Fragrant wreaths of lavender, eucalpytus, summer savory, and thyme disappear from Scott Williams's stand at the Saturday Farmers Market in Santa Barbara almost as quickly as he can make them. And when he's surrounded by crowds and his adrenaline is up, that's darn fast ― less than five minutes per wreath. What many of his customers really covet, however, is the neat little gizmo he uses to make them. "Boy, could I use one of those," said one gardener, with undisguised envy. "At the end of the season, I have all these herbs that need to be pruned, and it just kills me to toss them. With this, I could make wreaths for all my friends."
Williams, an organic herb and flower grower, understands her point of view. A desire not to let any of his harvest go to waste is what led him to design this tool, which is a simplified version of a commercial jig. So he's generously sharing instructions for making one, as well as providing suggestions for how to use the jig to create simple wreaths from end-of-the-season garden clippings.
Williams's jig, which is nothing more than a ring of evenly spaced dowels secured in a plywood base, frees his hands. The dowels hold the herb cuttings in place as he assembles them, then guide the twine when he's ready to bundle the lot together into a wreath. The directions below are for a jig to make a wreath that is 10 inches in diameter, Williams's most popular size, but you can make a larger or smaller jig.
Enjoy your wreath while the herbs retain their savor and color. Then toss it into the compost and make another.
How to make a wreath jig
You can make your own jig following the directions below. But if you'd rather buy a jig than build one, Williams can oblige. Write or call Santa Barbara Gardens & Company, Box 6701, Santa Barbara, CA 93160 (805/964-0679; fax 805/964-4233) for a Wreath Wizard brochure. The jigs come in five sizes; a 10-inch wreath jig costs $49.99.
TIME: 1½ hours to make, plus several hours to dry
COST: $10 to $15
• Two squares of ¾-inch-thick plywood a few inches larger than the desired diameter of your wreath. For example, cut two 13-inch squares for a 10-inch wreath.
• Compass, pencil, drill with ½-inch bit, wood glue, clamps, mallet
• A dozen ½-inch-thick hardwood dowels, cut to 4¾-inch lengths
1. Using the compass, draw a 10-inch circle in the center of one plywood square.
2. To place dowels, mark 12 equally spaced spots around the circle.
3. At each mark, drill a ½-inch-wide hole completely through the plywood.
4. Coat one side of the second plywood square with a generous amount of glue. Affix the first square on top. Use clamps to hold the two squares together while the glue dries (or weight them with heavy books).
5. Drip glue inside each dowel hole and pound dowels into place with a mallet. Wipe off any excess glue. Allow glue to dry thoroughly ― for at least several hours ― before using the jig.
How to make a wreath
1. Use plants with sturdy but still pliable stems for your bottom layer. Williams favors baby blue eucalyptus, rosemary, curly willow, cedar, and pine. One stem at a time, place the cuttings inside the dowel circle. Start with stem ends, tucking them under foliage. Alternate starting points on opposite sides of the jig. "That way the wreath stays balanced," he says.
2. Pile on herbs with a light texture ― lavender, savory, thyme, and scented geraniums ("whatever needs pruning," says Williams). Save the most fragrant clippings (such as rosemary) and those with blossoms for the top layer.
3. Cut a 5-foot piece of twine (about two arm's lengths). Starting at any point, tie the twine around all layers of the wreath. Hide the knot on the inside of the wreath; don't trim the ends yet. Working from the inside out, loop the twine around the wreath, using the dowels to help guide the twine. Pull the twine taut with each wrap.
4. Tie the end of the twine to your original knot. Clip twine ends.
Variations on a theme
Add flowers. Statice, strawflowers, and other blooms make attractive finishing touches.
Fill the centers. A row of 6-inch wreaths filled with votive candles makes a great tabletop display. Small potted plants can be added to larger wreaths.
Turn a wreath into a decorative basket (not meant to be picked up). Strip a eucalyptus branch, notch the ends, and bend into a handle; poke ends into the base. Add more clippings to the bottom side of the wreath. Set a pot of grass and/or fresh farm eggs in the center.