With a slant on foraging, Hannah Stephenson joins a Christmas wreath-making masterclass with a top floral school to find out how it’s done.
So often, we resort to spending money on Christmas wreaths each year which, if we did a bit of foraging in our own gardens, we could do ourselves.
“At the moment there is a strong pull towards what grows in the wild, along with a focus on sustainability,” explains Sophie Powell, principal at the world-renowned McQueens Flower School (mcqueens.co.uk) which is running ‘foraged and found’ wreath-making masterclasses in the run-up to Christmas.
With the basic raw ingredients, you too can create your own sustainable and inspiring design to adorn your front door, she insists.
So how can you do it?
Look in your garden
Take clippings from evergreens such as cypress, taxus and holly, making use of seasonal berries, and keep any Christmas tree clippings to re-use in the wreath. Ivy is also a good candidate, as are rosehips, seed pods, fallen acorns, fir cones and conkers. If you want to forage for bits and bobs from your local woodland or forest, check with your local authority first.
Invest in the basics
If you buy a metal frame, you’ll be able to use it year after year, says Powell. You’ll also need a spool of sturdy florist’s wire as well as either sphagnum moss or carpet moss to cover the frame.
Do this by adding clumps of moss and securing it by looping the wire around the frame as you go, until the whole frame is covered.
Ideally, the moss needs to be wet before you start adding the foliage and earthy additions to the wreath.
Add raw materials to get the look
Apples and oranges can be cut into circles and dried on a metal cooling rack over a baking tray in the oven on a really low setting for a few hours, while bunches of cinnamon sticks can be tied with hessian twine and then wired into the wreath.
If you don’t have time to dry your own fruit, you can buy bags of mixed dried fruit from good florists, garden centres and online suppliers. You may choose to also pick up some unusual seedpods, sprigs of berries and other natural-looking wreath additions which you can’t find in your garden.
Start the framework
Once you have all your ingredients ready, work out how big (and wide) you want your wreath to be, Powell advises. The larger the wreath, the longer the sprigs, as they will naturally branch out once you have secured them.
Cut out the hard graft
Using Powell’s simple technique, you won’t have to cover your moss framework with evergreen foliage to start with or secure the extra interest items such as berries and pine cones separately afterwards.
Gather small bunches of foliage – Powell recommends dried thyme, which doesn’t look anything on its own but works really well mixed with sprigs of evergreen foliage such as pine, fir and yew – in your hand.
As a rough guideline, the bunches could measure 15-30cm (6-12in) depending on the size of wreath you want but whichever size you choose, the length of each bunch should be about the same.
Eucalyptus strands will give the wreath a silver hue, complemented by lichen-encrusted branches. You can also add clumps of Spanish moss (tillandsia) to fill in any gaps. But keep the bunch in your hand with the stems at one end.
Secure the flora and fauna
Once you have your bunch of foliage, add to it by inserting wired pine cones, seed pods, dried fruits and berries into the bunch while you are still holding it, then place the bunch, stems down, on to the frame, wrapping the florists wire over the stems and around the frame twice, pulling tightly to secure.
Always start at what will be the top of your wreath, working backwards and anti-clockwise, so the stems of each bunch are underneath the foliage. Work your way around the frame, making up new bunches of the same length and overlapping the top of each new bunch with the base of the previous one, so you cannot see any moss, wire or stems.
Use the same roll of florist’s wire to tighten around each bunch and the frame as you go. Turn the frame with each bunch secured and check that it’s all around the same density and length.
If you want a more formal look, you might go for the rule of three or five, where each significant extra (such as cinnamon sticks or large seed pod) is added an equal distant apart and work in odd numbers – often three or five.
But for those who prefer natural informality, simply go your own way. It will turn out fine in the end.
And to finish…
When you get to the end, lift up the tips of the first bunch and ease the stems of the final bunch underneath them, so you can’t see the stems. Secure with wire. You don’t need to cut the wire until you finish the wreath.
Once you have filled your frame, wrap the wire around a final couple of times, cutting the wire so you have a long enough end to push through the moss and then twist the end around the looped wire so everything remains in place.
You can hang it on your door using a hook, or alternatively tie it over your letterbox knocker with natural-looking hessian ribbon.
Ideally you need to keep the moss frame damp to help the wreath last, so spritz it with water fairly frequently.
Once the festive season is over, the twigs can be composted and the added extras such as cinnamon sticks kept for another year. The metal frame can also be re-used year after year.