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Into the Garden: Lots of wire, and other wreath-making secrets

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.

Tips learned

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.

"Wire is my best friend," Janet said with a laugh.

She starts with a complete spool or card of thin, 22-gauge floral wire (around $2 for a spool that probably makes two wreaths) and keeps it intact, starting by securing it to the wire form. Wrapping and securing one bunch of greenery, then stopping and gathering another bunch of greenery, she then picks up the spool again, lays the next bunch of branches on top of the last, and wraps and secures it, continuing clockwise around the form. After securing each bunch, she will take her clippers and cut the woody stems back a bit to allow the next bunch of greenery to lay flat.

Janet said the last bunch of greenery is the toughest to add -- keeping the space free from the other bunches sometimes requires a helper.

At the end, she flips the entire wreath over and snips the wire, leaving a 6-inch tail that she secures to the wire frame.

The finished product is huge -- more than 3 feet across -- and lush.

Janet learned from the ladies in Spencer's Hills and Hollows Garden Club, who used to come to her location to make wreaths and teach the classes each year. Now, she takes their knowledge and shares it with others.

Janet teaches health-care classes three days a week at Mountwest Community and Technical College in Huntington while Stan runs the farm. They have a son, Luke, 13, who's in eighth grade at Walton Middle School.

If you are like me and need hands-on help making your holiday wreaths or garlands, Janet teaches classes at Still Meadows Farm.

Wreath-making classes will be held at noon Saturday, and at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3. Classes fill quickly, but Janet said she might add others if there is interest. The fee is $35, and that includes everything needed to make a large, fresh wreath.

Still Meadows Farm, 8426 Charleston Road, Walton, WV 25286; call 304-577-6249. Visit www.stillmeadowsfarm.com.

Putnam wreaths

West Virginia State University Extension Service is holding a holiday wreath and centerpiece-making workshop in conjunction with Putnam County Parks. The event will take place at 6 p.m. Dec. 6 in the Valley Park Community Center, Valley Park, Hurricane.

For a $20 fee, workshop participants will receive all the items needed to create their own wreath or centerpiece with hands-on instruction on technique, including how to find good materials directly from the landscape.

Registration is required. Call 304-562-0518, ext. 10.

Reach Sara Busse at sara.busse@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1249.


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