(This article is excerpted from the Midsummer Packet, available in our Store!)
Until I bought a copy of Elizabeth Jane Lloyd's The Enchanted Circle, I did not think I had the ability to create a wreath. All my attempts were pitiful things, limp and disheveled with bits and pieces sticking out here and there. Looking at the photographs of the gorgeous wreaths Lloyd created I was inspired. Reading her directions on how to create a wreath, I recognized that it was a craft, like baking, which is best done when following directions. Although I know people who can bake a cake from scratch without a recipe, I am not one of them.
I failed to realize, in my early attempts, that a wreath needs a firm base. The base serves as the framework for the decorative material. You then match the delicacy of the materials to the appropriate base. There are many materials you can use for a wreath base but here are the three most common:
You can make a wire wreath by bending an old coat hanger into a circle, which has the benefit of providing a hook at the top. You can also use various strengths of wire you buy at a hardware store. Two circles of wire joined can provide a strong framework for heavy materials, like evergreens. Very thin florist's wire should be used for a more ethereal wreath, for instance, for making a chaplet of orange blossoms. To hide the wire base, you might want to wrap the wire with ribbon or florist's tape. The one disadvantage of a wire wreath is that you cannot throw it on the Summer Solstice bonfire because of all the wire it contains.
When working with a wire base you will probably be adding materials in clusters. You can gather a group of flowers, or pieces of greenery, and place them against the wire frame, then use a thin, supple florist's wire to hold them in place. Don't cut the wire, but overlap the join with another cluster of flowers or greens, and continue wrapping your way around the frame.
In some wreaths, materials are arranged in a continuous circle, with all the clusters facing the same direction. To finish this sort of wreath you just need to tuck the join of the end cluster under the first cluster. In other wreaths, you might work down both sides to have the clusters meet at the bottom. With this arrangement, you will end up with a bare spot which you can cover with a ribbon or a rosette of your materials.
Wire wreaths, because they are usually delicate, tend to be used for light materials, like feathers or ivy or snowdrops. You can use a sturdy piece of wire and thread it directly through chilis (leaving them lengthwise) or apples to create interesting wreaths.
I love using vines for a wreath base since it makes the wreath totally organic. Honeyscukle, wisteria and grapevine are the usual vines used for wreaths. If you can find fresh materials, twine them into a circle and let them dry. If you've purchased or been given vines that aren't fresh, soak them in water until they're pliable and can be shaped.
When working with a vine base, you can often tuck the flowers and leaves into the many nooks and crannies in the wreath, without using wire or tape. If you want to use a fastening device, but be able to keep the wreath organic, use raffia or string. For a truly organic binding device, I use bindweed (morning glory). When picked fresh, it retains that elastic, spiraling quality that makes it such a menace in the garden.
Janet Lloyd uses vine bases for wreaths featuring hops, lime twigs and leaves, rose hips, berries, jasmine, roses and freesias. I tuck freshly picked hydrangea blossoms into my vine base, then add more to fluff it up as the first blossoms dry and shrivel in size.
Straw makes a sturdier but heavier base. You can buy straw wreaths at most craft stores or make one yourself by wrapping straw in a circular form and binding it with string or straw. The advantage of a straw base is that you can spike things into the straw, either using florist's picks (sort of like bobby pins for flowers) or the stems of your plant materials. You can also use a glue gun to affix items but then your wreath will be permanent, whereas the other items can be removed when you want to change your wreath.
Lloyd uses straw bases for wreaths featuring dried flax and sandalwood flowers, dried herbs and flowers, dried poppy heads and bunches of wheat, oats and barley. Straw serves as an appropriate backdrop in both color and feel for these items. Lloyd also shows a very dramatic and effective wreath made by gathering several strands of straw into three thick strands and plaiting these into one thick braided wreath.
It is, of course, possible to make a wreath completely out of natural materials (think daisy chain) but these tend to have the same floppy nature as a daisy chain. Lloyd also shows examples of wreaths made by gluing dried flowers or seashells on a cardboard base; plaiting the stems of onions or garlic into a circle, and placing live plants in a circle of sphagnum moss.
I like to challenge myself to make wreaths for each seasonal holiday using only items I can find within a few blocks of my home. This keeps me aware of all the changes in vegetation in my neighborhood, constantly scanning for the materials for my next wreath.