Wreathes of the Season

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“There is something about saying, ‘We always do this,’
which helps keep the years together.
Time is such an elusive thing
that if we keep on meaning to do something interesting,
but never do it,
year would follow year with no special thoughtfulness
being expressed in making gifts, surprises,
charming table settings, and familiar food.
Tradition is a good gift
intended to guard the best gifts.”
.
Edith Schaeffer

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“All you need to enjoy this world
is imagination, not money”
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Vineet Raj Kapoor

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Christmas eve invites nostalgia from the most contemporary and practical among us.  Like our own birthday or wedding anniversary, Christmas eve is one of those still points on the wheel of the year where we pause and remember.

Christmas eve invites, and perhaps demands, that we observe the rituals learned from our parents, adopted from our friends; inherited from the literature of our evolving lives.  We light candles, make music, prepare our family recipes.  We share the evening with loved ones.  Anticipate giving and receiving gifts.  Re-tell familiar mystery stories.

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Christmas eve celebrates the great mysteries of our lives and loves.  As the year winds down towards its close, we hope our dearest wishes will be fulfilled in a sparkling starry magical way that gifts us with wonders we have not earned, and perhaps can never explain.  However practical, whimsical or existential our wishes may be, we dare to believe they will be granted on this magical night.

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Christmas, as we know it, is a relatively ‘new’ holiday built on ancient customs and symbols.  One of those ancient symbols is the evergreen wreath.

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Once again this year, Colonial Williamsburg is dressed in its Christmas finery, wreathes upon most doors.

Although Christmas was barely celebrated in the colonial era, and ran more to parties and church services than to elaborate decorations or shopping, visitors find beautiful della robia wreathes and other decorations made of evergreens, fruits, nuts, pods, berries, flowers and twigs throughout the Colonial part of town.

We enjoyed the wreathes as we walked through CW earlier this week, and I hope you enjoy these few photos I captured.

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On this Christmas eve, I wish you and yours the merriest of Yule celebrations tonight.

May you be with those you love, and may your greatest gift this year be a heart filled with happiness.

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“Take the time to celebrate stillness and silence
and see the joy that the world can bring, simply.”
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Tony Curl

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“December is full of the beauty of Light
and love we can bring into our life.
You can chose to be stressed
or you can choose to let the small stuff go
and be peaceful this Holiday season.
It really is a choice you make.”
.
Eileen Anglin

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2018
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“We are travelers on a cosmic journey,
stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity.
Life is eternal.
We have stopped for a moment to encounter each other,
to meet, to love, to share.
This is a precious moment.
It is a little parenthesis in eternity.”
.
Paulo Coelho

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Wreathed in Smiles

Colonial Williamsburg, December 2017

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We had to laugh and smile when we saw these deer themed Christmas decorations along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg yesterday.  The cheeky population of deer over-running the neighborhoods is a frustration shared by so many of us living around this area.

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Herds of them rampage through the ravine behind our garden.   Drivers stay on their guard, knowing a deer could run out into the street at most any time, especially at dusk.  We find hoof prints and deer scat in the garden, a calling card for the  lonely doe or fawn who snuck in for a snack.

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The floral designers at CW showed a mischievous sense of humor in their designs this year.  Beyond the staid circles of pine needles ornamented with apples or pomegranate, there were a few energetic and amusing creations that caught our attention.

We know that whoever created these deer themed pieces must live nearby and have their own deer tales to tell.

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Ironically, more deer live in James City and York Counties now than in the Colonial era.  These beautiful animals were prized by the Native Americans who once claimed this rich region of coastal Virginia.  Every part of the deer was useful to them, and so the deer were freely hunted.  Colonists valued the deer as well for their meat and fur.

With no natural predators, the deer population in Virginia is held in check these days only by recreational hunters.   Although development continues to carve slices out of their habitat, the cunning deer have adapted to live quite well in our neighborhoods.

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A troupe of costumed minstrels played and sang as they rode through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg in an ox drawn cart yesterday afternoon.

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We rarely see deer wandering the streets of old Williamsburg, but we did see quite a few horses, and even a team of oxen yesterday.   There are always lots of dogs to admire, even one with this troupe of interpreters entertaining us yesterday.

Often, we’ll find small herds of sheep or even bulls grazing in the CW pastures.

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The workshops of Colonial Williamsburg aim to keep the old everyday arts of artisanal manufacture alive.

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Many of the wreathes serve double duty as advertisements, cleverly luring curious customers into the shops.

Someone asked me the other day, “Do they re-use the wreathes at CW year to year, or are there new designs each year?”

