Category Archives: Christmas wreaths

Holiday Lore & Traditions

A traditional holiday wreath with holly, berries and evergreens.

We all celebrate the holidays in different ways. Each family has their own traditions and warm memories from years gone by. Some of us celebrate Christmas, some Hanukkah, some Kwanzaa. Many of our traditional Christmas customs originate from Winter Solstice celebrations. The plants associated with each are an important part of tradition and symbolism.

Winter solstice is the 21st of December. Solstice literally means “Sun Stands Still’ and for a few days around this time of year the sun appears to stand still in the sky. Nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration. They have been with us for thousands of years starting at the beginning of agriculture among people who depended on the return of the sun. We have incorporated many of the plants from traditional winter solstice celebrations into our own- holly, ivy, evergreens, rosemary and mistletoe. How did this come about?

Holly remains green throughout the year when deciduous trees like the oak shed their leaves. Decorating with it throughout the home has long been believed to bring protection and good luck. Placing a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland since holly was one of the main plants that was green and beautiful with its red berries at this time of year. Norseman and Celts planted a holly tree near their homes to ward off lightning strikes. The crooked lines of holly leaves gave rise to its association with lightning and in fact holly does conduct lighting into the ground better than most trees.

Like other evergreens, ivy symbolizes immortality and eternal life. In England it is traditionally used in kissing balls with holly and mistletoe. It has also stood for fidelity, healing and marriage. Ancient Romans thought it brought good luck and joy. It was worn as a crown or fashioned into wreaths or garland.

Evergreen trees play a role in solstice celebrations. Early Romans and Christians considered the evergreen a symbol of the continuity of life. Fir, cedar, pine boughs and wreaths were used to decorate homes. Small gifts were hung from the branches in groves. This may have been where the Christian tradition of decorating an evergreen tree or Yule tree in December originated. Other sacred trees of the solstice are yew, birch, arborvitae and ash.

Rosemary trained as a Christmas tree with a lavender topiary friend.

We often see rosemary plants trained into a Christmas tree shape. Rosemary is evergreen in the winter and blooms at the same time making it the perfect plant for the holidays. Traditionally rosemary was spread on floors at Christmas as people walked over the herb releasing the fragrant scent and filling the home with blessings and protection.

How did our fascination with mistletoe get started? From earliest times it has been one of the most magical, mysterious and sacred plants of Greeks, Celts, Scandinavia, England and European folklore in general.The Druids believed the mistletoe’s magical powers extended beyond fertility. It was believed to cure almost any disease and was know as the “all healer”. Sprigs fixed above doorways of homes were said to keep away lightning and other types of evil. Because the plant has no roots it was believed that it grew from heaven.

Kissing under the mistletoe probably came from the Greek/Roman belief that it bestowed fertility and had life-giving power. In Scandinavia it was considered a plant of peace under which enemies could declare a truce or fighting spouses could kiss and make up. However this tradition originated it’s a good one.

Traditional plants symbolic of Hanukkah are the citron, myrtle twigs, willow twigs and palm fronds. The Four Species are waved together along with special blessings as part of the synagogue service or at home.
Kwanzaa, another celebration of light, features the harvest foods of Africa: ears of corn, fruit and nuts. It is a secular celebration observed during the last week of December to celebrate the “fruit” or accomplishments coming out of the year of labor.

Around the world, holiday celebrations have their own special meaning. With friends and family, embrace your own traditions and have a wondrous holiday.

Succulents for the Holidays

Grapevine wreaths are easy to assemble

It may be a bit early but as I stroll through different stores I’m always thinking if something would make a good gift for someone on my Christmas list. Often I’m looking for easy-to-make gifts that I can put together at home and on a recent visit to Succulent Gardens near Elkhorn Slough I came up with lots of ideas.

Succulents planted in an old VW at Succulent Gardens.

To be sure Succulent Gardens is jam packed with finished succulent wreaths, wood frames in all shapes filled with colorful succulents plus all the makings and starts to put together your own creation. They offer classes, too. But if you have succulents growing in your own garden and a grapevine wreath or any type of container that would make a great succulent garden you might want to try making one at home.

Grapevine wreaths come in all sizes. Using floral wire it’s easy to attach succulent cuttings, dried flowers or fresh, any type of greenery. moss or tillandsia. You don’t need to cover the whole wreath either making this type easy to create. After the holidays you can plant the succulent starts back in the garden.

If you’ve been thinking of including more succulents in your own landscape here are some tips for growing them in our area. The smaller varieties would make great wreath or planter specimens.

