I dashed out into the garden the other day, probably to ‘bung’ something in the shed that I didn’t have room for in the house. It was a gusty day – jackdaws and wood pigeons tumbling through the air, braving the west wind.
Wedging the shed door shut, I picked my way back across the gravel garden as fat rain drops started to fall. But then I stopped.
Silver birch branch-tips were scattered all over the garden, their whippy lengths making a latticework of dormant buds and rich brown bark. I began picking a few up, plucking them out of ferns and untangling them from last year’s hollyhocks, until I had an armful.
Back in the warm I dumped them on the dining room floor (I know – I’m so tidy!) and began eyeing-up my haul for a fairly sturdy twig to start the process of making a wreath.
I’m not even sure why I like making them. Using my hands and getting something for free definitely comes into it, but there’s something lovely about their circular shape, too.
The word ‘wreath’ goes back at least 1000 years and has its roots in the word writhe. I like that idea – that people have been making these things for centuries; a simple shape, hung on the door or placed on the head to symbolise renewal, remembrance, victory or vitality.
If you’d like to have a go at making your own, here’s my step-by-step guide. You can use any reasonably flexible garden material, though willow, dogwood and birch work particularly well. Bear in mind that some plants can be skin irritants so you may need to use gloves to protect your hands.
1. Choose the longest branch from your pile.
Work your fingers along the length of it gently flexing it by just a few millimetres to soften the fibres so they curve nicely into a circle. It’s important at this stage not to over-flex your twig or it’ll snap.
Having said that, if bits do snap off (this happens to me all the time as I’m too impatient!) then don’t worry. You can either choose another branch or continue shaping the one you have into a circle.
2. Gently begin curving the thin branch-tip round to meet the thicker end of the twig.
Make sure you overlap the ends by about 1/3 to 1/2 of the total length, weaving the thin end around the thicker end. Secure with string to hold the first circle in place.
3. Repeat step 1, then take the second stick and hold the thick end against your twig circle, holding both in one hand.
With the other hand begin weaving the second twig around the circle. Secure the end by tucking it into a gap in the circle. If the thick end pops up when you move your hand then tuck that into a gap too.
Don’t worry at this stage if your circle comes undone and you have to start again or if you’re circle is more like a wonky oval! As you add more twigs to the wreath it will strengthen and you can flex and adjust the shape later.
4. Keep adding twigs until your wreath begins to feel really strong.
Try to make sure you stagger the point at which you place the thick end of each twig so that that you evenly weave the twig wands.
You’ll see in the picture above that a few times the branches snapped even after they were woven into the circle; don’t worry. If you keep adding enough branches they’ll eventually be hidden and the overall strength of the circle will hold everything together.
6. Tuck in any little straggly bits or trim them where they meet the main branch.
As your wreath gets thicker you can begin to gently flex and bend the whole circle to even the shape out and create a nicely rounded form. Keep adding branches until you’re happy with the shape and thickness of your circle.
You’ll know your wreath is done when the shape is strong and everything holds together nicely – or you’ve run out of twigs and fancy a cup of tea!
And there you go…one homemade wreath.