Winter décor and evergreens seem to go hand in hand. Ever thought to wonder why? Besides the fact that evergreens are often the only sign of life in an otherwise cold, dormant world, they have long been a symbol of life and health. Filling our homes with fragrant pine boughs follows in the footsteps of ancient cultures—all over the world for thousands of years, green plants have been used in solstice celebrations.
Traditionally, the oil and resin of fir trees have been used for their antiseptic properties, and bringing boughs into the home can help freshen and disinfect the air, protecting against respiratory illness—an added bonus in the months when we find ourselves gathered in warm, close spaces. Winding evergreens into circlets or wreaths not only brings this breath of fresh air inside where it will be most appreciated, but the shape represents the circle of life—a potent symbol at the solstice celebrating the returning of the light.
Tempted to craft your own winter décor?
We mined CMBG horticulturist Diane Walden’s 30+ years’ experience for some tips for decorating with evergreens. Walden advises gathering what you can from your own backyard as well as from wild, public spaces. Living as we do in the Pine Tree State, this is a relatively easy task and ensures that the wreaths we make are sustainable and very local.
If this is a project you’d like to take on, start now, says Walden—the earlier the better. Look around your property before the snow comes and pick up any windfalls. Pine cones, branches, rosehips, dried flower heads, seed pods, lichen, moss and berries all make wonderful additions to your wreath. If you gather them now and hang them to dry, they’ll be ready for holiday crafting.
“You can definitely start scoping out potential cuts. For example, hydrangea is perfect to cut early—but it’s best to cut evergreens only after we’ve had three nights of below-freezing temperatures,” advises Walden.
To make your wreath:
- For easy assembly, build your wreath on a wire frame. A well-cared for frame can last you many years. You’ll also need floral wire for attaching your greens to the frame.
- Gather roughly eight pounds of greenery, cut 6-8” in length.
- Take three to five pieces of your plant material, securing them in what’s called a hand—think of it as a mini pine bouquet. “This is the building block of wreath-making,” says Walden. “The larger the wreath, the larger the hand. I typically do oversized hands that make for a shaggier, more wild, more natural wreath.”
- Attach a hand to the frame by wrapping the lower 1/2-1/3 of the individual bundle three times with your wire and pull tight. After you tie one hand to the frame, tie the next one 2-3” from the last. Keep going, overlapping your hands, until your frame is full.
- Walden suggests alternating hands of different greens or using hands made up of mixed greens—experiment to see what feels right.
- Once your frame is full (and don’t worry about so-called “perfection” here), you can weave in your add-ons. Mix up your vegetation (rosemary makes a wonderful wreath addition, as does juniper, cedar, or holly). This is the time to add your dried branches, flowers, seed heads, nuts, berries, seashells, or even a favorite ornament or two. One addition, however, that Walden advises against? “Bittersweet—it’s invasive and I hate to promote an invasive plant like that.”
- To make your wreath last all season, hang it in a cooler section of your house and mist it occasionally with water to avoid drying and dropped needles.
- You can make your wreath one- or two-sided. “Rarely does one have to make a two-sided wreath,” notes Walden. “It’s all about where it’s going—is it going to hang on a wall or solid door? Then one-sided is all you need. If it’s hanging from a glass storm door by a hanger, and if you’re planning to leave the interior door open to view the wreath from both sides, only then would you really want a two-sided wreath.”
- Want to tackle a two-sider? Then every time you tie a hand to your frame, flip your ring over and tie another to the back.
If you’ve gathered an enormous amount of greenery (or you just want to keep crafting), try filling a decorative basket with evergreen boughs and some of your add-ins. Prop the basket on a table or hang it on your door or above the mantel. For a smaller-scale creation, try bouquets of greenery—glass or ceramic wall vases make perfect vehicles for your leftover boughs.
Still have some extras? Think outside the box(wood)—in lieu of a bow, greenery also makes great gift toppers.
And after the holidays? “Whip on some suet blocks and hang your wreath outside for the birds. When the greens become unsightly, unwind the floral wire to disassemble your wreath,” Walden advises. Greens can be composted or tossed into the woods to decompose naturally.