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FURNISHINGS : Dried Flowers Blossom in Easy-to-Make Christmas Wreaths : Herb and branch-and-berry arrangements are another way to spice up the home.


Dried flowers are experiencing something of an image overhaul this year.

Once thought of as frumpy, dumpy leftovers, stuffed ingloriously into dusty baskets, today they are finding themselves center stage in beautiful, elaborate arrangements and wreaths--all made possible through the use of techniques as ancient as the Pharaohs.

This Christmas the dried flower renaissance begins in earnest.

"If there's one type of wreath making a big splash this Christmas it will be the dried wreath," predicts Barbara Milo Ohrobach, owner of Cherchez, the trend-setting home furnishings store in Manhattan, and who was recently in Fullerton to promote several of her books.

"The delightful thing about dried flowers is that they enable us to enjoy the lushness and beauty of live flowers all year long. In the dead of winter, when a large floral variety is tough to find, you can take all the leaves and blossoms you dried the summer before. I find the best way to utilize dried flowers in winter and during the holidays is in festive, unique Christmas wreaths."

There are many kinds of wreaths you can make but three work especially well: flower wreaths, which are overstuffed, colorful and rich-looking; herb wreaths made from a variety of textured leaves and monochromatic colors; and branch-and-berry wreaths, using bark, branches, twigs, berries, fruits and sometimes even vegetables.

All wreaths are made basically the same way.

Herb wreaths are made from a straw form (about $2 or $3) available at craft stores. Finished wreaths are 2 to 4 inches larger than the form; choose the size accordingly. Straw forms will be wrapped in wire and ready to go.

You'll need sprigs of four different dried herbs, each 5 inches long. Group together opal basil, silver king artemisia, parsley and sage; or for a color contrast combination use lamb's ears, rosemary, silver lace artemisia and tansy.

Start with the lightest color herb, arranging several sprigs, stems outward, to make a curved row circling the form, as if you are wrapping the herbs around the formlike ribbons. Use florist pins to attach the herbs.

Create a second and third row with the rest of the herbs so that the three rows are equidistant from each other. Be sure to keep all sprigs curving in the same direction and to overlap the sprigs to hide the pins.

Using the same technique, make three rows each of the next two darker herbs, then do the same for the darkest herb. You should now have 12 rows on the form. Now attach a wire loop to the back of the wreath and hang.

A dried branch-and-berry wreath can look traditional or avant-garde.

There are lots of berries to choose from: red holly berries, juniper confers, black ivy berries, mistletoe and privet berries. Add fruits and small vegetables such as apples, pomegranates, chilies, peppers and crab apples.

For the wood elements, use red bark dogwood, curly willow, pussy willow, larch branches, catkin, cone-studded larch twigs, kerria, oak, birch, hornbeam, beech horse chestnut or ash. Yellow dogwood, red-barked alder and red-golden and purple barked dogwood add sharp color.

Because branches and woods vary in brittleness and flexibility, you will have to experiment when making your wreath. Follow the same circular building scheme, and attach the pieces with fast-drying glue.

The same construction methods apply to floral wreaths. You'll need some craft wire for attaching the greens, and self-adhesive floral tape.

Pick a variety of dried background greens with stems. These will cover the front and sides of the wreath form and should be flexible. Good choices include silver king artemisia, sage, boxwood, eucalyptus, honeysuckle, Spanish moss, princess pine and lamb's ears.

Your dried flower heads could be peony, anemone, rose, larkspur, tansy, yarrow, statice, cornflower, lily, iris, lavender, hollyhock, calla lily or tulips.

Layer the greens around the front of the form, wrapping and anchoring them with wire. Add another layer of greens and circle the form until it's completely covered.

Place the dried flower heads around the wreath, then glue each flower gently and press onto the greens. To keep the wreath from looking stiff, place the flowers in random directions and at slightly different depths.

To add years to the life of a wreath, avoid placing it in direct sunlight or in a humid room. Dust it gently with an artist's soft, watercolor brush, and store it in an airtight container with a handful of silica gel to absorb moisture. Place the container in a dark, cool closet.

Although dried wreaths generally last a long time, they won't last forever. When a wreath looks faded or even slightly bedraggled, discard everything but the wreath form, and start again.

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