Wreaths can show what you grow
Use cuttings from your yard to create a natural - and inexpensive - wreath for the holidays.
By Yvonne Swanson, Special to the Times
Published December 1, 2007
IF YOU GO
Good enough to eat
Julie Feeley will teach you how to create edible vegetable wreaths at 11:30 a.m. today at Sunken Gardens. She also will demonstrate how to make vegetables carved to look like flowers, perfect for a centerpiece.
The workshop is free with admission to the gardens: $8 adults, $6 ages 55 and older, $4 children younger than 11. For information, call (727) 551-3102. Sunken Gardens is at 1825 Fourth St. N, St. Petersburg.
This may go down as the year of the shocking pink Christmas tree and glittery balls and baubles, but if bling's not your thing, why not display holiday decorations created from natural materials instead?
Florida gardeners have it made, thanks to countless plants and flowers in our yards that easily do double-duty to decorate our homes for the holidays.
Look around your yard, and you'll find an outdoor floral shop ready for cutting. Consider hardy evergreens, including magnolia, pine, holly, schefflera, cypress, fern, jasmine, juniper, pittosporum, boxwood, holly, ivy, ligustrum, nandina, pine and viburnum.
For a tropical flair, choose schefflera, heliconia, xanadu philodendron, bird of paradise, anthurium, bromeliads and eucalyptus. Most tropical blooms are known for their staying power after they're cut.
Don't forget pine cones, acorns, beauty berry, holly and other berries, magnolia and other seed pods, and even the small fruits on palms. They add texture and color to natural holiday decorations. A beautiful, fragrant touch is the waxy red pine cone produced by pine cone ginger. Seashells also work nicely in a natural arrangement.
Test the durability of your cuttings before adding them to a decoration - and give them a hydrating boost - by placing freshly cut stems in a container of water for several hours or overnight. If any look wilted, toss them into the compost pile.
National master flower show judge Jan Stoffels grows a variety of plants just for cutting in her St. Petersburg yard. A seasoned floral arranger who retired here with her husband 10 years ago, she is an expert at creating natural holiday decorations. She created the wreath pictured here from home-grown plants and a dropped palm frond found in her neighborhood.
The inspiration for the wreath came from a bleeding-heart vine in her yard, Stoffels said. "When I saw this wonderful vine, I thought I'd make a wreath out of it," she said. "I twisted it around and around, and if it had a little quirk here and there, I'd use it because that's part of nature. The thing I like about it is that it is not perfection like the grapevine wreath you would buy in the store."
Other vines - look for stems about 1/4inch in diameter - can be used, such as alamanda and wisteria, Stoffels said, but avoid vines with thorns, such as bougainvillea. "It's beautiful, but a very unfriendly plant."
Stoffels advises shaping the wreath immediately after cutting fresh green vine stems. If stems are dry, soak them in a bucket of water for several hours to improve their pliability. Shape the vines into a circle, using wire as needed. "Most of these vines have a bend to them. You want to be on the same team with it. If it wants to bend in one direction, let it help you. Don't fight it."
Leave the vine wreath natural, or spray it with a gloss or eggshell lacquer or spray paint. Next, add accent plant material by using a hot glue gun or by dipping cuttings into a pan filled with melted glue. Stoffels buys glue in blocks and melts it in an old frying pan. Depending on the plant material, you may want to use wire to secure it to the wreath.
Stoffels' wreath includes cuttings of the waxy succulent sedum, nandina stems loaded with reddish berries, wax myrtle stems covered in tiny silvery berries, bronze-hued crypanthus rosettes and green leaves from the Amazon or Brazilian Golden creeping vine (Stigmaphyllon ciliatum). It's finished with a bow made from the boot, or the base of a frond, from a royal palm, which Stoffels found near home. You can use fronds from many palms; just be sure to use rigid plant material that will hold the shape.
Using a razor blade (you could also use a box cutter), Stoffels made a cut into one of the natural grooves of the boot, then pulled the 1/4- to 1/2-inch wide strip of green flesh along the frond. Shape the strip into a loose bow and tightly wire it in place because the green frond will shrink when it dries.
Your natural wreath should last through the holiday season, although it will weather and some of the plant material will change color over time. Just the way Mother Nature intended.
Yvonne Swanson is a freelance writer in St. Petersburg and a master gardener for Pinellas County.