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The classic wreath gets a fresh look.

Symbols of the season, wreaths earn pride of place on entry doors and walls, conveying holiday greetings with natural grace and good looks.

Here we share three ways to give this Christmas classic a fresh appearance. The living wreath shown above combines succulents in a rich, muted tapestry brightened by berries. Apples and lemons make a bold ring of color set off by sprigs of foliage. And gleaning from the garden go together in unlimited combinations of texture and color.

Creating a living tapestry with succulents

Prolonging the season's cheer with their enduring beauty, living wreaths of succulents make elegant doorway decorations and gifts. The technique for making them comes from Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas, California, where they're sold to benefit the gardens.

You can use practically any small-leafed succulents common in home gardens--perhaps your own or a friend's--or order cuttings by mail. The wreath required about 200 cuttings.

For each wreath, you'll need two wire wreath frames (sold in craft and floral supply stores). They commonly range from 10 to 18 inches in outside diameter and cost $1 to $2. You'll also need packaged sphagnum moss (1 to 2 cubic feet, depending on wreath size), and at least 12 cups of potting soil--enough to pack frames tightly.

To assemble the wreath, you'll need 24-gauge wire, a pencil, a chopstick, florist's pins, wire cutters, and large culinary or medical tweezers. Also buy hardware for hanging.

Soak sphagnum moss in a bucket of water for an hour or two. While it's soaking, in another bucket mix standard potting soil with enough water to make soil wet.

Using a sharp pruner, take tip cuttings 2 to 3 inches long. Pinch off the bottom leaves, leaving a 1- to 2-inch stem. For best results, allow the cut ends to callus by drying cuttings in open air, out of direct sun. This takes a few days to a few weeks, depending on the species and weather.

For ease in maneuvering the wreath, place it on an inverted 5-gallon bucket. Following steps shown above, set plants as close together as possible. Use large tweezers to squeeze plants into tight spaces, and florist's pins to secure loose cuttings. Push pins in with the eraser end of the pencil.

You can order materials for succulent wreaths from these two sources: Teddy Colbert's Garden, 2210 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 187, Santa Monica, Calif. 90403, (800) 833-3981; and Succulent Gardens, 3672 The Barnyard, Carmel, Calif. 93923, (408) 624-0426. Write or call for price lists.

Succulent wreaths are living container gardens that need appropriate care. Water infrequently; if you squeeze the wreath and it "gives," it's moist enough. To water, place it in a tub of water, or slowly sprinkle and let water percolate through soil.

After the holidays, move your wreath to any location suitable for the plants. For better air circulation, support the wreath on an empty frame. When plants grow out of bounds, either snip them back to one or two leaves (plants will regrow) or pull them out. Fertilize the wreath in its second year.

Quick decorating with a bright ring of citrus and apples

Long before evergreen trees came to symbolize Christmas, holiday arrangements of fresh fruit and foliage brightened mantels and accented doorways in English and colonial American homes. Our variation on this centuries-old idea makes decorating simple. You mount apples and citrus on nails on a burlap-covered board, then trim with greenery.

Fruit that's unripe or just picked will stay fresh-looking for up to two weeks. Best bets for foliage are camellia, cypress, eucalyptus, magnolia, and other evergreens. If you like, string together cranberries to add a finishing touch.

You'll need a piece of 1/2-inch plywood about 2 feet square, 2-inch-long (6d) finishing nails, 1 yard 45-inch-wide green burlap, craft glue, heavy-duty picture wire, and eye screws.

Draw a ring pattern onto the wood, then cut it out with a saber, jig, or band saw. (If you use dimensions under drawing at left, ring will be wide enough for two rows of fruit.) Cut burlap about 3 inches larger than the wood ring and glue it to the front of the board. After glue dries, fold fabric over and glue and staple it at the back.

Hammer finishing nails into the front of the board, spacing them a fruit's width apart and driving them almost through the plywood. The fruit fits better if you stagger the rows of nails slightly. Using eye screws, firmly secure the picture wire on the back.

To decorate, spear fruit on nails; apples hold best if speared through the sides. Tuck foliage around fruit.

Making picture-perfect wreaths from garden gleanings

To simplify making 200 wreaths every December, George Lewis, superintendent of Descanso Gardens in Southern California, has perfected a streamlined technique. His method works well with gleanings from almost any garden.

For a 12-inch-diameter wreath, gather about a medium-size trash bag full of foliage from evergreen plants (consider both broad-leafed and needle-like foliage). If you sprinkle cuttings with water, they'll stay fresh all day in a plastic bag in a cool place.

Buy a wreath frame, or make a hoop with #9 galvanized wire. With wire, overlap ends about 4 inches and spot-weld them or twist with heavy pliers.

Wrap and knot #22 florist's wire (you'll need two spools) around the splice, then wrap on clumps of clippings without cutting wire. Add accents--berries, seed pods, citrus, or nuts drilled with holes--as you go, or at the end.
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Copyright 1992 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Special Issue: Best of the Holidays
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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