Planting Points: The Living Wreath

November 22, 2010
By William Thrift  |  Photography by Lisa Willson

Masterful Demonstration by Rebekah Cline

It wasn’t easy trying to imagine a crisp winter day when Rebekah Cline of Rebekah’s Garden demonstrated the art of planting a wreath. On a typical September Saturday in Columbia, the air was still, the humidity was up, and the temperature hovered around ninety degrees. But once Rebekah began working – at the large planting table in her greenhouse off Leesburg Road – she was in her element, remarking that, despite the heat, there was nothing in the world she would rather be doing and nowhere else she’d rather be. Wreaths have become a year-round garnish for homes, especially in our temperate climate. But rather than weaving together sprigs of holly and scraps from the Christmas tree, or buying a seasonal silk or plastic arrangement for the front door, a living wreath is emblematic of a home’s vitality and the homeowners’ commitment to sustaining life, even in such a small way. Not to mention how fun it is to make and how pretty it is to look at when you’re done.

Before starting on the wreath, consider the conditions where it will be displayed: How much sunlight will it receive? Will it be exposed to precipitation? What will be the average temperature? These questions should factor in your decision about which plants to use.

The colors you wish to display, while less vital to the plants, should be just as important to you as the conditions. Consider the colors of your door, trim, and house. The plant colors should complement your home’s overall look (or maybe not, if that’s your style).

It’s always best to have all of your components laid out and ready before you begin, so nothing will interrupt the fun! Rebekah had already mixed her favorite Farfard container mix and Earth Healer compost. The ratio is two-thirds soil to one-third compost. She also uses Osmokote time-release fertilizer.

Next, Rebekah had selected several types of small succulents known as hens and chicks (they spread easily, sprouting lots of babies). For color, she’s added purple and yellow violas. Succulents and violas are low-maintenance and enjoy similar climate conditions. It’s also a good idea to have some sheet moss handy to pack over bare spots when you’re done. The options on plants and garnishes are virtually endless – anything that works well in a container will do fine in the wreath.

The wreath is a wire form lined with pre-cut cocoa fiber to hold everything in. Rebekah’s Garden carries the forms, but they may be found at a variety of planting shops. You’ll also need your hands (gloves are optional, but Rebekah likes them), and a good set of gardening shears (to snip away some of the cocoa fiber as needed).

Fill the curved part (trench) of the form with your soil mixture. Then sprinkle in some fertilizer. Cover the dirt with a flat, circular piece of cocoa fiber, and clip on the back part of the form. You may need to stuff some of the cocoa fiber securely under the wire to ensure no soil spills out. Flip the whole thing over and you’re ready to go.

Rebekah just dives right in, using the shears to widen the holes in the cocoa fiber and poking her fingers into the soil to make room for the roots. The wire grid ensures proper spacing of the plants. She breaks the succulents apart until they’re the size she needs, then she breaks off some of the existing roots and stuffs it carefully into the hole and around the wire. For delicate parts like arms and babies, she uses small wire picks to secure them to the form.

Repeat the process, alternating types and placement of plants depending on how you want your wreath to look. For a fuller wreath, use taller plants on the inside holes. To make it wider, use taller plants on the outside holes.

There are various types of moss available for covering bare areas of the wreath or adding strategic tan or green colors to the design. Make your own moss by removing it from one of your trees and treating it with a light Clorox solution to kill any bugs.

Once everything is planted, water the wreath immediately by soaking it with spray. Keep in mind that the wreath could weigh over fifteen pounds fully planted – Rebecca uses a cart to assist in moving it. Allow the wreath to sit flat in a shady area for about two weeks in order for the roots to take hold. During that time, check it every day for moisture and expect to soak it thoroughly once or twice a week.

You may also check to see how the plants are growing and how the wreath looks overall to determine whether you need additional plants to fill and which parts of the wreath will be the top, bottom, and sides.

There are lots of options to garnish your wreath for different times of the year. For example, red berries and bows can be added for Christmas, and bright flowers can be inserted when spring arrives.

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