In choosing the best succulents for your garden think about if your area gets frost during the winter. Does it have protection from a building or evergreen tree or do you live in a banana belt that rarely freezes? Are you planting in sun, shade or a combination?

In addition to the hardy succulents like sedum and sempervivum many showy succulents need only a bit of protection during our winters. Aeonium decorum ‘Sunburst’ is one of the showiest species with spectacular variegated 10 inch rosettes. Sunburst is hardy to 28 degrees and looks terrific planted with black Voodoo aeonium which will take a light frost. Aeoniums do well in our climate as they come from Arabia, East Africa and the Canary Islands where winter rainfall is the norm.

Echeveria ‘Afterglow’

Echeveria grow naturally in higher elevations of central Mexico to northwestern South America and so also do well in our our cool wet winters. ‘Afterglow’ is frost tolerant and hardy to 27 degrees. It looks to be painted with florescent paint. There are spectacular hybrids being developed every year. These are not as hardy as the traditional hens and chicks but well worth the effort to find a place where they can survive a freeze. Frilly ‘Mauna Loa’ sports turquoise and burgundy foliage while Blue Curls echeveria looks like an anemone in a tide pool.

To ensure success when growing succulents, make sure your soil is fast draining. Our winter rains can rot even the toughest plants when their feet sit in soggy soil. Add sand, gravel or pumice to your soil or plant on mounds to increase drainage.

When potting succulents in containers, be sure to use a quality potting mix as good drainage is essential. There are special succulent mixes available but succulents are forgiving as long as the soil drains freely. Don’t add gravel or clay shards at the bottom if planting in a container as this impedes drainage. It work best to fill the entire pot with soil, top to bottom.

Because succulents use little water they are easy to care for. If you hate the idea of having to water after you get home from work, create the garden of your dreams with succulents.

Holiday Wreaths, Traditions & Lore

It happened again last week– the annual gathering of wreath makers at Barb Kelley’s house in south Felton. The day was crisp and clear and with ginger bread and Prosecco in hand, a dozen or us shared techniques and ideas for this year’s wreaths. 14 wreaths were made on the day I was there but Barb told me the total last year was 44 for the week-long event. Creating a wreath or swag for the holidays from foliage cut from your own garden is a good way to make a little light pruning around the yard fun. Here are some tips.

Hydrangea-holly-juniper-pepper berry wreath

Every year the foliage and flowers provided by Barb and her husband, Reg varies. Some greenery like the Hollywood juniper comes from a neighbor who waits until December and then allows the Kelley’s to prune to their heart’s content. The gardener at the bank near Safeway allowed the magnolia tree to be pruned along with some of their impressive pink seed pods. The hot pink Chinese pistache berries come from a secret source in Scotts Valley. Variegated holly is harvested from another garden as are the Ruby Glow tea tree branches.

Huge piles of douglas fir boughs, cypress branches, oleander and eucalyptus flowers, purple Japanese privet berry clusters and feathery Japanese black pine boughs were also available for the making of our wreaths. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that Barb decided to rejuvenate her hydrangea shrub collection and there were boxes of blue and rich pink flower clusters, too.

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreen shrubs and conifers but don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately. To reveal the plant’s natural form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or back to the trunk. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach inside the plant.

The author making first of three wreaths

Winter solstice is December 21st. Solstice literally mean “Sun stands still” and for a few days around this time of year the sun does appear to stand still in the sky. Nearly all cultures and faiths have some sort of winter solstice celebration. These celebrations date back thousands of years starting at the beginning of agriculture among people who depended on return of the sun. We have incorporated many of the same plants into our holiday traditions like holly, ivy, evergreens, rosemary and mistletoe.

Holly remains green throughout the year. Decorating with it has long been believed to bring protection and good luck. Placing a ring of holly on doors originated in Ireland. Norseman and Celts use to plant a holly tree near their homes to ward off lightning strikes. The crooked lines of the holly leaf gave rise to its association with lighting and in fact holly does conduct lightning into the ground better than most trees.

Evergreen trees also play a role in solstice celebrations. Early Romans and Christians considered the evergreen a symbol of the continuity of life. Fir, cedar and pine bough wreaths were used to decorate homes. Small gifts were hung from evergreen tree branches which may have been where the Christian tradition of decorating an evergreen tree in December originated.

Take a few minutes to create your a wreath for your door or tabletop or to give away to friends and neighbors. It’s a fun way to celebrate the holidays and trust me, you can’t make a bad wreath. They all turn out beautiful.

