I can’t believe it’s already that glorious time of the year again. Fires are blazing, Christmas trees are up and the countdown to Christmas has begun. For me this time of the year is always a wonderful time of slowing down and allowing some time for crafts and creativity. One of my favourite things every year is to roam the mostly bare wild Atlantic fields around my house in search of berries, twigs and anything from the garden that will make a beautiful festive wreath.
For many people wreaths, whether home made or bought are a wonderful part of the Christmas tradition. They signify good spirit and luck and are a welcome symbol to a persons home. Historically and still today they are also used in the advent traditions, holding the four candles which mark the four Sundays in the lead up to Christmas.
The wreath however is more than just a pretty seasonal decoration. It has many fascinating stories and meanings attached to it and it is fascinating how the the materials and plants used and their associations change over time according to lifestyles, geography and style as well as environmental trends.
In Ancient Greece and Rome Etruscan for example rulers wore wreaths as crowns signifying their rank, achievement and status and laurel wreaths in particular were most commonly associated with achievement and victory. These laurel wreaths were worn by the winners of the original Olympic games and even today Italian students wear laurel wreaths when they graduate from university. Back in ancient Rome and Greece wreaths were also made using Oak leaves and were used to symbolise wisdom, leading back to Greek mythology and the story of Zeus resting in an oak grove.
The modern wreath also has roots in the traditions of the pagan harvest wreath, which has its origins in animistic spiritual beliefs of ancient Europe, with harvest wreaths adorning many doors during harvest festivals and sometimes throughout the whole year as part of rituals to protect crop failure and plagues. Interestingly the tradition of the advent wreath was first used in the 16th century by German Lutherans and this was the start of the custom of lighting the advent candles in the four weeks leading up to Christmas. The plants used in these wreaths would have been mainly evergreen to signify the everlasting life brought by Christ.
This year more than any other I have noticed the many different forms wreaths can take and how a growing awareness of the importance of sustainability has changed the game for many florists, craftspeople, designers and artists making wreaths. Considering the wreath has so many powerful symbolic associations, a new wave of slow and considered wreath makers have emerged nationally. Using subtle sustainable materials and seasonal plants taking centre stage, the wreaths become powerful messages about our current climate crisis and a wonderful way to support local talent while respecting the environment.
Steeped in sustainable seasonality
How Mags Riordan of Bumblebee Flower Farm has created a haven for biodiversity
It is fascinating to see how the personality of the person who creates a wreath shines through in its design. West Cork based Mags Riordan of Bumblebee Flower Farm knows a thing or two about growing and her garden is a reflection of her approach to life. On her 0.75acre flower farm in Drimoleague Mags grows everything from shrubs to perennials as well as annuals and delicious edibles in her raised beds and tunnels. With something always blooming, in berry or in season at all times of the year, Bumblebee Flower Farm has become a go-to destination for flowers for weddings, edibles for restaurants and seasonal displays and Mags leads workshops and events throughout the year on wreath making and floristry all with sustainability and seasonality are at the core.
Speaking to Mags I was fascinated to learn about her approach which while somewhat traditional visually, the underlying focus relies very much on modern sustainable principles. Her work is as she says ‘steeped in seasonality’ and aims to use whatever is in season at her farm at any given point. Using lots of evergreens with references to mythology as well as the story of Christmas, plants from the garden such as Ivy and Holly often become the backbones for her creations.
Creating a flower garden- never mind a whole farm- which is buzzing with biodiversity is a valuable way of supporting wildlife and Mags knows how important this is while she is also aware of the responsibility that comes with it. She tells me that “Once you create a place of biodiversity where there are birds and bees and butterflies everywhere enjoying the flowers and seed heads-you can’t just walk away as you have a responsibility to retain this biodiversity.” With so much beauty and varied wildlife- this is surely some welcome inspiration for creating more sustainable and biodiversity rich gardens for us all.
From Florist to Forest
-designer and florist Claire Bracken finds joy in the naked garden
There is nothing more fascinating than garden structure when all the leaves fall off. It is as though the garden is showing a totally different face and architectural stems, seed heads and texture really start to shine. One designer and florist who has worked with flowers for many years is designer and florist Claire Bracken. Particularly drawn to the changing structures and tones that appear throughout autumn and winter in Ireland, this year Claire started to think about them within a wreath context. Speaking about her creative process she says that “It is easy to make something beautiful with fresh cut flowers, but I liked the challenge to create something special from what some people see as dead flowers and weeds.”
The result is a striking dried winter wreath-scape made from foraged botanics. Walks through national parks, bogs, canal lines, hedge rows and gardens as well as leftover materials from her partner, who works in the landscaping industry provide Claire with the raw materials for these creative pieces, minimising environmental impact and underlining the central theme to her approach: that every wreath plays a sustainable role in minimising the pressure of supply and demand of cut flowers on our planet.
She explains that “The idea of a fully sustainable dried wreath, although exquisite, is to nurture environmental awareness among people whilst providing beauty and interest in ones home or work place.”
Claire’s Foraged Wreath collection can be found at Avoca, Kilmacanogue, The Hopsack in Rathmines and Red Earth in Mullingar.
-how florist Aiva Veinberga plans ahead and gets inspired by Latvian Summer traditions
A designer who draws on her childhood roots to create dried flower wreaths which that can be used all year round is florist Aiva Veinberga. Originally from Latvia, Aiva is a graduate of Botanic gardens Glasnevin, where she studied horticulture and her knowledge of flowers clearly shows in her work as a florist.
For her stunning pieces Aiva draws inspiration from her Latvian upbringing and the tradition of Summer solstice festival, a big celebration which involves gathering of wild flowers and making flower crowns for women and oak foliage crowns for men. Aiva tells me that the crowns along with herbal teas bunched up and gathered around the same time quite often decorate the kitchens up till Christmas.
When making her own dried flower wreaths Aiva starts gathering the material in summer, many of them from flowers at her allotment. Flowers such as nigella seed heads, yarrow, poppy seed heads, alchemilla and many more find their second life in the wreaths and even ‘donations’ form other people’s gardens such as her partner’s mother who grows Lunaria or honesty, make their way into the designs.
One of the most important things to consider she tells me is making a plan ahead of the seasons: “The potential material for Christmas wreaths is everywhere once you remember to plan gathering for it in good time and summer bounty can be kept and weaved into beautiful garlands. I also supplement my summer collection with foraged plant material. I buy some flowers in as well but most of it is local when possible. I use wire wreath bases instead of oasis to make my wreaths and try my best to be as sustainable as possible”
Aiva’s wreaths will be for sale today at The Botanic Garden Christmas Eco Craft Market www.botanicgardens.ie or find her on instagram @aivaveinberger
With thanks to the designers x