As guests arrive during this season of celebration and gathering, they’re often greeted by the symbols of the season, wreaths and cornucopias. These arrangements of flowers, fruit, and foliage were long-standing traditions by the time the ancient Greek and Roman myths were written down. Laurel wreaths were associated with Apollo, oak leaf wreaths with Zeus, and there were harvest wreaths, too. As a symbol of abundance, cornucopias also date back to ancient mythology where they appear as goat horns, or horns from the heads of river spirits, overflowing with never-ending bounty.
These days, a cornucopia arrangement usually begins with a wicker basket rather than a ram’s horn. The frame for a dry wreath can be of wire, twined grapevines, or anything else formed into a semi-rigid circle that things can be attached to. Both forms can accommodate a wide variety of materials and textures, including almost everything in the florist’s shop and much more. Mariko Kawaguchi of Donaroma’s, who teaches many workshops on floral design, advises buying some basic materials from the florist and then taking a walk to see what you can find in the outdoors. “Everyone can gather something for the harvest,” she says.
Chrysanthemums and asters are the flowers of the season, and their gold and orange colors make a good base for the harvest cornucopia. Other colors and textures that might find their way into a cornucopia arrangement include dried wheat, lichens, sea shells, feathers, seed pods, dried ears of corn, cinnamon sticks, and more (though probably not all at once). Wreaths, likewise, can include dried fruit and flowers, as well as (or instead of) evergreens and holly.
“Cornucopias are complicated because it needs to look like it’s spilling out,” Kawaguchi says. She begins with a horn-shaped basket, with a block of oasis floral foam sitting in a dish on its flat tongue. The challenge of the arrangement is to create that feeling of being plentiful, radiating out from the cornucopia. While arranging, Kawaguchi recommends working with some confidence, in line with the advice of one of her art school teachers, who said that it’s better to make a mistake and fix it than to be wobbly about creating the line. Once the main textures of the arrangement have been built up, it’s good to add dimension and flair, so that it doesn’t look like it came from a cookie cutter. “I like to mix it up with a little surprise, like an orchid,” she says. “There’s a lot of artistry that can happen with these.”
“No matter what shape of arrangement you’re doing you need to keep it watered,” Kawaguchi advises. It will last longer if the stems are cut on a long diagonal to better absorb water, and if the foam is kept wet consistently. For dry wreaths, watering is not a factor, but choosing the right materials can make a big difference in how long a wreath lasts. Emily Coulter of Morrice Florist says that she can use dried flowers on her front door wreath because it’s covered by a porch, but “delicate things won’t hold up on a door that’s exposed to weather.”
Coulter begins by making a small bouquets of greens, flowers, and holly, about as long as her hand. She attaches this arrangement to the form with floral wire, then follows it with another of similar size and materials to fill out the frame. In a workshop on Nov. 10, each participant made a unique wreath despite working from the same selection of dried flowers and other materials. One was golden and tawny, the traditional harvest palate, another was pink and gold, while a third mixed a bright blue delphinium with sprays of delicate white flowers. Children who want to make their own wreaths should be able to, but they (and others) might need a second pair of hands to steady the small bouquets while they’re wired onto the frame. If small pieces fall off, a hot glue gun can help re-affix them to the arrangement.
As with the cornucopia, the challenge of making a wreath is to work with the form. With the right materials and a little bit of advance planning, either of these projects can be tackled at home. This month’s cornucopia and dry wreath workshops have come and gone, but there are more events coming for those who would like to learn in person, with the tools of a florist’s shop.
Morrice Florist will hold a winter wreath workshop on Saturday, Dec. 1. Morrice Florist is located at 179 State Rd. in Vineyard Haven. Call 508-689-0392 to reserve your spot. On Saturday, Dec. 8, as part of Christmas in Edgartown, Donaroma’s will host a wreath-making workshop from 10 am to 4 pm. Donaroma’s is located at 270 Upper Main St. in Edgartown.
Whether at home or in a workshop, making these arrangements is an enjoyable way to spend an hour or two, leaving you with a creation that reflects your own aesthetics and sense of the season.