In the Garden:
Gather evergreen prunings, wreath forms, pinecones and other decorations, and invite friends over for a fun-filled afternoon.
The way I figure it, everybody loves parties and everybody loves gifts. So why not have a party where everybody makes their own gift, with supplies provided by you? Certainly, there could be infinite variations on this theme, but since this is a gardening column, we'll concentrate on that.
My own favorite version is to have a Saturday or Sunday afternoon gathering in late November or early December (complete with food and libation), with everyone going home with a handmade, holiday wreath. It's simple and fun, plus you're able to give a present to a lot more people than you normally might.
Greens and More Greens
This is a great excuse to do some pruning. Hopefully, you have an assortment of evergreens in your yard. If not, try to enlist the help of several friends who will let you go to their gardens and prune. Of the needled evergreens, the best choices include balsam fir, Douglas fir, Austrian pine, white pine, Scotch pine, red pine, yew, red cedar, true cedar, juniper and false cypress. Hemlock and spruce do not work well if the greens are going to be used indoors.
Consider broad-leaved evergreens for textural contrast: English ivy, holly, mountain laurel, boxwood, magnolia, Oregon holly grape, nandina and rhododendron.
In addition to the greens, look around your yard for berries, cones and any other plant material that might make an interesting addition to a wreath. Holly and juniper berries come to mind first, but the purple berries of callicarpa may intrigue the more adventurous. Don't overlook garden "waste." Some of my best holiday decorations have been derived from dried okra pods. Look, too, to other seedpods, like lotus or sweet gum, as well as the dried flower heads of ornamental grasses and hydrangeas.
Tie One On
The easiest way to make a holiday wreath with fresh greens is by using a wreath form that has wires that easily clamp onto overlapping bundles of greens. These are available at craft stores and by mail order. Because there's nothing quite like a large, spectacular wreath, I choose wreath forms that are 16 inches in diameter. For those who prefer something less daunting, you can always help them make a swag!
Other supplies that are helpful to have on hand include pruners, wire snips, pliers, regular hammers, rubber hammers and florist wire. Dollar stores are a great source when quantity is needed. I also have an assortment of ribbon and pre-made bows available. Also consider providing an antidessicant spray to minimize moisture loss in the greens.
Another project, especially if you have lots of pinecones, is to make a pinecone wreath. These require a standard three-wire, wreath form. Soak the pinecones (I use those from white pine) in a tub of warm water for 30 minutes. This causes them to close up. Push about an inch of the base of each cone between the wires. Space them closely, and vary the angle of placement. Set aside to dry. As the cones dry, they expand, wedging them in tightly. Decorate as desired.
If you're looking for other garden craft ideas, search sources of used books for my book, Gifts and Crafts from the Garden (either Rodale or Random House Value Publishing). Both editions are out-of-print, but great bargains if you can find them. The book is filled with over 100 projects with easy-to-follow instructions, running the gamut from dried flowers, herbs and grasses to pressed flowers, potpourri, beauty basics and crafts.
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