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That is an interesting question.  While much stays the same in terms of style and materials, there is a fresh interpretation and presentation every year.  The wreathes are freshly made from scratch each November, and hung in time for the Grand Illumination, which boomed and thundered the holiday season into our community last Sunday evening.

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We have thus far photographed only a fraction of this year’s offerings.  We started near Merchant’s Square and explored only as far as the Governor’s Palace.  We intend to return throughout December, and I will share the best of them with you, as we also enjoy the wreathes of Colonial Williamsburg  this month.

 

Woodland Gnome 2017
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This deer themed ‘chandelier’ is hanging on a Colonial Williamsburg porch, near the deer themed wreathes. Male deer lose and re-grow their antlers each year. Discarded antlers are sometimes found on walks in the woods.

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For the Daily Post’s
Weekly Photo Challenge:  Cheeky

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Will you join this year’s Holiday Wreath Challenge?

 

Wednesday Vignette: Reflections

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“Sometimes, you have to look back

in order to understand the things that lie ahead.”

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Yvonne Woon

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“Just as a snake sheds its skin,

we must shed our past over and over again.”

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Gautama Buddha

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“Silence is a time of reflection

to bring peace and meaning to your life,

and to those around you.

This deafening quiescence will mean

different things to different people

but if they listen carefully, they will understand…”

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Virginia Alison

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“There’s always a moment

that separates the past from the future,

and that moment is now.”

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Aniekee Tochukwu Ezekiel

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

All photos taken in Colonial Williamsburg

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Sunday Dinner: Merry Christmas !

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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“Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind.

To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy,

is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

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Calvin Coolidge

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“Are you willing to stoop down and consider

the needs and desires of little children;

to remember the weaknesses and loneliness

of people who are growing old;

to stop asking how much your friends love you,

and to ask yourself if you love them enough;

to bear in mind the things that other people

have to bear on their hearts;

to trim your lamp so that it will give more light

and less smoke, and to carry it in front

so that your shadow will fall behind you;

to make a grave for your ugly thoughts

and a garden for your kindly feelings,

with the gate open?

Are you willing to do these things for a day?

Then you are ready to keep Christmas!”

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Henry Van Dyke

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“Christmas, my child, is love in action.”

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Dale Evans Rogers

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“Learn to light a candle

in the darkest moments of someone’s life.

Be the light that helps others see;

it is what gives life its deepest significance.”

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Roy T. Bennett

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“At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell,

but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them.

Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer

hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old,

the bell still rings for me,

as it does for all who truly believe.”

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Chris Van Allsburg

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“The Warrior of the Light is a believer.

Because he believes in miracles,

miracles begin to happen.

Because he is sure that his thoughts

can change his life, his life begins to change.

Because he is certain that he will find love,

love appears.”

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Paulo Coelho

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“I wish we could put up some of the Christmas spirit

in jars and open a jar of it every month.”

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Harlan Miller

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

at Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

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Sunday Dinner: Expecting Christmas

Holiday decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

Holiday decorations at Colonial Williamsburg

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“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world,

and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ”

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Norman Vincent Peale

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“Blessed is the season

which engages the whole world

in a conspiracy of love.”
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Hamilton Wright Mabie

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“He who has not Christmas in his heart

will never find it under a tree.”
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Roy L. Smith

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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Apples, Pine Cones and Artichokes: Ornamenting the Wreath

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What is beautiful?  What is not?

Our answer is often a Rorschach test of our own personality.

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Wreathes, a most ancient symbol of eternity and eternal life, come to us from deep antiquity.

We find traces of them in the earliest evidence of civilization we can find.  Whether made from precious metals and ornamented with gemstones, carved in stone, or woven from olive branches; wreathes remain symbols of celebration and commemoration.

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Wreathes woven from evergreen branches mark the winter solstice holidays.  They symbolically promise that despite the ever shortening days and cold weather, life goes on and the sun will soon return.  And we decorate these evergreen wreathes with the seeds of new life.

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Fruits, cones, berries, cotton puffs, nuts and seed pods, our favorite ornaments for our wreathes, all bear seeds inside them.  They contain the promise of next season’s fertility.

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The early Virginia colonists likely brought branches of evergreen trees into their homes to mark the  Christmas holiday.  But the certainly didn’t construct the beautiful fruit laden wreathes we admire around ‘Colonial Williamsburg’ today.

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To quote Theobald and Oliver, writing on the official Colonial Williamsburg website in an article called, ‘Deck the Doors,’  :

“Never mind that no one in the eighteenth century would have been caught dead with real fruit tacked to his front door.  Anyone hanging fresh fruit outdoors in the middle of winter to rot or be devoured by squirrels would have been thought, at best, highly eccentric by his neighbors. “

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The unique handmade wreathes, swags. sprays and baskets, constructed of only natural materials and lacking ribbons and bows, were first created in the late 1930’s; after the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation opened up for business and wanted to attract a crowd in all seasons.

