It’s that time of year when we start planning for the festive season. The tradition of fixing a wreath to our doors at Christmas predates Christianity. Us pagan Anglo-Saxons would hang one made of evergreens, to cheer ourselves up in the depths of a dark and cold wintertime. The evergreens were seen as immortal, stoic and strong for remaining green throughout the winter, and different foliage would have had different meanings to our ancestors.
Yew was seen as wise and persistent, holly as a protector against bad spirits and ivy, with its propensity to wind and twist, as having meaning for connections and friendships.
Craft your own
Making your own wreath is a lovely craft to do alone, or with your family and friends. Enjoy foraging for materials in your garden, or in the hedgerows, and see what you can find to decorate your front door. I’d encourage you to think of your wreath as unique to you: forget the traditional Christmas style and choose what you like.
Here are some tips to get you going:
• Use sharp secateurs or scissors to snip from shrubs, trees or hedges.
• Wear gloves if you have sensitive skin as there are lots of prickles out there. Some evergreens, like conifers, produce sap when you cut them, which might be an irritant.
• Have a shopping bag handy to stash your goodies … something with a wide opening is easier to use.
• Only take a little of what you find …don’t strip a bush of all its berries, take a few and move on. You’ll find more elsewhere, and you’ll leave some for the wildlife.
• You can pick anything growing wild (the four Fs: fruit, flowers, fungi and foliage) on public land, as long as it is for personal consumption. Always ask before foraging on private land or on somebody’s property. My mum’s garden is great for foraging in, but I always ask first!
• Little leaves work better than bigger leaves. For example, holly leaves are great, but laurel leaves are too unwieldy.
• Look for berries, hips, seedheads and cones … they come in all sorts of sizes! Holly berries are associated with Christmas but can be the Holy Grail of berries as, more often or not, by the time we get to December the birds have eaten them all! Use rosehips, cotoneaster, pyracantha or viburnum as an alternative.
• Old man’s beard or wild clematis scrambles up through hedgerows and trees all over the place. Its fluffy seedheads are perfect for winter, and it adds a completely different kind of texture.
• Find moss in your garden or lawn to make a base to attach foliage to, or use willow or vines such as honeysuckle, wisteria or clematis to wind into a ring for the base of the wreath.
• Florists use wire and pins to attach items to a wreath. You can use garden wire or hairgrips to do the same.
• Keep your wreath outdoors: the cold will help it stay fresh for longer. They do make lovely table decorations, but make sure you take it out again to keep it looking it best.
• Look for evergreen shrubs in your garden. Skimmia, hydrangea, star jasmine, viburnum, hellebores, rosemary and lavender all look lovely in a wreath too.
• Search in hedgerows for thistles, teasels, ivy seedheads, poppy seedheads and feathers.
I hope I’ve inspired you to go foraging and make your own wreath! You can stick to traditional greens and reds if you like, but you could also be brave and add in whatever else you find that you like. Nature has a lot of bling to offer at this time of year and going foraging gives you the opportunity to find it!
I’m going to be showing Rosalind how to make a wreath live on our Instagram page later this month, so tune in to see how she gets on. Her finished wreath will also make an appearance in December's edition of the paper.
See you next month!
Renée is a local gardener and designer who is addicted to crafting. In the last six years she has taught over 500 people how to make their own wreaths, in workshops all over Surrey.
Last year she launched a DIY kit that you can pre-order from: www.thegirlwhogardens.co.uk
(She also believes that a wreath isn’t just for Christmas and, if you push her, would say that autumn wreaths are her favourite!)