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Cover Story Plant Life On Fitness Taste Northwest Living Now & Then Sunday Punch

Plant Life
Wild Wreaths
With cones and berries, greens and twigs, you can try new takes on the traditional

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Familiar plants such as cotoneaster and laurel never looked so good as in this bristly porcupine of a wreath. Oak leaves and red and yellow twig dogwood complete the materials list. spacer All the cool blues are gathered into this wreath of noble fir, juniper, incense cedar, lavender, blue spruce and Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Cyrano.'
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Hydrangea, noble fir, mahonia, incense cedar, lavender, blue spruce and false cypress (Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Cyrano') fill out this plump wreath, fluffed with miscanthus blooms. spacer This warm-toned wreath is made of laurel, noble fir, juniper, red and yellow twig dogwood, heather and huckleberry. The dramatic yellow conifer is cryptomeria. Noble fir forms the base material in many of the wreaths because it is flat, sturdy and fragrant.
ART IS NEVER more exciting than when it is outdoors, reflecting the elements and mingling with the plants. Gardens are full of possibilities to showcase art. The vibrant interplay of forms, textures and colors going on outside your front door calls for the emphasis and punctuation art can provide. The mutability of outdoor art draws us to look again and again, for sunlight, rain, night lighting, time of day and seasonal change all influence how it appears moment to moment. A statue skirted with fluffy ornamental grasses in high summer is quite a different object when lit by the slant of weak sunlight and surrounded by nothing but bare ground in winter.

Why settle for a simple ring of greenery this holiday season, or bleaker yet, artificial swags or wreaths? Decking the halls can have spectacular results when you use the berries, cones and spicily-scented greens right from your garden. There is something so satisfying in getting outside this time of year, clipping and gathering. It's a great juxtaposition to start with the centuries-old traditional wreath form and pile on twigs, needles and leaves to create a contemporary, edgy look.

Local nurseries make it easy to create one-of-a-kind wreaths, offering classes as well as all the materials you need, in case you don't have enough variety in your own garden. Most importantly, they share the all-important crimper machine, which turns bundles of leaves and stems into durable wreaths in a variety of sizes.

Every weekend through the season, Emery's Garden in Lynnwood has classes where you can learn to build handmade wreaths. You can bring in your own greens and berries, buy theirs or purchase a finished creation (from $35 to more than $100 for the really large wreaths). The base of each wreath is a wire ring from 8 to 32 inches around; from there, you simply pull together fistfuls of greens, then step on the machine's pedal to crimp down wires that hold each bunch in place. Holly Schippers, who teaches the classes at Emery's, says "it's fun to grab and go and see what happens."

As you gather greens from your garden, remember to cut at least 2 feet of stem, so you have plenty of material to make hefty bundles, and select as much for texture as for color. Holly suggests you avoid using grapes, which quickly turn mushy, but the fruit of cotoneaster, callicarpa, salmonberry and most rugosa roses works beautifully.

See how it's done

Wreath-making demonstrations at Emery's Garden are scheduled for Saturdays, Dec. 14 and 21, and Sundays, Dec. 8, 15 and 22, at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Call 425-743-4555 for reservations or demonstrations, or just drop in to use the crimper machine (2829 164th St. S.W., Lynnwood). Farther north, wreath-making machines are available at Christianson's Nursery in Stanwood (360-629-0415) or Mount Vernon (360-466-3821), or in Seattle at Fremont Gardens (206-781-8283), which also has a great selection of greens for sale.

Valerie Easton is a Seattle free-lance writer. Her book, "Plant Life: Growing a Garden in the Pacific Northwest" (Sasquatch Books, 2002) is an updated selection of her magazine columns. Her e-mail address is

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