You can make a wreath with plant material only or add a little color with ribbon or small decorative items like bells or ornaments.
For the base of the wreath, you can purchase a frame or make your own. I have used prunings from my climbing roses, but other vines can work as well, such as grapevine canes. Thin, flexible stems are easier to bend into a wreath than rigid canes. Small flexible tree branches can also serve as the base of your wreath.
Choose plants with sturdy or stiff leaves that will look nice for a long time and not wilt. Many conifers are a good choice but test them first. Some, like spruce, will drop their leaves. Other plants that work well are willow, olive, eucalyptus, nandina, euonymus and bay laurel (Laurusnobilis).
If you plan to give your wreath away or suspect the wreath may leave the Bay Area, don't use camellias, oaks or California bay laurel (Umbellulariacalifornica).These plants can spread the disease known as sudden oak death, and their movement is restricted. Napa County, other Bay Area counties and coastal counties from Humboldt to Monterey are infested with this disease. Plant material from any infested county should not be moved to a non-infested county. For more information and maps of infested counties, consult www.suddenaokdeath.org.
Once you have collected your greens, soak them in water for 30 minutes, then let dry. This bath will keep the greens fresh longer and remove dirt and insects.
To make your base, weave the longer branches into a circle. Use green floral wire to keep the ends together or use a commercial wire frame. If using a wire frame, cut your greens into four- to six-inch pieces. Gather small bunches of greens, like a small bouquet, and attach them to the frame with green floral wire. Use each new bunch to cover the stems of the last, working around the frame until it is covered. Cover the last set of stems with an accent piece or bow.
Once you have finished the base, add accent pieces. These can be tucked into the greens, wired on or glued on. The best method depends on the item and how heavy or fragile it is. Grass flower heads or little bunches of dried herbs can be wired together, then tucked or wired into the greens. Cones or slightly heavier items are best attached with wire. To attach acorns, dried flowers, small bows or other small ornaments, use a hot glue gun. Some items can be tricky to attach but are worth a try. Add sparkle with spray-on “snow” or glitter.
Scout your garden for plants that have interesting textures or colors that will brighten your wreath. Consider fresh or dried flowers and herbs, small dried vegetables such as red chilies, seed pods, cones, sturdy berries, colored twigs or stems. I have even used a small bird nest that I found while cutting back an overgrown shrub. From my garden this year, I will be using dried hydrangeas, grasses, lavender and marjoram as well as dried sage, rose hips and lots of acorns. For most acorns, the caps need to be glued on or they will fall off.
To hang, identify the spot on your wreath that you want at top center. That's the 12 o'clock position. Turn the wreath over and locate what would be 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock on a clock face. Attach the two ends of a strong wire or ribbon to the main frame in those spots. The wire or ribbon must be long enough to reach 12 o'clock, the hang spot, when attached. Make sure the wire or ribbon is strong enough to support your wreath and strongly attached to the main frame.
Workshop: Napa County Master Gardeners will conduct a workshop on “Creating Wreaths from Your Garden” on Sunday, December 7, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. Learn which plants from your garden make good wreaths. Learn how to choose and prepare plant materials, and tips and tricks for designing and making easy wreaths for the holidays and beyond. Using materials and supplies provided, participants will create their own wreath to take home. To register, call the Parks & Recreation Department at 707-944-8712 or visit its website.
Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. Napa County Master Gardeners ( http://ucanr.org/ucmgnapa/) are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.