Ivy is perfect, holly is obviously wonderful (I feel a song coming on) and rosemary is stealing a march on Pinterest but there are lots of other common British plants and shrubs that lend themselves to a spot of DIY decoration-making. Crucial for choosing wreath-isn plants is their flexibility and possession of long slender stems. If those stems have natural decorations-tiny cones, bobble-ish seedheads, berries or catkins then so much the bonny better.
Preserving leaves, stems, flowers and berries using glycerine
The leaves and berries of most plants will desiccate and become crispy or begin to decay over time, causing wreath or garland droop. There's a cunning solution- specifically a solution of glycerine that can solve this. Glycerine can be picked up at the chemist or in the baking aisle. I found small bottles of Dr Oetker glycerine for 79p - I think it's one of the ingredients of fondant icing. \
-Make a solution of 1 part glycerine to 2 parts water.
-To preserve individual leaves or soft green stems pour the glycerine solution into a large roasting tray, submerge the stems, and/or leaves, and find a way to keep them beneath the surface for around four days -placing a baking tray on top works well.
-For large flowers such as hydrangeas or clusters of berries pour your glycerine solution into a jug, tie a pebble or two to the base stem of the hydrangea or berry cluster with string or twine and lower into the liquid. The pebble(s) will ensure that your foraged treasure will stay under the surface during the preservation time.
-After 4 days remove your stems, berries, flowers or leaves from the glycerine and dry them carefully with paper towel. The glycerine will have penetrated the plant tissues, creating a flexible and will prevent desiccation.
Whilst out looking for plants for decoration-making, it may seem obvious, but try not to hack great chunks out of a particular shrub or tree. A few stems taken from several trees is a better plan and causes less harm to smaller specimens.
Top trees for winsome wreaths
Cotoneaster : This is bit of a municipal-low-maintenance-planting, Tesco-carpark job. It's a low growing shrub and when unpruned its long stems are punctuated with little leaves at super regular intervals, like the perfect hand-drawn wreaths on Pinterest. It's bendy and will respond well to the glycerine treatment. Ace for making twiggy hats also.
Beech : A stunning, often truly huge tree of ancient (and youthful) British woodlands with smooth-ish grey bark and flowing branches that droop down slightly when the tree is fully grown. Once its rusty leaves have been lost the silhouettes of the slender stems from this year's growth are beautiful. Next Spring's buds resemble tiny leaves which is fortuitous for twiggy decorations. Beech is flexible and making a circle with a longish slender beech branch makes the buds stick out rather fancily at perfect angles. It's brill wreath credentials make it ace for a spot of subtle pruning with the secateurs.
Thyme : this years soft-stemmed plants are likely to have died back by now as we've had the first frosts but we have a very old alpine thyme in our garden that has fine woody stems. They're just about flexible enough for a spot of miniature wreath-wrangling (see mine in the image above) and the tiny leaves of this particular strain mean that the Sylvanian families would be thrilled with its stems bent into circles and would likely hang them on their tiny shepherd's hut doors and cottages. Oh yes.
Winter flowering jasmine: firstly this is one of a group of utterly wonderful plants that I'll be blogging about in the coming weeks. They're by no means needy, thoroughbred-fussy or high maintenance, flower between November and February and bring much-needed cheer and colour just now. Mine is losing its leaves but LOOK at those perfect little yellow flowers and perfect buds. Its stems are super flexible and although the flowers and buds won't last long they can be subjected to the glycerine treatment to extend their lifespan.
Hazel Nuts for the tasty win, but the slender branches of this wonderfully versatile tree of the ancient woodland have also been used to make withies, rustic baskets and plant supports for millennia, in the same way as willow. It's bendy and brilliant but at this time of year there are baby catkins adorning its branches. Firstly this makes hazel wreaths little or large look beautifully spriggy, like those lovely collections of twiggy PNG files that can be purchased word of etsy and used in blog design *coughs* like the ones in my blog header. Secondly, these are the catkins FOR NEXT SPRING. They're already here! Take THAT grey dingy days.
Alder I've got a huge tree crush on alder. I know that sounds peculiar but it accessorises it branches with clusters of the teeniest little cones AT THE SAME TIME as catkin-like flower buds for next Spring. It's as though it has fashioned itself perfect woodsy garlands or branch charms. It's the sort of tree that blends into the background - it's not a showy number like cherry or sycamore whose leaves are arguably some of the brightest in Autumn. However, when it loses its leaves the silhouettes of the cone-catkin-combos and delicate filigree branches are surely the unsung hero of lovers of twigs-in-vases-next-to-feathers-and-a-lovely-old-bottle. If a blackbird perches in an alder tree on a winter's afternoon and the whole shebang is silhouetted against the sky it is the stuff that ancient folk songs or poems are made of. Alder likes to grow with its roots in very damp if not waterlogged soil. You'll find it on the banks of rivers or lakes, or in my case pretty much everywhere I look because Fen.
Birch This tree has the most delicate, almost fragile-looking branches of all. At this time of year they are decorated with pairs of next year's juvenile catkins, which are tiny and perfect. Take several slender stems, align them lengthwise (vaguely) bend into a circle and tie with twine or bend fine wire around the attachment point several times to make a wreath. To make a garland take bundles of birch and overlap them to make a sort of loose birchy sausage. Cut a piece of wire around 2m long and wrap the birch fairly tightly along its length. Use the ends of the wire to make loops at each end of the garland. The flexibility of the individual stems will allow it to be hung on a chimney breast or along a bannister and it will swag pleasingly. Alternatively tie firmly at intervals of around 15cm with garden twine and hang in the same way.
Hawthorn Hawthorn's branches tend to be brittle even when fresh, so not great for circle-making, but just now the hedgerows are laden with their berries (also called 'haws'). They hang in stunning clusters and frankly a small branch or two of this hung from a nail or in a vase is almost comically festive. What's lovely is that 1) I think they're even prettier than those super expensive ilex branches (holly stripped of leaves) that cost around £5 a stem from foncy florists 2) they're free.
Talking of twig bending the super-talented Val Curwen (Dottycookie), good friend and expert willow-wrangler will be posting a tutorial here for willow bird feeders. All you'll need is an obliging wood or hedgerow and a pair of secateurs. ...