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They were greatly admired and photographed.  Soon a contest for the most beautiful wreathes in this style evolved, and the ‘Della robbia’ or ‘fruit covered’ wreath style of Colonial Williamsburg was launched.

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In some ways it makes sense that these beautiful wreathes, constructed of ‘found’ materials, caught on at the end of the Great Depression years in America.  Wreathes in this style may be constructed very inexpensively with whatever may be at hand.

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They are also a reaction, at least in part, against the commercialization of Christmas.  They feed our romantic notion of what life could have been like ‘back in the day’ before silver tinsel trees and Christmas ornaments imported from Asian factories became the norm.

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But the truth is, even though wealthy residents of 18th century Williamsburg might have eaten pineapples and citrus fruits imported from the Caribbean colonies, they didn’t fashion outdoor decorations from them.

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And the Colonial Williamsburg wreathes today ask us to broaden our thinking about what is appropriate as a Christmas decoration.  Dried okra pods?  Skeins of yarn?  Artichokes?  Why not?

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Beauty often transcends the materials and shines through the design, the geometry, the harmony, and the  colors used.

The making of these wreathes is a 20th Century phenomenon; not an 18th Century fashion.  But they blend so beautifully into this reconstruction and reinterpretation of a Colonial Virginia town.

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If you find them beautiful, please try your hand at making a della Robbia wreath of your own.  Begin with a wire, straw or grapevine base.  Gather some evergreen branches or Magnolia leaves.  Bay leaves and citrus leaves work well, too, if you have them.

Then gather things you find beautiful and meaningful:  fruit, cones, shells, pods, dried flowers, vegetables, nuts and berries.  Use wire, hot glue and floral picks to build your design.

You might even make an ‘edible’ wreath of fruits to serve at a party.

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The trick is to express yourself and create a wreath which has meaning for you.  Create something beautiful to ornament your own home at the holidays.

The materials don’t matter, so long as they bring you joy.

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Can you see the face? All of the ornaments on this house follow a 'Star Wars' theme.....

Can you see the face? All of the ornaments on this house follow a ‘Star Wars’ theme…..

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All photos were taken in Colonial Williamsburg this December

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'Light Sabers...."

‘Light Sabers….”

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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December 13, 2015 CW 121

“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar,  featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015, is  available now.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

Shells in Christmas Decorations

Colonial Williamsburg

Colonial Williamsburg

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Sea shells may not seem like a traditional Christmas decoration, but they certainly can be lovely ones.

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Shells are commonplace for those of us who live near the coast; especially those shells left from a meal of oysters, clams, or scallops.  These wreathes on display now in Colonial Williamsburg feature shells as an important part of their design.

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We’ve probably all seen scallop shells transformed into angelic tree ornaments and white starfish hung from ribbons.  The della robbia wreathes at Colonial Williamsburg incorporate many surprising and commonplace materials, including shells, dried flowers, fruits, vegetables, vines, cotton, seed pods, nuts, cones and berries, as well as evergreen stems and leaves.

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This wreath hangs at Chowning's Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg.

This wreath hangs at Chowning’s Tavern, in Colonial Williamsburg.

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These are unusual and playful decorations for the Christmas season.

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I used shells and pearls in  decorations for a ladies’ luncheon earlier today.

My ‘vase’ held branches pruned from our Mountain Laurel shrubs, dusted with gold; ‘flowers’ made from Lotus pods; white seashells; and sprays of fresh Magnolia.

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Carved wooden birds perched in the branches of the arrangement.  Several of the small Christmas trees on the tables were made entirely from shells and pearls.

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Christmas decorating is far more fun when we can take a light and playful attitude. It is fine to change things out a bit year to year, trying out new ideas and revising old ones.

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Another Colonial Williamsburg wreath.

Another Colonial Williamsburg wreath.

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This is especially true in the fabulous wreathes which come from the  CW workshops each year.   Walking the old city streets each December is an adventure, as new and creative designs manifest year after year.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

A Colonial Winter Garden

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Those fierce souls who founded our nation knew the importance of taking care of business.  And their business always included raising food for their own family’s table.

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Our country was founded by serious gardeners.  Even  luminaries such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington maintained gardens, tended orchards, had fields of crops to use and sell, and raised those animals needed to keep meat on the table.  Although they, and others of their class kept slaves in those days; they still took a very active hands-on interest in their garden.

