Create Holiday Beauty

Events help attendees turn non-timber items into Christmas joy

By Craig Reed

There were many happy faces at the end of a past Oregon State University Extension Service wreath-making workshop. Photo courtesy of Alicia Christiansen

Christmas wreaths and swags might be considered the little sisters to Christmas trees, adding greenery and beauty to the holiday season. Whereas growing one’s own Christmas tree might not be realistic, making wreaths and swags is possible.

To help mentor crafters through the process, Douglas County’s Oregon State University Extension Service and the Elkton Community Education Center offer wreath-making workshops.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Alicia Christiansen, the extension forestry agent for Douglas County, has scheduled the extension’s workshop as a virtual event Thursday, December 2, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

In its first three years, the workshop was an in-person event and attracted about 30 participants each year. Last year’s workshop was held virtually because of COVID. About 25 people tuned in.

The Elkton workshop has been an annual event for about 15 years. It wasn’t held in 2019 because of COVID but returned to an in-person event in 2020.

Randi Jo Reichmuth and her daughter Coe show off the wreaths and swag they made at a workshop at the Elkton Community Education Center. Photo courtesy of ECEC

This year, in-person sessions are Saturday, December 4, at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. at the education center. Because space is limited, those interested should register early. A $20 fee covers materials and instruction.

“It’s an artistic experience,” says Joan Arsenault, an instructor at the Elkton workshops. “It’s fun helping people make something with their own hands to enjoy at Christmas.”

Tami Jo Braz, a former floral designer, has been an instructor at the in-person workshops.

“What I really enjoy is taking something natural and making it into something beautiful,” she says. “There’s satisfaction in folks coming to the workshops, thinking they don’t know what to do or they think they’re not talented enough, but they leave with a smile and something beautiful.”

The OSU Extension Service and the Women Owning Woodlands Network partnered to establish the extension office workshops. Several extension offices around the state offer similar workshops.

“Because a lot of people will purchase a wreath each year, this is a fun opportunity for women to get together and to make their own wreaths together,” Alicia says. She says there are several reasons for people who own or have access to rural property to make their own green holiday decorations.

“It’s a good opportunity to get onto your property, to look at it in a different way,” Alicia says. “You can learn how to properly harvest boughs, and how to do it in a sustainable rotation throughout your property.”

She suggests those who live in more urban areas bring clippings from their yards to incorporate into their wreaths.

“It can be an education for residential homeowners who might not normally take a forestry class,” Alicia says.

During the extension workshop, nontimber forest products such as boughs, cones and mushrooms are discussed, as well as who might be interested in buying them. There is a presentation on the most common native conifer species and how to identify them.

“It’s an opportunity to help people learn more about forest management and incorporating nontimber forest products into their forest management activities,” Alicia says. “It’s a fun activity to do with family and friends. Collecting greenery is a new way—a new reason—to get out on your land.”

Douglas fir, incense cedar, Western red cedar, Port Orford cedar, and grand fir boughs, all available in Douglas County, are commonly used in making wreaths.

Kellee Garcia, left, and Rebekah Melton were pleased with the wreaths they made at a past workshop at the Elkton Community Education Center. Three workshops are scheduled for December 4. Photo courtesy of ECEC

If a private property source is not available, one can obtain a permit to gather materials on national forest land or Bureau of Land Management land.

Another option for the base of a wreath or swag is grape vines. Tami Jo also includes twigs, mosses, and even Scotch broom—an invasive plant—in her decorative creations.

“I’ve lived on my property for 35 years and I’m always discovering new plants,” she says. “Every trip outside is an opportunity for discovery no matter what time of year it is. This time of year, when the leaves are down, you see things you might not see at any other time of year.”

The workshops offer the chance to learn a new skill that can be shared with family and friends, and perhaps start a new tradition.

“It’s a nice way to integrate forest management with a holiday celebration,” Alicia says. “We like to promote education about nontimber forest products around the wreath-making topic.”

Tami Jo describes the wreaths and swags she makes as “boughs of joy.”

“Fresh greens in a bundle will brighten anyone’s day,” she says, explaining she makes several extras and gives them to neighbors and friends. “I call it scattered joy.”

To watch the extension’s virtual wreath-making workshop, contact the office at (541) 672-4461 for a link to a recording of the event. For information on the Elkton Community Education Center workshops, call the center at (541) 584-2692.