Holiday Wreath Makers Invade Felton

Somewhere in Felton near the San Lorenzo river sits a home beneath the redwoods. Surrounded by a white picket fence it’s the site of the annual holiday wreath makers get together and this year we have gathered to kick off the season with pink champagne, cranberry-orange scones and the tools of our trade: gloves, clippers and paddle wire.

Wreath of mixed evergreens, roses and tulips

Our hostess Barb Kelley and her husband Reg ventured forth earlier in the week to collect evergreen boughs, holly, flowering branches and various berries for us all to use in our wreaths. Since this extravaganza of supplies and good cheer continues for a week many will return time and time again with grandchildren, friends, neighbors and relatives to make many a wreath. One year Barb counted 50 wreaths made in a single week. This year 44 were made by over 30 wreath makers. To say we have a great time would be a gross understatement.

It all started 13 years ago when Barb needed a quick Secret Santa gift for her bunco card group. She’s a talented lady with flower arranging expertise so a wreath was an easy item for her to put together.

A few of the 30+ wreath makers including Barb on the right.

I am always amazed at how many creative people come for this annual event that. One of the show stopping wreaths this year incorporated red and pink roses long with dark pink tulips. Dried hydrangea blooms are always a good accent and we all agreed that the blooming Ruby Glow tea tree branches and the Chinese pistache dark pink berry clusters added just the right amount of color to the other types of variegated foliage.

Long time attendee and material gatherer Martha was up in Tahoe skiing due to the early snow and was greatly missed. I think she holds the record for most wreaths made in a single season. Barb holds the record for the biggest which also weighed the most. Described as a “Kardashian” it lacked nothing in glitz and glamour.

Variegated holly and conifer wreath

This year I had my eye out for good wreath making plants that also have low water requirements in the garden. Besides the leptospermum “Ruby Glow” I also found that many of our drought resistant native plants have thicker leaves by design and are perfect additions to a holiday wreath. I haven’t found a manzanita or ceanothus variety that doesn’t last well in a wreath. Also madrone, bay laurel, mahonia, toyon with berries, Douglas fir and redwood boughs and cones look right at home in a wreath or swag.

A wreath in progress

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreen shrubs and trees to use in a holiday wreath. Besides the plants already mentioned cuttings from strawberry tree, pines, cedar, boxwood, camellia, privet, bottlebrush, pittosporum, leucadendron and nandina berries are long lasting in a wreath. At this time of year, prune your shrubs and trees from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight into the plant.

I look forward to getting together with my fellow wreath makers each December. This is my fourth year and I wouldn’t miss it. You can’t make a bad wreath. They all turn out great plus your shrubs get a little early pruning too.

Holiday Wreaths Done Right

 

pittosporum tobira
Christmas wreath made with Chinese pistache berries, dried hydrangea blooms, Variegated pittosporum tobira, holly, eucalyptus and cedar cuttings

The holiday season just wouldn’t be complete without a day spent with the Felton Christmas Wreath Makers at their annual get together at Barb’s house. Many of us are regulars were anxious to get started and arrived mid morning eager to dig into the various piles of wreath making greens graciously supplied by Barb and her husband, Reggie. We all shared stories and some laughs over glasses of sparkling cider or champagne and french pastries.

This year Barb and Reg collected a slightly different mix of material than in previous years. “It’s different every year”,  she said.  “The drought has helped some plants set more berries. And while greens from our favorite gathering places looked much better than last year others looked terrible. You just never know.”

I arrived at Barb’s beautiful garden entering through a wrought iron gate. I had forgotten her plump chickens that she keeps for their eggs and thought she had added some new garden art. Once they started pecking around for insects it all came back to me. They entertained us all day taking dust baths underneath the camellias.

Barbs_ rooster
Barb’s rooster

Barb has a great eye for combining plants, garden art and hardscaping in her landscape. The curving brick path leads to the raised deck where she hosts the wreath making party. She has a chiminea fireplace in case the day turns chilly but the sun was shining on this morning after a storm went through the day before. This woman has good luck in the weather department.

Everyone makes a slightly different style wreath choosing greens, berries, seeds pods and hydrangea blooms or flower clusters of eucalyptus, acacia, pittosporum and Ruby Glow tea tree. Hollywood juniper, deodar cedar, red cedar, black pine, boxwood, camellia, oleander with long, slender seed pods and red flower buds, California bay, privet with berries and bottlebrush are just some of the plant material that we used this year.

