Good to Grow: Fresh-from-the-garden wreaths give home a fall feeling

Using a wire form for structure, you can pick and choose your natural pieces – and decide whether you want an orderly arrangement or something less organized. Either way, your live pieces will dry and offer an entirely different look over time. Here, hydrangeas mix with berries, flowering stalks and grasses.
Article by Jane Powell, Good to Grow

Fall is here, and I have begun to shift my thoughts from bright summer blooms to incorporating signs of autumn into my garden pots and displays throughout the house. As a way of getting started, I thought it would be fun to take a wreath-making class.

I really didn’t know what to expect, I have made wreaths before but usually starting with a pre-made straw form or evergreen base. For this class, taught by Chris Higgins at Valley Gardens, we started with a 12-inch wire ring frame and went from there. There were tables and wheelbarrows overflowing with materials to use, tall green ornamental grasses, stems of berries, and mounds of hydrangea blossoms. It was a buffet of garden treats.

Step 1 was creating mini arrangements. I started with two varieties of the tall grasses and added stalks of purple beautyberries (callicarpa), a small shrub known for producing glorious clusters of berries that stand out against the oranges and yellows of autumn. I also added hydrangeas to my bouquets.

Then, with 22-gauge garden wire, I began securing each bouquet onto the wire frame. Be sure to loop the wire a few times and pull tight to keep the bundles in place.

Here is where you make a major design decision. Do you want a manicured, well-mannered wreath, slightly bigger than the frame — or do you want the bold, controlled chaos of a much larger wreath?

Well, of course I chose to go outside the lines and extend my bouquets to reach 24 to 30 inches beyond my frame. But should you want a smaller design, simply trim the bottom stems to fit your desired diameter and style.

After choosing my design, creating, and securing several groups of materials, my wreath is big, bold and brimming with soft green hydrangea, accented with the purple berries. I hung it outside in a protected area. The wreath materials, although lush now, will begin to dry, and the look will change from summer greens to shades of weathered autumn browns.

If making a wreath at home, I would start with a walk through the garden. Chances are you will be trimming back your beds for fall, so why not gather stems for a fun project? Other wreath add-ins Chris suggested were bittersweet vines (celastrus scandens), teasels (dipsacus), sunflowers, Chinese chestnuts and sedum heads. Why not add in small pumpkins or gourds? Take a quick trip to the craft store and you may find birds, bows and other whatnots to add in and customize your design.

These garden goodies are not limited to wreaths: Use them in other containers. A friend came to dinner late last summer and brought a galvanized metal watering can full of blooms from her garden. I loved them so much that I let them dry in the can, and a year later the dried bloom arrangement is still on my deck.

The next steps I’ll take to bring fall to the little house on the big hill will be to plant mums, asters, ornamental kale and cabbage. I will use them in my big container pots and window boxes. Of course, I will mix in pumpkins and gourds. I generally combine all colors of these into my designs, but I do appreciate the sophisticated design of certain color palettes, such as white pumpkins, and purple kale.

Do you happen to have a birch tree? Really, any slender tree logs would work. Cut them to varying heights (don’t be afraid to go tall — try beginning at 5 feet) and add a few bittersweet vines, a pumpkin or two, and it will make a lovely neutral autumn display. A bonus about using birch branches: Trade out the pumpkins for holly berries and pine cones, and you can extend the design through late winter.

Inspiration for fall is all around. Try your local farmers markets and garden nurseries for classes and display ideas. Gardeners work hard in the fall. Find time to be creative and have fun while finishing the chores of the last harvests and cleanup. If you have extra garden materials, considering making a gift for a neighbor. Everybody loves a bouquet of flowers.