Julie's handmade wreath

Julie’s handmade wreath

During the spring and summer, my cousin Julie runs a one-woman plant business on the farm in the Peak District of Derbyshire that our grandfather passed down to her father, my dad’s youngest brother.  She grows plants from seed and sells them to campers on the farm and people at a local car boot sale.  But in December all she does is make Christmas wreaths–80 of them!  She’s already done 67, with just 13 to go.

And what lovely wreaths they are!  Every part of them, except for the piece of wire onto which she affixes the hay that forms the base of the wreath, comes from the farm.

Here’s how she makes her wreaths.  First, she gets the fixin’s.

Julie cuts sprigs off a holly bush.

Occasionally she has to go higher.

She’s lucky in that yew trees and holly grow on the farm, but if you want to make your own wreaths, it’s possible to find yew and sprigs of holly in a wood, buy them from a gardening center, or ask a local farmer if you can trim some of his or her yew and holly.  You can most likely find some close to the ground, but because Julie needs a relatively large quantity, she has to use a ladder to get the variety she needs.

Julie has managed to amass three large plastic bags, one containing yew boughs, the second regular holly and holly berries, the third variegated holly.

A bag of holly and holly berries.

She starts with a circle made of wire that she buys from a gardening website, then, she gets a bale of hay from the hay barn, pulls out a good wodge of it, then wraps the hay around the wire, securing it with thick string so it looks like this:

A single hay-wrapped circle on the left, a stack of them on the right.  The sweet smell of  hay brings back memories of hay-making last summer.

Julie inserts the yew boughs into the circle of hay, overlapping the yew as she goes around the circle, but keeping them towards the outside of the circle so the hole in the center doesn’t get covered.

She pushes the yew boughs as far as possible into the hay–not as easy as it might sound.

On the left, a view of the front of the wreath with the yew, on the right, a view from the back.

Then, with the yew in place, she adds an inner circle of holly, either regular or variegated, depending how much she has available.  The holly boughs can be quite thick, so it’s best to cut them at an angle so they will go more easily into the tightly wrapped hay.

She makes an inner circle with the holly, going the opposite way to the way she put in the yew (going clockwise with the holly if she put in the yew counter-clockwise, and vice versa).

The second layer of holly is almost complete.  For this task, Julie wears heavy gloves–anyone who has worked with holly knows it’s very prickly.

Once the regular holly is inserted, she adds sprigs of variegated holly, holly berries, and even artificial poinsettias for additional color.

Then–and this is key–she puts the wreath in a bath of water to get the hay thoroughly soaked. This is especially critical for wreaths on doors; less so for wreaths on graves that will benefit from rain (at least in the typical English winter climate). In this photo, Julie has put two wreaths to soak in one tub.

Soak the wreaths overnight in a tub of water.

And voila!  Two magnificent, hand-made wreaths using natural material from the farm.