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Colonial Williamsburg maintains many gardens, but this remains my favorite.  It is a very well maintained colonial vegetable garden tended in the 18th Century style.

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It looks even more lush this December than usual.  But that is likely due to our fair weather these last few months.  It is a pleasing mix of herbs, flowers and vegetables.

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Fruit trees may be found around the edges.  There are vegetables growing from tiny seedling up to ready to harvest cabbages and collards.

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These vegetables are used in the CW kitchens.  They are lovingly tended up to the moment they are authentically prepared and gratefully consumed.

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We strolled down Duke of Gloucester Street on Sunday to enjoy the ingenious Christmas wreathes.  But as you might guess, I was distracted for quite a while by the garden.

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It was  a grey day, completely overcast and damp.  A few drops spritzled as we were leaving.  But it was warm and comfortable; a great day to enjoy the wreathes and seasonal decorations on every building.

I’ll share a few with you each day for the next few days.

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I’ve not yet made any wreathes myself,  this year. 

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But there is still time before Christmas Eve, and a dear friend gifted me with a bucket of Magnolia branches later Sunday afternoon.  We used some of the Magnolia while decorating for a community luncheon we’re hosting tomorrow.

And yes, there is a vase.  I just haven’t photographed it, yet!

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Evergreen Magnolia is one of my favorite native plants.  They grow wild here in Virginia, and my friend has a wild seedling grown large in her garden.

You’ll see lots of Magnolia used at Colonial Williamsburg in their holiday decorations.  It has wonderful color and holds up for the several weeks of our festivities.  One can’t eat it, but it decorates many holiday dinner tables and sideboards.  We spread it liberally around our buffet table and the beverage tables for tomorrow’s gathering.

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Which in a round about way brings us back to my neglect of wreathes this season.  Our  front doors are graced with old ones from ‘the wreath collection’ which hangs in our garage at the moment.  They are fine from a distance, with red silk roses and moss on a grapevine base.

And I just may recycle the Magnolia leaves off the buffet table into a stunning garland to hang round the front doors this year.  Southern Living Magazine has any number of fine projects featuring Magnolia leaves this December.

If you are a Virginia neighbor, you might have been admiring the December issue right along with me.

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It still all comes down to ‘taking care of business’ for our family and our community.

As modern as our lives might feel at times, our foundation remains in hearth and home;  friendship and family; good food and hands-on self sufficiency.    It is part of our heritage not just as Virginians or Americans;  it is part of our human heritage and a fundamental value around the world.

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May you take time for those things which bring you real joy this holiday season.  And may you take care of business such that you assure yourself and your loved ones of a very Happy New Year, too.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Photos from Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia

“A Forest Garden 2016” gardening calendar is now available, featuring some of our favorite photos from 2015.  Write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com for details.

3x3x3

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

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Have you noticed that art, like music, is mostly mathematical? 

As you scratch even a tiny bit below the surface of either discipline, you find yourself awash in numbers, fractions, ratios, and the metronome ticking of constant counting.

Take this beautiful wreath, for instance, hanging now in Colonial Williamsburg. 

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At first glance, you might register the color and complexity of design.    But if you take a deep breath, and hold your focus on the details for a few moments, the “3s” begin to pop out at you.

How many sets of “3” can you find?

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I only mention this in the hopes of getting your own creative juices flowing a bit. 

(You see, I can count on my fingers those blogging friends who have suggested they might send me a photo of a wreath they’ve made, or a link to their own post about making a wreath.)

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Until you’ve made one, it looks hopelessly complicated.  That is how I felt when facing my first dress pattern and yards of cloth back in Jr. High school!

But step by step, bit by bit, making a wreath like this isn’t as complex as it might appear.

Yes, you can do it, too!

Do you notice that there are three artichokes, three lotus pods, and three groups of  three oranges?  There are four pomegranates, just to throw us off a little, and five pine cones. The wreath is worked in only five colors:  green, red, orange, brown, yellow, and cream.

This wreath is composed from fruits, vegetables, dried flowers, pine cones, lotus pods, and evergreen branches.  It could be made on a straw, Styrofoam, or wire wreath base.  Any of the three would work, but Styrofoam would be the easiest to use.

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A similiar design hanging a ways down Francis St. from the first.

A similiar design hanging on Duke of Gloucester Street.   Drumsticks and Cinnamon sticks ornament this wreath, made on a grapevine wreath form. The components are attached with light weight florist’s wire and floral “picks,” and possibly hot glue.  Did you notice the three pomegranates, three artichokes, and three groups of three oranges?  See the triangles formed in the design? The color scheme is basically the same as the first wreath.

