I’ve often admired the dried wreaths adorning the doors of friends and neighbors, but I’d never ventured to make my own until I saw the one Betsy Williams made for the herbal wedding story in our March 2001 issue. Once I realized how fun and relatively simple they can be — or complex, if that’s your preference — I vowed to make one at the end of each summer with my favorite herbs from that year’s garden. If you don’t have everything you need in the garden, a trip to your local florist or craft store will fill in the gaps. (And for those of you not up to the task, suggestions for purchasing pre-made herbal wreaths can be found on Page 31).
FRESH VS. DRIED
When it comes to choosing fresh or dried botanicals, let the look be your guide. While it’s easy to clip small, fresh bouquets from the garden, arrange and wire them to a wreath form and hang it right away, remember that when they dry, they’ll curl and form to the angle at which they are hanging. This is fine for some botanicals — a few curled sage leaves dispersed among stiffer flowers and stems will be fine — but if you use a plethora of fresh sage leaves as your backdrop mixed with roses, you’ll likely have a droopy mess of a wreath on your hands when the herbs dry. Fresh herbs and flowers, however, do have their place (see “Fresh Centerpiece” directions on Page 31). Whether you choose to use fresh, dried or a combination thereof, make sure you have some variety of leaf shapes, sizes and colors.
A GLANCE AT DRYING BOTANICALS
To dry your herbs, secure bunches with a rubber band about 1 inch from the bottom of the stems, and hang them upside down in a cool, dark and dry place. (See Page 36 for more details on drying herbs.) I usually hang bunches of each herb together and then gamble with separating them and loosening some leaves when wreath-making time arrives. Alternately, if you have enough space and want to preserve the entire stem with leaves intact, hang each sprig individually from clothespins on a line of wire or string, leaving plenty of space to prevent them from touching or sticking together while drying.
No matter how you begin to tackle this project, collect more botanicals than you think you’ll need so you have plenty on hand to fill in any gaps as you complete your wreath.
CHOOSING A FORM
Several types of wreath forms are available in the floral section of craft stores: wire, twig or grapevine, straw, moss-covered and foam, to name a few. Choose one based on your own style, or try them all to see which you like working with best. If you’re using a foam form, you probably won’t want any of it showing, so you’ll need plenty of flowers and leaves to fill in and cover the foam entirely. Wire forms are lightweight, but also need to be covered completely, either with botanicals or with moss or straw before you begin. I’ve made a few suggestions, ranging from simple to complex combinations, in the instructions for various types of wreaths at right. Also keep in mind whether you prefer gluing or wiring items to the form when making your selection.
A glue gun is a must for most dried wreath projects. Even if you choose not to use it as the main mode of attaching botanicals, you’ll find it invaluable at some point when touching up your final wreath. Choose a low-temperature hot glue gun or cool melt glue gun for these purposes.
Wire for attaching botanicals should be next on your shopping list. Spools of varying gauges of green floral wire are available at craft stores; or you can put those excess garbage bag ties filling your kitchen drawer to good use by stripping their paper exteriors to reveal the bare wire. These will do a fine job of attaching the plants to your wreath form, but keep the silver covered by overlapping it with leaves.
To add meaning to your wreath, keep a guidebook to the Victorian language of flowers, such as Tussie-Mussies: The Language of Flowers by Geraldine Adamich Laufer (Workman Publishing, 1993), on hand for reference as you prepare.
Lavender offers splendid wreath-crafting potential because the entire plant is scented, textural and beautiful. The light airiness of simply placed dried lavender stems and blossoms makes for a whimsical, delicious-smelling wreath.
2 or 3 pieces 22-gauge floral wire (each piece about 20 to 24
inches long, depending on desired wreath size)
1 handful of moss or lamb’s-ears (about 2 loosely filled cups’ worth)
Lightweight (about 26-gauge) floral wire
Dried lavender stems with blossoms (about 300)
Begin by twisting 2 or 3 pieces of 22-gauge floral wire together. Then form into a circle and twist the ends together. Next, place some moss or lamb’s-ears on the newly created wire wreath form and wrap with lightweight floral wire, adding and wrapping as you go around the circle until the entire piece is covered with moss.
Next, bunch together about 10 lavender stems with blossoms and wrap tightly with wire near the blossoms, leaving about 1 inch of wire on each end to secure to the wreath form. Once secure, snip the stems about an inch or two below the wire so the bunch is 5 to 6 inches long (longer for a large wreath). Repeat until you have several bunches on hand.
Now wire a bunch to the moss-covered wreath form (see photo on Page 29). Then, just below that bunch, wire the next bunch to the wreath form so the blossoms are overlapping the wire of the previous bunch and protruding out from the wreath slightly. Continue this process around the entire wreath and repeat to fill in any spots where the wreath looks off balance.
Finally, secure a wire to the back of the wreath to serve as a hanger and attach a bow to the top or bottom with wire, if you like.
ROSEMARY REMEMBRANCE WREATH
This is one of the simpler wreaths to make because any botanicals you add are merely accenting the already interesting look of the vines or twigs. While I prefer to wire fresh rosemary to the wreath, you can just as easily hot glue dried rosemary and the other botanicals, if you wish.
