WALTON, W.Va. -- I've tried to make my own natural Christmas wreaths with limited success. So I went to Walton to visit an expert, and I learned some great tips and techniques.
Janet Smith owns Still Meadows Farm with her husband, Stan. The 65-acre working farm features a greenhouse, garden center and gift shop 30 miles north of Charleston. Cows, horses, sheep, donkeys and farm dogs greet visitors on the gravel drive. Janet and Stan live in the 100-plus-year-old farmhouse. We walked through the gift shop, next door, which is filled with West Virginia handcrafted items. Note to self: Return for Christmas shopping soon.
Between the shop and the greenhouse, there's a space that's filled in spring and summer with annuals, flowering baskets, perennials and then, in the fall, mums. After the growing season it's empty, and Janet uses it for her wreath-making classes.
She had a table with inexpensive (under $2) 12-inch wire wreath forms, floral wire, garden clippers and wire cutters.
Surrounding the table are piles of different species of evergreens and interesting dried plants -- white pine, hemlocks, cedar, white pine cones, holly, hydrangea, sumac, field grasses. Once, she saw a weed that had grown in the garden and dried to an interesting color.
"I told Stan, 'Oh, don't brush hog yet -- I can use that in wreaths!' I use scraps of trees, weeds, all of the scraggly looking stuff."
Most of the wreath-making supplies come from the farm. The dogs keep Stan company as he forages for greenery for Janet's projects.
"My wife says, 'You go out and find everything in the woods and fields that looks like a wreath,'" he said, smiling.
The golden hinoki cypress 'Crippsii' comes from an unlikely source, however.
"We trimmed the trees at the post office -- the postmaster is a friend, and they just know we're coming. They count on us to trim the trees. It's a win for both of us," Stan said. Likewise, they have been known to trim shrubs for neighbors, for friends, and for the local school.
The two main tips I came away with are both quite simple and obvious, but I think I'm craft-challenged, so they were revelations to me. I'll detail the whole process below, but here are my two takeaways from my wreath session with Janet.
1. Place each new bunch of greenery on top of the last bunch. I've always tried to tuck the next bunch behind the last bunch, which is much harder. I needed to see a "finished" product as I worked, but placing the "unfinished" portions on top of the last portion is much easier.
2. Use a continuous piece of floral wire. I've always cut pieces and attached each bunch separately. Using a continuous piece of wire made for less twisting, less knot-tying, less fumbling.