Winter is upon us and it may seem like there isn’t much for a gardener to do. No weeding, nothing to plant, no flowers to pick. But last year’s garden may still contain remnants which, with a little imagination, can create something pleasing to look at.
I went to my garden at the beginning of winter to see what dry flowers were still standing after cleaning my garden. I saw enough to work on. I picked out many items and set them aside to make winter wreaths and arrangements.
I like crowns. In the past I have made them to decorate an outdoor space such as a blank wall or doorway. Instead of using a wire wreath shape like many people do with evergreen wreaths, I used vines to create the basic shape of my wreath. You can also.
Go to a wooded area and look for vines climbing a tree. Vines are common in hardwood forests, but they often strangle trees, so removing them is actually a good thing to do. Cut a 15 foot length of vine that is about as thick as your ring finger. It is important to use living and not dead vines. Live vines are greenish-white inside and supple. Dead vines are brittle, brown and unsuitable.
Start by forming a vine circle about 14 to 16 inches in diameter by overlapping (or twisting) one half of the vine over the other half – the same way you would start tying your shoelaces. Grab one of the free ends and weave it around the vine circle in loops, top and bottom, tightening it as you go. Take the other end of the vine and weave it around the circle.
The great thing about this vine wreath is that you can simply slide dry flower stems between the vines and the natural tension will hold them in place. In fact, I sometimes had to use a screwdriver to pry the vines to slide the stems into place. But I also use fine florist wire to tie off more delicate things like herbs and add them to the wreath.
Here are some of the plants I used in my winter wreath: Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ is dark brown and stands well in the winter garden. Fountain Grass (Miscanthus sinensis) “Morning Light” provides a light brown, fluffy material, as the seed heads are still present. Mine got knocked over by the ice earlier in the winter. After the ice melted, he got up!
What else? Various hydrangeas have panicles of flowers that are dry and delicate but still attached at this time of year. I used flowers from a called “Quick Fire”. I like it for crowns because the panicles aren’t huge like many PeeGee – or Annabelle – hydrangeas are. If your panicles are too large, you can prune parts to make them more suitable for a wreath.
I wanted some greenery in the wreath and could have pruned white pine or hemlock twigs, but I had Christmas fern right by the house and used that instead. I don’t know how long it will last in a wreath, but it looks good now. Hemlocks tend to drop needles fairly quickly, but anything used as a Christmas tree would work, balsam fir or blue spruce, for example. Or cut a few stems from your Christmas tree when you take it apart.
For color, I went to my stream and picked wintergreens (Whorled Ilex) growing alongside it. This shrub has bright red berries in winter. Although it prefers a moist location, it will also grow in ordinary garden soil. In the summer it is quite ordinary, but it is fabulous when covered with red fruits in the winter. You need both male and female plants to get berries. One male is suitable for five females.
The latest addition to my winter wreath were stalks of teasel – a biennial weed hated by midwestern corn growers. He gets into their machines and gums up the jobs – and he grows 6 feet tall. The flowers and seed heads are 2 inch cylinders that are very spiny. The stems have thorns, but these can be scrubbed while wearing gloves, making them easier to work with.
Since teasel is a biennial, it is easy to control. I pull out most first year plants when they are small. I just leave a few to grow and produce flowers. Six or more plants are nice. They hold up all winter and contrast well with the snow.
If you’re not interested in making a wreath, or don’t have time, pick a few stems from whatever interesting plant is still in the garden and put them in a dry vase. I leave a few flowers with seeds for the goldfinches and juncos to nibble on. Things like black-eyed Susan and purple coneflower are nice for them. I always leave snake root too (Actea racemosaPreviously Cimicifuga racemosa), because it is a tall plant that stands above the snow.
Finally, if you are looking for dried flowers to decorate, don’t forget the weeds. Walk through an unmowed field and you will see many dry flowers standing proudly in the snow. Or take a walk along a country road and look for shrubs with interesting branches or seed pods. With a little imagination, they can be used to create beauty.
Henry Homeyer’s blog appears twice a week on gardening-guy.com. Write to him at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope if you would like a reply by post. Or email [email protected]