The art of the wreath

    11 December 2018

    Sumptuous, clementine-scented wreaths are everywhere this Christmas, often selling for the price of a small car. Don’t give in to the allure of the high-end price tag and worry not if all the best wreath-making courses are booked up. A simple bit of scrumping in a nearby park or hedgerow will equip you with all you need to make one of your own at home.

    The wreath has a long tradition, extending back to the ancient Greeks, where the diadema was worn on the head, signifying royal or spiritual significance. The Ancient Romans were in on the act too, crowning the heads of their heroes with laurel wreaths. Over in Scandinavia, lighted candles were placed around a wheel as form of winter prayer to ask the god of light to turn the wheel of the earth back towards the sun.

    By the Middle Ages, Christians had adapted these traditions as part of their preparation for Christmas. Each element of the wreath had its own symbolism: candles for Christ as the light of the world; evergreens signifying eternal life; laurel the victory over suffering and persecution and holly, of course, a prickly reminder at Jesus’ birth of the crown of thorns and the death he had to face. And so it is that our own word wreath comes from the Old English writhan meaning to make into coils.

    Today, typically, there are two types of wreath: those hung outside on doors and those laid inside, often with candles, on tables or mantelpieces (and occasionally, down bannisters, preferably minus the candles). Here’s a simple how-to so you can furnish your home with a wreath of your own.

    What you need

    Before you start, you have to make a practical decision: will you go for the eco-friendly moss and wire ring option, or the quick and convenient (and bought) foam-backed oasis wreath? (The latter not decomposing any time soon…) To make your moss ring, you need to have a spool of florist or gardening wire and a sack of moss – grabbing large handfuls at a time and wrapping with wire – make a long fat sausage which you then bend round into a ring of your chosen circumference.

    Now the fun begins. Find a friendly forest, thick hedgerow or bountiful park, and go foraging: ’tis the season to be scrumping! Arm yourself discreetly with a pair of secateurs and a large broad bag. You will need to source a minimum of three different types of greenery – perhaps a large-leafed, bright green laurel (about 3 leaves for each spray), a conifer or pine for a fluffier needles texture, and most useful of all wild plants, the ivy. This is the florist forager’s best friend as it has something to offer at every time of year. Gloriously, pre-Christmas, it has the most convenient baubles of black bobbled fruit, as well as the odd delicate yellow early flower. If you snip a minimum of 25 stems (roughly the length of a ruler or slightly less) of each, you should have enough.

    How to make

    Once home, set yourself up at a table or kitchen bench. Working rhythmically and methodically, with one variety at a time, pull the lower buds or leaves off and cut to length at an angle, leaving a clean short stalk and push into the ring at a slight angle.

    As if you were icing a cake, rotate the wreath about 5-10 cm after each addition, and always in the same direction and push in your next spray; keep on repeating, so that the effect is of a green catherine wheel. Then go over it again, pushing in the second foliage type using exactly the same technique, filling in gaps and turning all the way round. Repeat for the third type, the aim is to get consistent movement and even coverage of the wreath. One of the few rules here is that no one wants to see a bare “bottom” grinning through.

    How to garnish

    The wreath will already look spectacular enough to hang, but now comes the garnish: try a judicious use of something ornamental like berries, clementines, limes, dried orange slices, or even flirtations feathers or bright flower heads. The best technique is to do these in threes or fives or sevens – putting them at equal intervals around the wreath.

    Finish with a bow and hang with ribbon or fishing wire from a nail or drawing pin pushed in to the top edge of your front door. Stand back and admire – so will your guests.