NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - Mary Hunter Curry has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season, including the fact that she waded through piles of evergreens and fruits without a moment's worry.
Starting in early November, Curry and a dozen floral designers and gardeners at Colonial Williamsburg, Va., made all the wreaths and swags that decorate 80 buildings in the historic area.
"I've been doing this for 20 years so I work fast," she says, bundling evergreens to fashion yet another wreath.
Curry, foreman at the landscape nursery, creates many of the 18th-century-style fruit wreaths, putting together 25 for different doorways. During Thanksgiving week, the designers and crews of carpenters installed everything so the Governor's Palace, trade shops, and private homes would look seasonally sensational.
Materials used to decorate the historic area include more than three miles of white pine roping; 2,550 white pine and Frasier fir wreaths; 15 truckloads of pine, holly, boxwood, magnolia, and berries; and 79 cases of fruit. Walking tours are regularly given to explain the process.
"The wreaths are easy to make and actually last longer than you think," says Curry.
"You may have to make a few small repairs but there's nothing better than the smell of a fresh wreath during the holidays."
Here, Curry explains now to make a Colonial Williamsburg-style wreath for your own front door:
Materials. To make a fresh evergreen and fruit wreath for a standard-sized front door, you need:
18-inch, double-wire wreath ring (makes up to a 24-inch wreath).
Evergreens such as spruce, boxwood, pine, and cedar (you can use all of one or a mixture). White pinecones (or any cone you desire). Fruit such as apples, oranges, and lemons. Wired floral picks. Floral tape. Spool wire (for attaching greenery to wreath ring).
18-gauge straight floral wire to attach small to medium fruits such as apples and lemons (usually sold in pre-cut bundles).
16-gauge wire for heavier fruit such as pomegranates and pineapples.
Stems of dried flowers, holly berries, rose hips, or red peppers on picks for colorful accents,
Needle-nose pliers to twist wire; wire cutters; and blunt-nose wire cutters for twisting heavier wire.
Gloves with rubberized palms
Directions. Cut and gather evergreens and condition the stems in tepid water overnight or for several hours before using them.
Arrange short-stemmed evergreens in 25-30 bundles (4-5 per bundle) and lay them out on your work table. (A waist-high table keeps your back straight while you work.)
Using green wire wrapped on a spool, attach one end of the wire to a cross bar on the double-wire wreath ring.
Position the first bundle of evergreens on the wreath frame and wrap the wire around the bottom of stems. Overlap the second bundle of evergreens and continue wrapping with wire (never cut the wire). Continue this process until the wreath is lush and filled with evergreens. Once you are done, cut the wire and attach the end to a cross bar on the double-wire frame.
Begin attaching fruit, starting with the largest pieces. Fruits look good when they are in the clock-face positions of 12, 3, 6, and 9. A larger cluster of fruits at the bottom adds "weight" to the wreath.
To wire an apple, lemon, or orange, insert 18-gauge wire through the center of the fruit, bend wires downward, and go through the double wires on the wreath form. Twist wire and attach to the stems and wire wrapped around the greenery so the fruit doesn't move. Cut excess wire off and insert wire into the greenery so it doesn't stick out and scratch your door.
To attach berries, dried flowers, and pinecones, use floral picks with wire. Wrap the wire around the bottoms of the cones and stems of the berries and then insert floral pick into the evergreen stems.
Optional: Floral tape, which is stretchy and sticky when used, can be used around the top of the wooden pick to hold the wire onto the wire and pinecones.
When your wreath if finished, you can glue wide ribbon to the back to protect your door. A finished wreath can stay in a cooler for five to six days before it's hung outdoors.
Throughout the holidays, mist your wreath regularly to keep it fresh. Change out bad fruit as needed.
Smaller versions of the wreath can be made to hang in windows. You can use foam wreath forms in various sizes and use U-shaped floral pins to attach the greenery; floral picks can be used to attach fruit and other material.