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Once you had all of the components assembled, it would take you less than an hour to pull this wreath together.

When working with a wire wreath base, thin, flexible wire is first attached to all of the components, and then those wires are twisted onto the base.  You would attach the branches first, then the large cones and fruits, finishing off with bunches of dried flowers to fill in the bare spots.  Small wooden skewers, already attached to thin wire (florist picks) are used to wire the artichokes, pomegranates, and oranges to the wire base.

This lovely wreath features mostly dried flowers and seed pods.  You could make this easily with a hot glue gun.

This lovely wreath features mostly dried flowers and seed pods on a grapevine base.  The green comes from dried hops.  You could easily make this with just  a hot glue gun.

 

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I prefer working on straw bases or Styrofoam.  I use long wire “staples” to attach the green branches to the base, and pieces of thin bamboo “shish-kabob” skewers (from the grocery store) to impale the fruits or vegetables and attach them to the base.  Wire little bunches of the dried flowers together, and attach them with the wire staples, too, as the finishing touch.

Some people use hot-glue in the assembly.  This works, too; especially for the light elements of your design.

I’m doing the mental work tonight on two wreathes I plan to construct tomorrow.  If they turn out well, I’ll share photos in a later post. 

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This fairly unusual wreath we spotted last week on our walk through Colonial Williamsburg inspired my design idea…

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Early December tends to be a creative time of the year for many of us.  We’re decorating, cooking, and maybe even making a few gifts.

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This wreath is formed on grapevines and a hollowed out gourd.

This wreath is formed on grapevines and a hollowed out gourd.  Okra pods, berries,  oranges, and dried flowers add color and interest to the design.  This hangs on Francis Street, west of the old Capitol.

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We enjoy making things for the coming holidays. 

Actually, the lights and evergreens help distract me from the grey skies, fog, and cold winds this month brings.

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By focusing on beauty, it makes the wintery reality of December a little easier to endure.

What are you creating this December?

Take whatever comes to hand, and please, make something beautiful!

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Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

 

The Season of Wreathes

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It is December in Williamsburg, and wreathes are appearing on front doors everywhere.

I love early December when it is still warm enough to walk around the colonial area and enjoy these unusual and beautiful decorations.

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Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

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Known as “della Robbia,” these unique decorations are made from natural, easily accessible materials which would have been available to the residents of Williamsburg during the 18th Century.

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These wreathes, garlands and sprays reflect the evergreens and berries available in our Virginia woods, shells collected from the James River and Chesapeake Bay, feathers from local birds, dried flowers and pods grown in Colonial gardens, and the many fruits and vegetables either imported from the Caribbean colonies, or grown locally.

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Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

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No, we don’t grow pineapples, lemons and oranges in Virginia.  But these exotic fruits were readily available to the colonists through trade with the rest of the British Empire.

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Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation produces all of the wreathes and decorations used on their buildings each December.

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It is a huge undertaking for their staff each year, and draws visitors from across the United States and around the world.

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Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

Colonial Williamsburg, 2014

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I was in good company with lots of other photographers as I took photos on the eastern end of things, near the Colonial Capitol, yesterday.

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We’ll make another trek to capture the decorations on the western end of Duke of Gloucester Street, near The College of William and Mary, one day soon.

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Some of my companion photographers planned to use their photos to produce their own Christmas cards.  Others just wanted souvenirs.

I’ll share photos with you over several posts during December.

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I’ve made the first of my own wreathes for this year, in the della Robbia style, and they are hanging now at our neighborhood community center.

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I made this wreath on Saturday.

I made this wreath on Saturday.

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These are made on purchased straw wreath forms.  I begin with a base of Magnolia leaves, then add mixed bunches of evergreen which includes Cedar, Rosemary and Lavender  from our garden, and trimmings from the Christmas tree we purchased on Saturday.  Step by step instructions, with photos, may be found here….

These wreathes are trimmed with pine cones collected near College Creek on Saturday afternoon, Red Delicious apples, and some feathers from the craft store.

I hope you’ll construct some beautiful wreathes of your own this year, using whatever materials you can collect locally.

Colonial Williamsburg 2014

Colonial Williamsburg 2014

Please send me photos of your creations (by December 13)  to include in a round-up post later this month.  I can’t wait to see what you come up with! 

If you blog, please send a ping back and I’ll include a link to your post from mine.

This is a tiny little rebellion against Christmas “Made in China.”  Let’s make our own Christmas cheer, from the materials close at hand, just as our grandparents did.

It is a lot more interesting, and a lot more fun!

 

Colonial Williamsburg 2014

Colonial Williamsburg 2014

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

Holiday Wreath Challenge 2014

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