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Wreaths to ring in the season

Turn garden clippings into holiday decor. Save money, and maybe a relationship.

November 10, 2005|Tony Kienitz | Special to The Times

MAKE a wreath, save your marriage. Sure, it's just a bunch of twigs and pods looped together and hung on the front door. But the seasonal wreath can do more for a relationship in 15 minutes than Dr. Phil can do in, well, 16 minutes.

See if you recognize this holiday scenario: People are coming to your house. After 96 hours of scrubbing and straightening, you the gardener have finished your duties. The chef, however, is still elbow-deep in cranberry stuffing.

Turn on the pre-game show and you might as well book an appointment with a counselor. But if you announce, "Honey, I am going to make a wreath now," you will be released with an appreciative grin.

Outside, with clippers at the ready, this is what you do: Casually snip off sunset-red rose hips from over the fence. Gather long stems of aromatic rosemary. Harvest silvery eucalyptus leaves. Take the cuttings to the porch, where you'll secure them to a wire frame with thin 24-gauge wire. Arrange everything just so, and after about 15 minutes your basic wreath will be good as gravy.

Of course, you can make this project more complicated. "Any dried seed heads such as yarrow and eucalyptus, pepper, privet or juniper berries all make great ornaments for your wreath," says Scott Daigre of Powerplant Garden Design. "Make little handful-sized bouquets, bind them together and then shingle these bouquets all around the wreath form. For the base foundation of the wreath, look for boxwood branches or olive or bay." Leptospermum, westringia, pine or juniper all work nicely as well.

Brian Sullivan, Descanso Gardens' horticultural supervisor, points out that the wreath's frame can be made of cuttings.

"Those long whip canes from the Lady Banks' Rose are perfect," he says. " Gaura 'Siskiyou' is another great plant." He too recommends using seedpods from trees such as liquidambar, cassia and tabebuia.

Succulents such as Senecio serpens make fine living wreaths. They require a special frame in which to "plant" cuttings, but much of the material often can be taken from your garden, says John Trager, desert collections curator at the Huntington gardens.

Trager likes to use showy succulents including Sedum rubrotinctum, better known as Pork and Beans, and Echeveria 'Pulv-Oliver,' with its fuzzy leaves and red blush. "We use any small, colorful, rosette-forming succulent in our wreaths," Trager says.

For those who prefer using garden clippings, remember Sullivan's most important tip: Plan for the greenery to shrink.

"You'll wire your material down tight, and a week later it's loose and falling apart," he says. "If you can, let it dry first before tying it to the frame." Consider shrinkage a bonus: It gives you an excuse to revisit the wreath and spruce it up the next time you need to escape the house.

Tony Kienitz is the author of "The Year I Ate My Yard."



A holiday lesson

Seasonal wreaths can be inexpensive projects using clippings and castoffs from the garden. For more elaborate techniques, look to classes taught by local experts.

Descanso: First class at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 with floral designer Ray Tucker; members, $20; nonmembers, $25; plus $30 materials fee. Registration required. Second class at 10 a.m. Dec. 10 with Descanso horticultural supervisor Brian Sullivan; $10 materials fee. No registration required, but supplies are limited and provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Bring gloves, wire cutters and pruners, if you have them. Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge. (818) 949-7980.

Huntington: 3 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15 with instructor John Trager, curator of desert collections; members, $45; nonmembers, $55. Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, San Marino. Registration: (626) 405-2146.

Arboretum: 10 a.m. Dec. 14 with Marla Carter; members, $20; nonmembers, $25. Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden, Arcadia. Registration: (626) 821-4624.

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