Garlands and Grandma

My holiday china pattern is “Holiday Wreath,” offered in the “Holiday Gatherings” collection by Lenox.  I have always loved it, but it was only recently, during a phone conversation with my mother, that I realized why I chose it.  It reminds me of my grandmother, who taught me so much about gardening, including how to make fragrant holiday wreaths and garlands from fresh-cut greenery.

Grandma is no longer with us, but her home and lovely gardens remain.  Every Christmas, I make a special trip to Blountstown and cut greenery from her yard to use in my home.  It’s one of my favorite holiday traditions, and I’m happy to share with you my favorite “recipe” for fresh-cut holiday garlands, courtesy of my grandmother’s garden.

There are many evergreen shrub options in the typical Southern garden, and some of my favorites include juniper (very fragrant), pittosporum (variegated foliage that adds contrast and interest), holly (seasonal red berries), boxwood and magnolia leaves. All are hardy evergreens that can be handled and will last a long time with proper preparation and with the use of floral tubes to provide water.

My first step in making a handmade fresh garland is to cut a strip of yarn measured to the desired length of my finished garland.  For this example, I made a garland for my fireplace mantel, so the yarn is cut to the length of the mantel plus a few extra inches on each end for overhang.  This will be your design template. 

Next, venture to your yard, or your favorite foliage foraging locations, and cut your desired greenery and berries.  If you have your eye on a nice shrub in your neighbor’s yard, baked goods and a quick request for permission to gently prune usually works well–this I know from personal experience!  Take along a sturdy bucket with water to keep your greenery hydrated as you cut.  Cut a bit more than you think you’ll need; it’s much better to have a few extra sprigs than to not have enough, especially if your favorite foraging location is not close to home.

When you have your cut greenery, lay out your yarn template in a comfortable outdoor area.  Your greenery will likely be wet and some pieces may also be sticky, so I prefer to work with it outdoors to avoid an indoor clean-up job.   Start laying out a pattern of greenery that you like.  Be sure to overlap different greenery for interesting texture, and to ensure a full garland. Personally I enjoy symmetry in garland design—especially for a mantel—but there are no rules.  Do what you like! 

As your design comes together, tuck the stems in to floral tubes filled with water to keep your garland fresh.  If you are making a garland to hang, you’ll need to wire the greenery together with floral wire.  If you are making a mantel garland, you can skip the wiring step, and simply transfer your laid-out pattern section-by-section to your mantel. 

As a final step, tuck in decorative elements such as winter blooms (be sure to put them in a floral pick with water), pinecones or berries.  Camellias are beautiful in a garland, and they are in bloom now.  With a little hydration attention, you can enjoy your fresh garland all season long, and easily change or refresh your floral elements as you like for parties and events.