The Mountain Gardener: The story of wreaths
by Jan Nelson
Dec 13, 2012 | 1878 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Amanda, 3, made this wreath with the help of her grandmother, Barb, the founder of a neighborhood wreath-making tradition. Courtesy photo
Amanda, 3, made this wreath with the help of her grandmother, Barb, the founder of a neighborhood wreath-making tradition. Courtesy photo
slideshow
Columnist Jan Nelson has made five wreaths so far this season, including this example. Courtesy photo
Columnist Jan Nelson has made five wreaths so far this season, including this example. Courtesy photo
slideshow
Barb, the founder of a neighborhood wreath-making tradition, shows one of the decorations she made this holiday season. Courtesy photo
Barb, the founder of a neighborhood wreath-making tradition, shows one of the decorations she made this holiday season. Courtesy photo
slideshow

This is the story of a holiday tradition and how it all began. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

Nine years ago, just before the annual neighborhood Christmas Bunco game and secret Santa gift exchange, everybody in the group drew a name. Gifts were traditionally an ornament or small holiday decoration.

Barb (her real name) had been really busy that year and didn't have anything ready when the time came for the get-together. On a whim, she went into her yard, cut some greens and foliage branches, and threw together a wreath on a wire coat hanger.

The gift was the hit of the party, and so began the annual wreath-making party. Everybody wanted a piece of the action.

Between rainstorms this year, the wreath makers met to share stories and laughter and listen to holiday music.

I asked several of the original members if the group had an official name and was told “not really.” Now the pressure was on and a name was decided.

Gold Gulch Wreathers worked for everybody, although one of the founding members lives in Forest Lakes where I live. Close enough was the consensus.

Part of the fun for the group is sourcing new materials to try in the wreaths.

Barb and Martha and their husbands collect for a couple of weekends at the end of November and seek out as much colorful and interesting foliage as they can find. This year they found a new source: a school in Watsonville that allowed them to cut grapevines, olive branches and several types of fir and cypress.

They were also able to harvest lots of variegated holly this year, because the resident guard dog had moved out. The new owners were more than happy to have a free pruning for their shrub.

Mostly though, the foragers find materials in neighbors’ backyards and green waste cans.

Bright foliage added to mixed greens in a wreath can really make a creation pop. This year, we are experimenting to see how Safari Sunset leucadendron and Edward Goucher abelia will hold up. Both have reddish foliage.

Another new item is purple-leafed varieties of loropetalum. It looks awesome when mixed with variegated Pittosporum tobira.

Rosemary and Mexican bush sage flowers are added for their wonderful scents. Sprays of tristania berries hold up well in a wreath and add a touch of yellow to the other colors.

More material than ever was collected this year, which is good, because many of us will gather several times during a two-week-period to put together wreaths as gifts for family and friends.

As many as 50 wreaths will be made by friends near and far, including some nurses from over the hill who work with Barb’s daughter, the Bunco players and grandchildren.

Martha hopes to break her record of seven wreaths and is in competition with Barb for the fullest wreath. I witnessed these beauties being created. The women laughingly confessed to calling them “Kardashians.”

Everyone has a different method for putting together a wreath. Some gather bundles of the various greens and foliage in a hand, trim the ends and attach the collection to the frame with wire. Some are more meticulous, grouping each bundle with exactly the same mix. Others glue cones, berry clusters, driftwood, lichen, feathers, shells or flowers to grape vines.

There’s no right or wrong method when it comes to wreath making. As long as you have gloves, clippers and wire on a paddle, it’s easy to create beautiful wreaths for the holidays or any time of year.

I love the idea of neighbors coming together to enjoy each other’s company. This tradition has become a highlight of the season for many of us.

- Jan Nelson, a landscape designer and California certified nursery professional, will answer questions about gardening in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Email her at janis001@aol.com, or visit www.jannelsonlandscapedesign.com to view past columns and pictures.

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