We wreath makers come in all sizes and ages. I took time out to watch Barb help her grand daughter Sawyer attach dried hydrangea blossoms to her own little wreath. They were pretty engrossed in their project and I had to laugh when Sawyer decided hers had just the right amount of decorations on it.

One creative wreath maker this year made a horse head from a candy cane shaped wire frame she bought online. Using just two types of greens, Hollywood juniper for the horse’s coat and feathery Black pine boughs for the mane, a pine cone for the eye and some red ribbon for the bridle her creation is sure to be a hit with her niece, a horse lover.

If you’re thinking of getting together with your neighbors to make wreaths or swags, start by having each bring a couple grocery bags of greens to share with other wreath makers. It helps if you can borrow a couple tables and have a few extra clippers on hand in case someone forgets theirs like I did. Each person brings their own wreath frames of wire or grape vine and some thin gauge wire on a paddle to attach the bundles to the frame. Wire coat hangers work just fine, too.

Take advantage of this opportunity to prune your evergreens for use in wreaths and swags. Cuttings from fir, redwoods, pine, holly, mahonia, strawberry tree, toyon and cotoneaster parneyi make fine additions to your wreath or swag. But don’t whack off snippets indiscriminately. To reveal the plant’s naturally handsome form, prune from the bottom up and from the inside out. Avoid ugly stubs by cutting back to the next largest branch or to the trunk. If the plant has grown too dense, selectively remove whole branches to allow more air and sunlight to reach into the plant.

Trust me, you can’t make an bad wreath. They all turn out beautiful.

Holiday Wreaths from the Garden

holiday wreath.2048After a hiatus last year I again had the pleasure to join my neighbors at their annual wreath making party. This is the 11th year this group has gotten together “rain or shine” according to hosts Barb Kelly and Martha Radcliffe.

The wreath making extravaganza lasts for over a week and friends and relatives come from far and wide to create the most amazing wreaths. But it’s the work of Barb, her husband Reggie and neighbor Martha who make it all possible. This year pouring rain didn’t stop them from seeking out their favorite plants to snip. For a week or so they cut and prune and piled everything up for those of us who drop by to use freely as we create our wreaths.

One of my fellow wreathers this year came all the way from Roseville as they wreath display.1920always do. Her sister and niece Jaelyn had a wonderful time making their wreaths but hers was well over 2 feet across and weighed about 30 pounds. “I like everything big”, she said with a laugh, “including big wreaths and big hair.” You hear the description “this one’s a Kardashian” in the group. These amazing creations are created from so many bundles of greenery, flowers and berries that they end up weighing more than you’d think.

Barbs_wreath2Barb, who’s house and garden we invade, creates lots of wreaths, the bigger the better. She holds the record for making the biggest wreath while Martha holds the record for the most wreaths. Both use them in their own homes and to give away as gifts to friends and neighbors. Used to be Barb would give one to her secret pal in her bunco group but they all come now and make their own wreaths these days.

Barb says this year she thinks the one she made for her front door is one of her best. It’s not the biggest but features dark pink camellia buds and tiny red roses in addition to the deep red flowers of New Zealand tea tree. She added an ivory bow to complement her door.

Little Amanda was there with her Mom and one her friends Anastasia. I met Amanda a couple of years ago when she posed with her own creation for me. The kids will be making their own wreaths later in the week. One of these small fry is only 4 yrs but all are going to make wreaths too with a little help.

One gentleman made several square wreaths which were unique. Each wreath maker creates a different kind of look when choosing the plant material for their bundles. Some are meticulous in combining the exact same mix as they go around the wire frame. Others gather with abandon from conifers, variegated shrubs and other favorite plants that are piled high along the edges of Barb’s deck.

You can make a stunning wreath yourself from most anything you find around your garden. Barb, Reggie and Martha have favorite places they have scoped out to collect greenery including neighbor’s yards. They get permission from the homeowner first but have several people who look forward to the free pruning of their shrubs each year.

Some of the plant material that they harvest include conifers like cypress, deodar cedar, redwood, arborvitae and fir. Broadleaf evergreens such as camellia, bottlebrush, variegated pittosporum, variegated holly, green holly, silver dollar eucalyptus, boxwood, oleander, acacia. melaleuca and abelia are also good. For color, try snippets of leptospermum Ruby Glow, leucodendron ‘Safari Sunset’, camellia and rose buds and dry hydrangea flowers. Favorite berries are myrtus communis, texas privet, pepper berries, holly berries and nandina.

Take a few minutes to create a wreath or swag for your own home or to give away to friend and neighbors. It’s a fun way to celebrate the holidays.