As I write this, it is undoubtedly about to be wreath season (November) – but I’ve always thought that beautiful decoration made from the gatherings of nature and the garden is something that could be done year round.
Of course, it is true – there are already wreaths for Easter, St. Patricks day, Fourth of July and just about any holiday we can imagine. But I am not drawn to these typically color-coded cartoon creations. Rather, I crave something less of the hallmark and instead using what is fresh and beautiful at that time. It is a seasonal challenge that I like to accept – to use what I find on walks in the woods in new and interesting ways.
A few years ago, my friend Roanne shared some inspiring wreath designs with me that she saw at an event in Cooperstown, New York. They were less wreath and more sculptural medallion. Running with the idea ourselves we created a class to make what we called mandala wreaths. We held the class in my barn and the creations of our students surpassed our wildest expectations. It is something we might do again at some point, but until then, I thought I share with you some of the works from the day as well as a tutorial to make your own.
Our class was held in December and at this time of year, seed heads, holiday greens and late fall garden cutting were our material sources. Making something at another time of year might include other elements. I am personally drawn to using bulbs and experimenting with them as they grow in the arrangement (I don’t know, can I even get them to grow well enough to be enjoyed?). Dried and fresh flowers – or flowers that can dry in the arrangement are also appealing to me as are the textures of bark, moss, mushrooms, lichen, feathers and leaves.
Here are some of my favorites from our class and I’ll share how we made them below:
In order to create these wreaths we gathered as many interesting materials that we could find in our gardens and invited students to raid their own gardens and resources for additional materials to share. The results were amazing with an inspiring selection that far exceeded my imagination.
I recently made another version of this type of wreath, but in a slight different way than the originals. I’ll share both ways – but either option is great – however one of them might save you some time, if you want to rush.
Step 1 – Gather your materials
You will need a good selection. Look for textures and colors and items that will age well and do not need to be kept fresh in order to stay beautiful. For this demonstration, I used variegated holly, pepper berry (you can also use callicarpa for a similar, but purple, effect), eucalyptus flowers and leaves, string moss, and variegated boxwood. You will also need a floral foam disk (this is not the variety that hold water – just regular foam), hot glue, a cutting tool, and ribbon (if you are into bows and that kind of thing).
Step 2 – Begin a the middle
For this wreath, I started with creating a focal point with a cluster of small cones. It is important to cover the foam completely as you go. A variety of mosses can be used as a backdrop to your main materials and they will fill out the spaces in between.
There are two ways to attach items to your foam. The foam is made to hold florals whose stems you can poke into the structure. This will help to hold items that are bigger and need more support. You cannot however do this for every element or your foam will simply become too full of holes to hold anything. So for everything else, you can glue. I recommend this, so long as the items are not too heavy and you don’t use too much glue – particularly hot glue. The hot glue melts the foam a bit and too much of starts to make it difficult to poke items through.
If you are planning to use a lot of heavier items, then you might consider wrapping the disk loosely with some chicken wire and filling the gaps with moss. This will give you a secondary structure to attach elements with wire.
My next layers were added as I built out from the center. The variegated holly had stiff enough stems that I could fix it to the foam directly, but I used glue to fill in with individual leaves as I needed. The pepperberry did not however have strong stems so those were glued directly to the moss which was in turn glued to the foam.
Tip: When using hot glue for any project, It is easier to avoid all the little strings of glue in the first instance than have to try and remove them later. I find that putting the glue on individual pieces, away from the main piece, allows to me to control those inevitably irritating strings. The glue gun doesn’t go near my finished piece and the string issue (mostly) stays to the side.
Step 3 – Finishing the outer edge.
There are two ways to finish the edges – the quick way or the slow (but arguably more creative) way. The quick way is to fit your disk into an ready-made wreath. This one, made of variegated boxwood, was souped up with the addition of eucalyptus flowers and leaves. The disk and the diameter of the wreath need to be similar (but not an exact match). The foliage of the wreath will take up the slack and you should be able to firmly wedge the disk into the center of the wreath. In this instance the disk was about an inch less in diameter than the wreath hole, but that worked perfectly and fit tightly.
Push it in from the back and then fill in the gaps between the two pieces with extra materials.
Alternatively – you can do as we did for all the pieces above. Those wreaths were all built on to the disk directly and the greenery around the edge is fixed to the disk by shoving branches into the sides of the disk. This is certainly more time-consuming and it also helps to use some Elmer’s glue to prevent branches from falling out of loosening holes as you work. This way allows you to have a bit more control of the placement and selection of greens.
I am big fan of the floppy bow – if any bow. The wires and all the tediousness of twisting glitter laden polyester just right to make these poofy concoctions is not something that please my eye or my temperament. To make floppy bows, I use a mix of at least three different widths of satin ribbon that are of the same, or similar, color. I love a two toned combination of red and burgundy at the holidays. This bow, of all burgundy, is made by making a bow with the widest ribbon and then tying additional bows with the narrower ribbons onto it. Leave the streamers long and in varied lengths for a wispy, I-didn’t-try-too-hard look.
This wreath was raffled off at a local garden event that I recently spoke at. The lovely winner had never been to any events with this group; which goes to prove that beginners luck even applies to attending garden club meetings.
Questions? I am happy to answer in the comments!