One of the most elegant and merry of all the holiday decorations is that of fresh greens draped around a room. A garland’s graceful length and flow delights the eye and wraps a doorway, mantle, or staircase like a green ribbon on a present. Ornamenting those fresh greens with fragrant herbs, flowers, spices, berries, fruit, and ribbons transforms the decoration into a medieval-like tapestry of colors and textures.
Unlike holiday wreaths or swags, which are often readily available already ornamented in a variety of styles, it’s rare to find ornamented garlands. Rarer still is finding garlands decorated with fragrant herbs, like rosemary and thyme’s warm scents that are perfect for the holiday season. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to create one of these ornamental garlands yourself.
To make the garland, you will need pruners, heavy-gauge floral wire, fine to medium floral wire, wire cutters, and depending upon the choice of plant materials, a hot glue gun.
Before starting, decide where you’d like to place the finished garland to select the appropriate length. A 6- to 7-foot length is about right for laying on the mantle of most fireplaces–which is a great center-stage spot for the garland. The warmth from the fireplace also helps release the scents of the aromatic herbs.
Select pre-made fresh green garlands for the garland base (most often available as pine roping) or a pre-made garland that is composed of a variety of greens, especially shorter needle varieties, since they make the garland sturdier. If you choose to use pine roping, augment this base with sturdy wire to add stems of one or more different evergreens along its length, such as cedar, cypress, juniper, spruce, magnolia, or fir. Adding these greens to pine roping not only gives the garland more heft for wiring materials onto it, it also makes the garland more fragrant and visually richer in textures and colors.
If you’re lucky enough to have a variety of evergreens in your yard, you can use fallen branches or prune some for your garland. If not, many grocery stores, florists, or garden centers sell bunches of mixed greens perfect for bulking up a pine garland.
Before adding on these extra greens, lay out the entire length of the garland on a long table or counter. Then alongside the garland, lay out the extra greens where they will be attached along the garland. This will help ensure that all of the materials (and their colors and textures) are placed evenly and nicely balanced along the entire length. This step also will help you make sure that you don’t run short of materials at one end–which may entail the tedious task of having to go back, unwire, re-space, and then rewire materials.
Once you’ve added the extra greens, you’re ready to add the ornamental materials. Gather up the herbs, flowers, and other materials that you’ll be using and again, lay them out where they will be attached along the garland. The basic overall design idea is to repeat a series of complementary colors, shapes, and textures along the garland.
Usually, ornamental material looks best when grouped in small bundles that are attached to the garland. Each bundle does not have to be identical, but again, some repetition of color and materials helps create a pleasing overall effect.
Attaching plant materials
Attach individual stems of plant material to the garland by using a fine- to medium-gauge wire and wrapping it around the stem several times, leaving a long enough tail on the stem to then wrap the tail around the garland greens. Several stems may also be grouped together to make a small bunch that is wired to the garland base. To do this, arrange the bunch and place a floral wire against the stems; twist it around the stems tightly, leaving a long enough tail to attach that piece to the garland. Attach the stems or bundles to a woody branch section of a garland green.
If you’re adding individual stems of lightweight material such as hops or pepperberries, or adding single flower heads of strawflowers, roses, or other lightweight flower heads, attach these using a glue gun.
To wire pinecones, take a medium-gauge wire and wrap half of it around the base of the cone, leaving a tail long enough to attach to a garland stem. Some items like dried orange slices, apple slices, or cinnamon sticks can be attached by using raffia or a piece of ribbon tied tightly to the garland.
Maureen Heffernan is the director of public programs at Cleveland Botanical Gardens. She is a freelance writer and herb lover who lives and gardens in Cleveland Heights, Ohio.
Lay out your garland and decorations before wiring it together to ensure balance and adequate materials.
Here are suggested combinations of plant materials to use to make beautiful holiday herbal garlands. Use some or all of the combinations or use them for springboards to create your own combinations. Additional plant material suggestions are listed on page 25. The amount of materials you will need will vary by the length of the base garland you’re using and the resulting fullness that you want.
Rosemary and Thyme Garland
This simple combination of items makes a beautiful and fragrant garland.
Holly branches with berries
Make bundles of a stem or two each of 4-inch-long stems of rosemary and thyme and use a fine-gauge wire to make the bundle; then attach the bundles along the garland. Add some small holly branches with berries along the length. If the garland is lying on a table or mantle, finish by adding apples and limes along the length.
The fruits can be wired to the garland if it is to drape. If so, use florist sticks to insert into the fruit and then wire the stick onto the garland.
Fragrant Golden Herb Garland
Dried yellow/golden yarrow
Dried field poppy seedpods
Make small bundles of a few stems of rosemary, thyme, and sweet marjoram with a stem of yarrow and two to three seedpods. Tie with a fine to medium wire and then use a piece of raffia to tie a bow around the bundle. Use the wire to attach the bundle to the garland. Make enough bundles to attach them about every 8 inches along the garland. Finish by wiring pinecones between the herb bundles.
Rosemary and Red Flower Garland
Dried red cockscomb
Dried pink and red roses
Sprigs of deep pink heather
Holly stems with red berries
Create bundles of a stem of rosemary, cockscomb, and heather and attach the bundles about every 12 inches along the garland. Next, glue pepperberries throughout the garland and finish by adding the roses evenly along the garland.
Winter White Garland
Dried white roses
Silver spray-painted pinecones
Make bundles of a rose, a stem of rosemary, and a sprig of baby’s breath and wire the bundles along the garland about every 12 inches. Add stems of the statice and lunaria between the rose bundles. Finish by attaching the pinecones throughout the garland.
Blue and Silver Garland
Silver-blue juniper stems with berries
Silver spray-painted twigs–8 inches long
Silver King artemisia
Blue globe thistle
Wire stem clumps of the juniper evenly along the garland every 8 to 10 inches. Make bundles of a few of the twigs paired with 1 to 2 eucalyptus stems and a stem of artemisia (both about 10 inches long). Wire these bundles along the garland. Finish by making bundles of 3 stems of globe thistles and attaching them in between the other items.
Green and Red Garland
Thyme (variegated or green)
Red-twig dogwood stems
Variegated holly with berries
Dried hop stems
Use a fine-gauge wire to make bundles of a stem of rosemary and thyme. Attach these about every 12 inches along the garland. Then make small bundles of a few red-twig dogwood stems (about 8 inches long) with a stem of holly and attach these bundles about every 10 inches along the garland. Next, use a glue gun to attach stems of the hops in between the other bundles. Finish by placing or wiring a number of limes and apples along the garland.
Boxwood and Citrus Garland
Boxwood stems (about 6 inches long)
Dried yellow santolina
Dried orange slices*
Make bundles of a few stems of boxwood with five to seven santolina stems. Wire these bundles about every 10 inches along the garland. Then take two to three cinnamon sticks and wire them together in the center. Then wire the sticks onto the garland. Cover over the wire on the cinnamon sticks by using raffia to make a bow around the sticks. Finish by using 6-inch lengths of raffia to tie the orange slices onto the garland every 6 inches.
* It’s easy to dry oranges in a food dehydrator. Simply cut round slices 1/2-inch thick and place in a dehydrator. Follow manufacturer’s directions for time and temperature.