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FRESH FOLIAGE MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE

Little compares with the beauty of a wreath made from live foliage. Not only is the visual texture of shiny green leaves in crownlike forms appealing, but working with fresh foliage is amazingly satisfying. Freshly cut leafy branches can be vigorously handled without losing their foliage, so even a novice floral arranger (or wreath maker) can be assured a beautiful decoration.

Several varieties of foliage are beautiful in both their live and dry states. Two of the most trusted varieties for use in the featured arrangement are white mallee eucalyptus leaves and lemon leaves. The leaves of these varieties can be allowed to dry in place without losing their unique appeal. Their colors are a rich bright green in their hydrated state, and then a soft sage green when they dry. The value of such a transformation is that you can use a wreath made from fresh leaves across several seasons, changing the added ornamentation to suit the season or the holiday.

Of course, if you have trees or shrubbery in your garden, you can harvest your own leafy branches. Be on the lookout for strong, slender, yet flexible branches with many clusters of leaves. Shake the branch to make certain the leaves do not fall off or it will already be too dry to use. Leaves that are between 2 and 4 inches in length are best, since they are usually found in clusters along the length of the branch, making it perfect for cutting usable sections for wreath making.

Making a wreath using fresh foliage requires little experience since the natural curves and undulations of the foliage make the process almost foolproof. It is important to condition the leafy branches first. All you do is make a diagonal cut at the end of each stem, plunge the branches into water overnight (with leaves above the water line to prevent rotting) and bind bunches of them onto a wreath form thereafter. To attach the lengths of foliage, secure a row of stems with floral pins, then bind the row with string, repeating this exercise until the wreath is covered.

After binding the fresh foliage to the straw wreath, you can decorate it in one of two ways: by making a garland using dried materials, or by inserting the stems of hearty and colorful live flowers into orchid vials, and pushing the vials between the branches in a desired pattern.

Estimated working time: 2 hours.

Estimated expenses: $37 (plus chosen floral decoration).

Materials

To make one wreath from fresh foliage, you will need:

8 bundles white mallee eucalyptus (or lemon leaves)

Straw wreath, 24-inch diameter

Reel string

Floral pins

Garden shears or junky scissors

Utility knife

Bucket

Dried flowers (optional): Larkspur, Delphinium, Lime-green gypsum, Purple statice, Pink and yellow strawflowers, White rununculus.

Eucalyptus leaves, $32 ($4 per bundle); straw wreath, $2.89; reel string, 89 cents; floral pins, $1.29.

Directions

1. To condition eucalyptus branches, lay branches on protected work surface and select one stem at a time, using utility knife to slice end of stem on a diagonal; repeat for all stems.

2. Place stems in pail of water overnight, making certain foliage remains above water line.

3. To prepare leafy sections, lay branches on protected work surface. Select one branch and cut into sections, each measuring about 6 to 8 inches; repeat for all branches.

4. To decorate wreath, lay wreath on flat surface and tie reel string around ring, securing with two knots; do not cut string.

5. To make first row of leafy branches, position cut lengths on string across width of straw wreath in a slight fan shape, all leaves facing in same direction; affix stems using floral pins.

6. Bind stems in place using reel string by wrapping string around wreath, capturing stems and securing to wreath base.

7. To lay second row of leafy foliage, place leafy portion of stems over previously bound stems, securing with floral pins and binding in place with reel string.

8. Continue as in Steps 5 through 7 until entire wreath is decorated; tie off and cut string.

9. Step back from wreath and assess distribution of plant material.

10. When satisfied with arrangement, add additional floral garland as follows: Make five large bouquets of chosen flowers, cutting stems to 6 inches, and binding stems with string; bind two bouquets onto medium-gauge wire, using string; bind second two bouquets in opposite direction on wire to create garland; lay garland on top portion of wreath, using floral pins to secure; to finish, add last bouquet in center of garland, securing with floral pins; fill in empty spaces and create fuller look by inserting single flowers between leafy stems.

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