Symbolic in traditions and religions predating Christmas, wreaths evoke for Cora Lee the soul-nourishing realm of nature.
"The garden is my spirit place," says Lee.
Wreaths were used in celebrations long before their first appearances at Christmas time.
With no beginning and no end, the circular or ring shape is symbolic of eternity or eternal life. Made from evergreen plants that last even through the harshest winters, wreaths also suggest strength.
In the Greco-Roman world, wreaths were adornments that could indicate a person's occupation, rank, achievements and status, which perhaps originated the custom of hanging wreaths on doors. Winners at the ancient Greek Pythian games, forerunner of the Olympic Games, were crowned with laurel wreaths, and Julius Caesar proclaimed the laurel wreath "a symbol of the supreme ruler."
Many cultures around the world use wreaths as celebratory headdresses, particularly for weddings. Christians adopted the wreath, decorated with candles, to illustrate the "Advent" or coming of Christ.
Materials and tools
for making wreaths
• Foliage and flowers: fresh, dried or imitation silk
• Wreath base: metal, foam, straw or natural twig or grapevine
• Wire: copper, steel or green-painted
• Floral pins and picks
• Garden shears and wire cutters
• Hot-glue gun
• Optional trimmings: including ribbons, feathers, imitation fruit, figurines or anything that strikes your fancy
The ancient custom of making wreaths, she says, is a way of extending the garden's beauty through the winter. It's also one of Lee's preferred ways for "sharing."
So Lee, a Jackson County master gardener, eagerly shares her wreath-making expertise with groups at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center in Central Point. A November class came just in time for fellow gardening enthusiasts and handicrafts fans.
"I think it lends itself well to creating handmade gifts for the season," says 70-year-old Diane Claypool of Talent. "I'm gonna give it a try."
Claypool remarked on how quickly Lee, 73, assembled a wreath in scarcely 30 minutes while 25 class participants looked on. The Medford resident married fresh evergreen boughs, ornamental berries and dried herbs from her own yard on a metal base, securing materials with florists' wire and the occasional dab of hot glue.
A watercolor artist, Lee says she likes to assign colors, shapes and other esthetic elements in groups of three, five or seven. Also varying the height of foliage, Lee produces asymmetrical pieces that more closely resemble nature than neat, precise arrangements.
"It's more about looking balanced to you than about being in order," says Lee.
If a piece of greenery looks out of place, it's easy to snip it out and rewire it elsewhere on the wreath, says Lee. If a certain section seems sparse and foliage is in short supply, camouflage the spot with a bow, sprig of holly, pine cone or other decorative item. The only true rule of wreaths, says Lee, is that foliage should all curve, overlapping, in the same direction.
"It's the kind of thing that anybody can do," says Lee. "To me, they're a base for expression."
Actual wreath bases made from metal, foam or straw can be purchased for a few dollars at craft-supply stores. It's more economical, but time-consuming, to bend natural twigs or grapevine and secure them with twine in a circular shape for the wreath base, says Lee.
She prefers to save her money by growing flowers and foliage for wreaths rather than purchasing those items. Citing the seed pods of "bread poppies" as an example, Lee says fewer than a dozen cost $4.50 at craft-supply stores while the home garden can produce hundreds of the self-seeding blossoms, which are dried with very little effort. An store-bought wreath, she adds, can range in price from $25 for a simple design to a hundreds for large ones created by florists.
"I see more homemade things and more appreciation for gifts made by people for people," says Lee.
Smitten with a local designer's peacock-feather wreath, Julie Taucher attended Lee's class in order to replicate the unconventional ornament displayed at Medford's annual Providence Festival of Trees. Before committing cash to costly feathers, however, Taucher decided to take a cue from Lee and use home-grown herbs in her first attempt.
"I'm gonna make a rosemary wreath," says the 56-year-old Central Point resident. "If it fails, I'll just stick it in the kitchen, and it'll smell good while I'm cooking."