Thin-gauge floral wire
Rosemary sprigs (dried or fresh)
Grapevine or twig wreath
Berries, such as hawthorn, or rose hips
Other dried flowers, such as white sage, statice or Queen Anne’s lace
5 or 6 small pine cones or dried roses
Wire a few rosemary sprigs around the wreath using short (11/2- to 2-inch) pieces to begin with. Remember, you always can add more later, but it will be difficult to remove them once you’ve added other items. Next, add berries or rose hips by wiring stems or gluing small individual pieces at intermittent spots around the wreath. Add more rosemary and any other botanicals to fill in the gaps, if you like; then glue some pine cones or dried roses to finish off the piece.
Complete the wreath by looping a 3- or 4-inch piece of wire through some sturdy branches on the back and twisting the ends together as a secure hanger.
Make this wreath with herbs you’ve already dried by hanging upside down in a cool, dark room. (See “The Low-Tech Art of Drying Herbs,” Page 36.)
Dried herbs and flowers, such as nigella seed pods, safflower,
eucalyptus, statice, yarrow, wheat or roses
1 straw or moss-covered wreath form
Thin-gauge floral wire
Glue gun (optional)
Begin by arranging a handful of stems that offer plenty of color and texture and trim them to about 8 inches. Bind them to the wreath with wire (see photo at left). Next, wire another bunch about 5 or 6 inches below the first so the leaves and flowers overlap the first wire. Repeat until the entire wreath is covered.
Fill in any spaces at your discretion by wiring or gluing individual branches or flowers in the gaps.
Make the wreath’s hanger by pressing a 6-inch piece of wire through the straw wreath in a U shape and then twisting the ends.
Not just another pretty wreath, this combination of your favorite culinary herbs can be hung in the kitchen for decoration and occasional use.
18- to 20-inch piece heavy floral wire (or double and twist
together lightweight wire)
Fresh or dried culinary herbs, such as bay, marjoram, sage or thyme
Thin-gauge floral wire cut into 1-inch and 2-inch pieces (for attaching herbs)
2 to 3 pieces of wire, about 6 inches long
Garlic or shallot bulbs
Ribbon, for hanging
Begin by forming an oval or circle with your wire and twisting the ends tightly together, overlapping, if necessary. Then, tie bunches of herbs together with cooking string or twine. You may find that you’ve collected some leaves, such as bay or sage, with little or no stem that you want to remain flat and facing forward. If so, simply poke a short, 1-inch piece of wire through each leaf, about 1/2 inch from the bottom of the leaf and wire to the wreath form. Next, attach bunches to the wire circle with wire, making sure the tops of each bunch overlap the bottom of the bunch above it (see photo on Page 29). Repeat around the wreath until the entire circle is covered and add additional layers, if you choose.
Insert a 6-inch piece of wire through the bottom of a shallot or garlic bulb, between the cloves and out the top. Wrap the ends around what you deem to be the top of your wreath and twist them together at the back. Repeat with other bulbs, if you like.
Finally, to hang your wreath, loop a ribbon around the wire form at the top of your wreath and tie it off tightly. Make the ribbon longer if you want it to show, or keep it quite short if you want it to be hidden behind the wreath when it’s hanging.
Dried arrangements have their place, but as a centerpiece for a tea or luncheon, a fresh wreath is lively and fun. If you can’t find a floral foam wreath form, you can easily carve a block of floral foam purchased from your local florist or craft store into a rough circle with a kitchen knife.
6 to 9 large fresh-cut bunches of herbs and flowers such as
roses, mint, sage, Johnny jump-ups, lavender or marjoram, as needed
depending on wreath size
Lightweight floral wire
1 floral foam wreath form, such as Aqua-foam (I used the 12-inch.)
1 plate or dish large enough for the wreath to sit in
Cut fresh herbs and flowers when the day is cool and place in a jar of cool water. Just about any culinary herbs that will withstand being cut and watered will work — some more tender leaves, such as basil or cilantro, might not stand the process. Although you can press some individual woody stems directly into the wreath form, the best way to begin this project is to create small bouquets by grouping some stems, binding them together with floral wire and surrounding that with floral tape (which will stick to itself when stretched and wrapped). A great background filler is parsley. Trim the ends off evenly and then set these small bouquets in a glass or dish of cold water and place in the refrigerator.
Next, run your wreath form under gently flowing cool water until damp. Allow any excess water to drip into the sink for a moment and then place the form in the plate or dish.
Retrieve your bouquets from the refrigerator and start placing them by gently pressing the wrapped stems into the foam. If they don’t go in easily, simply create a hole with the end of a pair of scissors that’s large enough to fit the stems, but small enough they’ll fit tightly. Repeat this around the wreath, making sure the sides and center are covered, as well.
When you feel the wreath is complete, drizzle cool water over it, making sure some soaks into the foam, and place at the center of your table or refrigerate until guests arrive.
Dawna Edwards is a former editor of The Herb Companion from Colorado who enjoys summers in the garden, autumn in the craft room and winter with the snowy reprieve of the mountains.