Making Christmas gifts and holiday decorations from the garden
The festive beauty of the garden in winter is a delight: fragrant, fresh evergreens, eye-catching berries, crystalline frosty mornings. Why not bring some of that beauty indoors?
Wreaths and swags made from seasonal evergreens, bright berries, luscious winter fruits, and sculptural cones have long been associated with the winter holidays—brightening shortened days and long nights with the universal hope for the return of the light, and symbolic wishes of prosperity for the coming fresh start of the new year.
Dorothy Showmaker loves to design such fragrant, seasonal arrangements from her own garden—both as gifts and for the embellishment of her own home—no matter what season it is, but especially for the winter holidays.
“They smell so good, and as a gardener, bringing greens and berries and cones inside for seasonal arrangements means you get to enjoy your garden and the outdoors longer and in a whole different dimension!” said Showmaker, a 71-year-old Durham native and longstanding member of the Chico Horticultural Society. “Knowing that you made these items yourself makes them even more fun—even more meaningful as gifts to others.”
For many years now, Showmaker has applied her skills as a gardener and her creativity as a designer to making her own seasonal decorations as well as teaching others at Chico Horticultural Society’s annual Holiday Greens workshop, held this year on Dec. 11.
“I got started doing floral designs and arrangements as a teenager watching my mother, a member of the Durham Women’s Garden Club back in its day,” offered Showmaker, a well-known regional gardener, horticultural advocate and mentor. “I would drive her to local county fairs and flower shows to enter her creations.
“Anyone can do it,” she continued, “and all you need is whatever looks good in your garden right now, a pair of clippers, a pair of gloves, some floral wire and your imagination.”
She uses floral clippers and a mid-weight floral wire. For larger wreaths, she recommends a three-ring wreath frame; for a simple, small wreath, a single round of metal or twisted vine will also work well. For swags, she suggests the use of wire to secure the top of the bundled greens. Wire, wreath forms, clippers and glue guns are all available at local craft stores.
Showmaker talked as she demonstrated making wreaths and single swags, both of which will be featured in the workshop.
“Sometimes I like to use a variety of different greens from the garden for a tapestry effect, and sometimes I like the simple elegance of a wreath or swag made from just one type of green,” she said. “Once you are done with the main structure of the wreath or swag, you can embellish with fresh flowers, colorful berries, cones, acorns, buckeyes—whatever strikes you as lovely.
“You can wire in cones and sprays of berries, but if you have a glue gun you can use that as well,” offered Showmaker.
“I glue-gun a lot—including myself!” Showmaker added with a wry laugh. “If you use the glue gun, be careful with the liquid glue—it’s hot!”
Conifer greens that Showmaker uses and recommends for wreaths include fir, cedar, juniper and redwood. Broadleaf evergreens include magnolia, Chinese fringe flower, toyon and sage.
“I love that fragrant silvery foliage of the sage in a design,” Showmaker enthused. Berries she likes to use include the blue berries on Indian hawthorn, and the red berries on toyon, holly and pyracantha.
“If you are using a fleshy berry or fresh flowers, you can either secure them into your arrangement with some damp Oasis [a sturdy floral-arranging foam] or in a floral flower tube to help keep them fresh,” advised Showmaker. “Or you can tuck them in at the end and replace them as needed over the course of having the design inside.”
To make wreaths, Showmaker pre-cuts her greenery into 4- to 6-inch pieces, ready to wire. For larger wreaths, she wires together bundles of greenery, which are staggered along the frame and wired separately into place. For simple wreaths, she staggers and wires individual sprays of greenery. In either case, she wraps each bundle or spray twice with wire to secure it. “It’s important to wire tightly to account for the drying and shrinking of the greenery over time,” she pointed out. (“I never seem to get my wire tight enough,” she whispered playfully.)
Once Showmaker had wrapped wire fully around the entire wreath frame, she made a twisting loop to hang it with, added a ribbon, tucked in cheerful toyon berries and—voila! —she held up a homemade, fresh-scented gift, perfect to ring in the holidays—greenly.