Whenever I make an arrangement for Christmas I always think it’s at its most beautiful when there is just foliage, before I spoil it by adding a few flowers. Personally I am not a great fan of shiny baubles, flocked poinsettias and artificial holly; I just like the simple beauty of the evergreen foliage and maybe a few natural berries.
I have very vivid memories of wreaths when I was working in a florist shop when I was a lad. In those days Christmas wreaths were essential for the front door, and for the cemetery; often the wreaths made for the two purposes were interchangeable. The most revolting were rings created with greyish-lilac sea lavender (we called it statice). These were then studded with wax dahlias in lurid colours, or plastic Christmas roses. I remember threatening that I would haunt anyone if they put one of those, or a potted chrysanth on my grave.
The other wreath was the traditional holly ring. This was created on a wire frame covered with sphagnum moss. The moss was bound on with jute twine. According to the strict old lady that owned the business the amount of moss and tension of the twine were crucial. Too much moss and we would surely go out of business; twine too loose, and the wreath would fall apart! What I remember most was bleeding profusely from wiring sprigs of holly which were then attached to the moss. The end result could be pleasing, until the holly went black; but the whole process seemed prolonged and futile.
Since then I have learned there is an easier way: you use a florist’s foam wreath ring. Ok, I know it’s cheating, but I don’t care. I have suffered enough over the years to allow myself the luxury of a door decoration that looks extravagant, fresh, natural, gorgeous, and most of all one that lasts. No bleeding, no horrors, quick to make and inexpensive.
1. I used a 30cm, 12” fresh foam wreath base. Choose one with a solid plastic back; it is stronger and holds water more successfully. Float the ring face down on a bowl of water and allow it to sink. Do not force it under; if you allow it to sink naturally it will be saturated. Cut a selection of evergreen into 15cm, 6” pieces, or a little shorter. The trimmings of the base of your Christmas tree are ideal; I always use Nordmann Fir.
2. Start with the cut Nordmann foliage, pushing pieces into the foam around the edge, and almost flat along the foam. As you work, insert the foliage so that it follows the same direction.
3. Work your way round to complete the ring. On thick pieces you can remove the lower needles however I find these help to anchor the pieces of foliage.
4. You will soon end up with a complete ring of foliage, and the foundation of your wreath. You can already see that you will end up with a wreath around 50cm, 20” across. This will be a lot more impressive than many miserable shop bought specimens.
5. Next I added sprigs of adult ivy foliage and the flowers. This is widespread in the UK on trees and hedgerows, and gathered with care will do no harm, as long as you cut from the outside of a hedge or tree trunk. Many will have it somewhere in the garden. If you haven’t got ivy there are plenty of other evergreens you can use.
6. Next I added a few sprigs of Skimmia x confusa ‘Kew Green’. You could use ‘Rubella’ if you want red in the wreath.
7. It’s surprising how so little material has so much impact. Just a few sprigs show up brilliantly, because the texture and shade of green is such a contrast. What’s that about fifty shades of green?
8. Now my wreath is going to be cream and green so I’m adding some Buxus sempervirens ‘Elegantissima’. Just a few sprigs have great impact. This is a good way of doing a little tidying, trimming and selective pruning to keep smaller evergreens in shape.
9. Next I’m adding some sprigs of variegated holly. You will be surprised how little foliage has so much impact. Particularly if you choose a strongly variegated holly such as Ilex aquifolium ‘Aregenteovariegata’. Who needs berries?
10. I’ve only got a small amount of mistletoe and the stems are rather short. I could push them straight into the foam, but they might fall out so I am mounting sprigs, two or three at a time on stub wires. These are the stout, dark florist’s wires, not the silver ones. I make a hairpin with a wire behind the stems. Then I wrap one leg of the wire firmly around the stems a couple of times. Do not wind it round and round; you will break the stems, or the wire will come loose.
11. Push the wires firmly into the foam, following the direction of the rest of the foliage.
12. I do the same with some long trails of variegated and plain green ivy. I position two or three into the base of the wreath and let them trail.
13. I position three or four others around the ring, and I wind the ivy through the other foliage, again following the direction of the foliage in the wreath.
14. I fix a wire right around the top of the ring, and hang my wreath on the wall alongside the front door. I expect it to stay fresh and lovely right through the holiday period. The soft cream and green is the perfect partner to pots of hellebores on the doorstep, and I think it has just as much impact as a wreath with more colour.
Last year’s wreath was made in a similar way, but with the addition of fir cones and holly berries. Tip: If you use holly in a wreath cut off the foliage at the end of the sprig to expose the berries, otherwise they are hidden behind leaves when you put them in the wreath. I wire the foliage I’ve cut off onto the stem behind the berries before I place them in the wreath.
So there you are – over to you to Deck the Halls. Anyone can do this, it just couldn’t be easier – and there’s no bloodshed!