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Tell your story with a foraged wreath

“A wreathed garland of deservèd praise.”

— George Herbert, “The Wreath,” 1633

Several weeks ago, I wrote about foraging for fall flora in my garden in order to make seasonal arrangements. I had so much fun with this project that I decided to forage for greenery to make a holiday wreath for my front door.

In fact, hanging evergreen wreaths has been a tradition since the ancient Greeks crowned war heroes and victorious athletes with bay laurel leaves as symbols of strength and endurance. Proud recipients of the wreaths hung them on their door as trophies for all to admire.

I’m not a war hero or a star athlete, but I like the idea of making a holiday wreath that tells a story. This year, my wreath tells a story about the woodland property that Jerry and I recently bought just south of Bandon. This was a big step for us because it marks a long-term commitment to plant ourselves in Southern Oregon after we retire. That’s worth a story wreath, I think.

Before embarking on my foraging expedition, I spoke with Alice Mullaly of the Southern Oregon Historical Society. Alice and her team of SOHS volunteers have many years of experience foraging for greenery at Hanley Farm for their annual holiday wreath-making event. Here are some tips Alice shared:

Start by gathering long, supple plant stems that can be used for the wreath base. Grapevines cut into 8- to 10-foot lengths and stripped of leaves are ideal; however, Alice said they’ve also had success using stems of red twig dogwood, willow, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper and Russian olive, as well as young lilac, apple, plum and chokecherry stems.

Wrap the stems around three times to make a circular shape that is 15 to 18 inches in diameter. Then use another stem to hold everything together; tuck the end of the stem in between the base layers. Allow the base to dry out so it becomes sturdier before attaching the greenery to it.

The next step is foraging for evergreen branches to arrange around the base. Alice and her team gather evergreen boughs from trees at Hanley Farm and their homes. These include Douglas fir, Ponderosa pine, Colorado blue spruce, incense cedar, juniper and bay laurel. Branches with berries are also gathered from holly and pyracantha (firethorn) shrubs.

Take the cuttings from trees in the morning and soak them overnight in water. Then cut the greenery into 4- to 6-inch sections and secure the stems to the wreath base with thin wire. Layer the sections so the plant stems and wire are hidden.

Wreaths can be made with stems of one type of evergreen or a mixture; for example, cedar and spruce make an attractive and fragrant combination. If you don’t have any conifers available, then dried herbs and flowers, succulents, moss and cones, nuts and seedpods can be used instead. Let your imagination and the story you want to tell guide you in adorning your wreath with foraged materials.

There are lots of conifers on our land in Bandon, including western red cedar, Sitka spruce and Douglas fir. I used some young, flexible cedar branches to make the wreath base, and tied them together with surprisingly sturdy leaf stems of some of the largest western sword ferns growing on our property.

The conifer stems created a pretty combination of evergreens to top the wreath base. I also gathered some foliage of native understory evergreens — huckleberry, sword fern and salal. I even collected a few leaves of a large Pacific rhododendron in anticipation of its bright pink flowers next spring.

My story wreath would not be complete without a few stems of the gorse that Jerry and I spent much of the summer clearing. Right now, the thorny, incredibly invasive evergreen shrub is showing off its cheerful yellow flowers, and they add color to the wreath. I also used some dried Scotch broom seedpods. For me, their rattling in the afternoon wind marked the change of seasons along the Southern Oregon coast.

I agree with poet George Herbert that wreaths are “garlands of deserved praise.” If you don’t have time or the inclination to forage for your wreath, then be sure to avail yourself of the greenery foraged by SOHS volunteers for this year’s holiday wreath-making activities.

The event is geared for the whole family and takes place from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, at Hanley Farm, 1053 Hanley Road in Central Point. Wreath kits will be available for $15, which include a grapevine base, greens, berries and ribbon. For more information, see the SOHS website at www.sohs.org.

Rhonda Nowak is a Rogue Valley gardener, teacher and writer. For more about gardening, visit her blog at: http://blogs.esouthernoregon.com/theliterarygardener/.

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