box a little bit,” Walden said. “How many times have you seen the wreaths with the red bows, and you have pinecone, pinecone, pinecone? There is so much stuff out there and available. Actually, online you can find a lot of stuff, whether you’re shopping for a specific ribbon or you want to see what certain greens look like. Just think a little bit lusher.”
People are busier than ever these days, but there appear to be more wreath-making classes than ever, most of them held well before Thanksgiving or during the first week of December. They always seem to sell out. But what if you didn’t want to think about wreaths at the same time you’re trying to decide how to season your turkey?
Miss out on a wreath-making class? Here’s advice from a couple of experts about how you can do it yourself.
Walden says there’s a lot of interest in wreath making these days because people are tired of buying decorations that look like they came from some overseas factory.
“It’s sort of getting away from store-bought Christmas,” she said. “You don’t have to buy a whole bunch of blow-up Santas or plastic stuff that’s made in China. Here in Maine we have beautiful lichen, we have moss, we have berries, we have beautiful balsam.”
First things first. Here are the basics you’ll need to make your own wreath:
• A prepared wreath ring that is crimped to hold the brush and keep it from flipping.
• A spool of wire. Wire that is 22- to 24-guage is best, and green wire will blend in better with the wreath.
• A good pair of clippers.
• Eight pounds of greens cut 6 to 8 inches in length. A 12-inch ring and 8 pounds of greenery will make a 22-inch finished wreath.
Wreaths are put together in smaller pieces called “hands.” A hand is three to five pieces of greenery held together in a fan shape. Each hand gets tied to the frame, then flip the ring frame over and tie another hand onto the back. It’s OK to do just one side of the frame, but your wreath will be fuller if there are greens on both sides.
After one hand is tied to the frame, move 2 to 3 inches down and tie the next one. And so on, until your wreath frame is full.
Don’t worry too much about perfection, especially if it’s your first time, says Russell Bleakney, who makes wreaths at O’Donal’s Nurseries in Gorham.
“Even if you’re not 100 percent happy with a wreath when you get finished,” he said, “you can always cover a bad spot with a bow or put in a decoration, cones, whatever, to cover up some of the bare spots.”
Those are the basics. Now, let’s look at what you can do to, ahem, “spruce” things up a bit.
Consider using something other than a simple ring as a frame. Garden centers like O’Donal’s and wreath-making companies (check out mainewreathco.com) sell forms shaped like stars, candy canes, crosses and even peace signs.
Mix up your greens and other vegetation, for both making the wreath itself and for decorating. Mixed greens add interest to all-balsam wreaths. Balsam fir is the classic choice, but you can also try a little Frasier fir, cedar, pine or juniper, says Bleakney. Go out in your own yard and tip plants that need pruning, like holly bushes.
“What I tell people to do when we do the classes is to go out and walk the yards and walk the power lines,” he said. “There’s a variety of stuff out there you can use — hydrangea blossoms and rosehips, the native holly, the little red berries you see, and crab apples, maybe.”
Walden, who considers herself a “ditch diver,” drives around with a bucket of water and some pruning shears, just in case she sees anything wreath-worthy in her travels.
Look for berried plants or plants that dry well that have interesting seed heads, Walden suggests. Hellebore leaf “looks wonderful” tucked into wreaths. Hemlock and white pine add soft textural notes.
Freshness is important. Don’t buy greens that are dropping needles or look stiff and dried out. If you gather your own greens and want to keep them fresh, Walden says, the best way to make them last is to make sure you go out after there’s been three nights in a row of below-freezing temperatures. Once you hang a wreath, buy a spray bottle and be sure to mist the wreath occasionally.
Don’t worry if the greens and other plants you gather aren’t perfect. Just spray a little antique gold or silver paint on them to make them look festive. (Red or green spray paint does not look as good, Walden advises.)
Next comes the decorating. Here are some tips from Walden:
• Instead of using a red ribbon, gather some ends of red twig dogwood and stick a bunch of them in the wreath in a continuous circle. Do a circle instead of the typical triumvirate of pinecones. Seashells work well too. “That’s a completely different look that’s really easy to do,” Walden said, “and it just looks so fresh and different.”
• Think of a theme. If someone on your list is a dog lover, pick up some Milk-Bones to attach to their wreath. Walden once made a wreath for her local animal shelter with assorted sizes of dog treats and catnip sprays. Add a check donation in an envelope tucked under the bow.
Got a music lover on your list? Buy a bunch of old 45s with red center labels and attach them all around the wreath. Or use CDs, and finish the wreath with a ribbon that has musical notes on it, musical instrument ornaments and tickets to the local symphony.
For a Christmas ornament collector, fill the wreath with ornaments and stick a Christmas card on it.
Get a hot glue gun and glue golf balls to a wreath for a golfer.
For kids, try making a cowboys-and-Indians wreath, or one with farm animals.
Do a “naughty or nice” theme. For a “naughty” wreath, add chunks of coal and a sheer, wide, black ribbon, silver balls, icicles and iced twig ornaments. For a “nice wreath,” add dried flowers and roses.
If the wreath is going to someone from away, attach a good quality fake red lobster, and add some lobster and moose cookie cutters, a pine tree-shaped car air freshener (still in its wrap) and some old-timey postcards of Maine scenes.
• Go to a good ribbon store or browse ribbons online. Sometimes you’ll come across one that reminds you of the person you’re making the wreath for, and you can build the wreath around that. A rich chocolate-colored velvet ribbon with gold edging looks great with pheasant feathers and antique gold ball ornaments, Walden said.
• Victorian-themed online stores are good sources for dried flowers.
• Buy a bag of mixed nuts at the grocery store and make an all nut-and-pinecone wreath. Fill a wreath with Granny Smith apples or limes — yes, even limes. “You can attach bright green limes to a wreath and put a big red bow on it, and it will look fantastic.” Walden said.
• Buy a box of cheap ball ornaments in two or three different colors and add them to your wreaths. Or go through your own ornaments and pick out the ones you no longer want to use on your tree. Instead of throwing them away, put them on a wreath.
• String some fresh cranberries and wrap them around your wreath.
Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: