While visiting my Peachtree City friend, Jennifer Bigham, I noticed the stunning, large wreath on her front door, made from a thick, wisteria vine as the form. The wreath is over 3 ½ feet long and makes a big statement at the entrance to her home! Every few months, Jen changes out the foliage and ornaments on the wreath to reflect the seasons.
Jennifer knows something about garden design and creating a beautiful focal point. She is the owner of Dunaway Gardens in Newnan and brought this historic, magical landscape back to life after decades of neglect. She graciously agreed to take me out to Dunaway Gardens to find the natural elements to create an impressive holiday wreath for the front door.
Living in the South, we are all familiar with Japanese and Chinese wisteria (Wisteria floribunda and Wisteria sinensis). Wisteria is a beautiful, but invasive, non-native vine that can girdle and kill trees and shrubs. While I love the huge purple flowers that bloom on the vines in spring, these rampant vines are best kept under control or removed from your yard before they take over. So why not cut some of the vines and use them as the form for a spectacular holiday wreath! If you don’t have the vine in your yard, a short hike through nearby woods will probably lead you to one wrapped securely around a tree. Be careful you are not pulling down a poison ivy vine! Yikes!
Cut down your wisteria vine and soak it for several days in water to make it pliable and easy to shape. Check it every day or so to see if you can mold the vine into a circle. Jen’s vine was so thick that it took two weeks of soaking for the vine to become flexible enough to shape into an oblong design. Keep the curves in the wisteria vine for added appeal. Secure the ends of the vine with screws or wire.
You’ll need florist wire, wire cutters, pruners, glue gun, ribbon, and ornaments
The filler for a beautiful wreath is the greenery you have right now in your garden. Clip an assortment of evergreens, looking for different colors, textures, fragrance and added bonuses like branches with pods, acorns, berries and cones. Jennifer loves the look and texture of Arizona Cypress ‘Carolina Sapphire’ – a silvery-blue, pyramid-shaped cypress that is prized as a Christmas tree. The feathery branches have tiny white tips and a lovely herbal fragrance. Other evergreens to consider are: juniper, Leyland cypress, Japanese cryptomeria, variegated acuba, holly, viburnum, tea olive, variegated ivy, camellia, autumn fern, holly fern, nandina and magnolia. Magnolia branches add a touch of Southern style, and the large, stiff leaves make a big impact. Cut magnolia branches that include the seed pod for additional appeal.
Acorns, seed pods, cones, berries, Sphagnum moss, and dried flowers add interest and texture to any wreath and can be attached to the wreath using a glue gun. If you don’t have access to all these interesting additions, you can “cheat” a little and purchase artificial ones at a local craft store. Weave them in with the “real” natural elements from the garden and nobody will know the difference! You can also add more bling with ribbon, ornaments or a string of battery-operated lights. Jennifer likes to use holiday ribbon with wire edges for easy shaping. She also adds a vintage belt buckle to her wreath as a rustic door hanger.
Start by winding floral wire around your whole wreath, but don’t wrap it too tightly – you want to be able to easily insert greenery under the wire. Next weave variegated ivy vines around the whole wreath. (Jennifer admits to getting artificial variegated ivy vines at the craft story, and she keeps them on the wreath year-round as the “base” for her designs.) Now the fun of experimenting begins!
Jennifer always starts with the largest pieces of greenery. “If you love magnolias, use them,” says Jennifer. “They make a big statement with the large leaves and seed pods.” She uses odd numbers of the same plant and offsets them on the wreath – i.e. they are not directly across from each other. “Experiment with combinations of the same plant until you find the most pleasing and balanced look. Then reinforce the large magnolia leaves with additional wire because they are so heavy.”
Begin filling in around your larger magnolia leaves with additional plant material. Step back from time to time and take a good look at your design. You can do whatever pleases you – keep it simple, natural, and organic or go for the bling with light strings, ornaments and ribbon. As the holiday season progresses, you can change out wilting evergreens to keep the wreath fresh through New Year’s Day and well into the winter!