The holidays are officially upon us! The holiday season always makes me simultaneously nostalgic for the holidays of my youth and overwhelmed by ALL THE WASTE. Because this is a blog about making DIY projects from recycled materials, I’m going to be perfectly honest about my discomfort around how much is wasted in the name of holiday cheer. From wrapping paper to people cutting down perfectly good trees to let slowly wither and die in their living rooms (sorry, mega downer…) to 20 bajillion tons of presents no one really wants, I spend most of November and December taking deep breaths and asking my wife, “But really, is there a way to opt out?” And yet…I’m a huge softie and love giving gifts. I love the twinkle and glitter of holiday spirit in the air when I go places. I love family. Thus, I typically end up trying to find ways to have my fruitcake and eat it too.
One thing I love the most about holidays is how beautiful people’s homes become, with decorations and lights, but I’m always trying to find subtle ways of making decorations more eco-friendly. That’s where the idea of the compostable and foraged wreath came in. I kept thinking, what if there was a wreath that you could just throw in the compost come January, where no trees were harmed in the making but was also beautiful and something to be proud of putting on one’s door? Most wreaths are made from commercial flowers and branches and use wire as a base and to hold things together. Other wreaths are made by gluing things onto styrofoam circles. The compostable wreath would have none of those things, just compostable materials.
A few weeks ago my neighbor and I noticed a pile of tree branches in our building’s backyard. We don’t have an onsight manager or maintenance person, so no one is sure where the branches came from, but it looks like they were accidentally torn off by squirrels. They’ve since dried and become beautifully preserved, with withered red berries and silvery green leaves. I kept thinking they’d make a lovely wreath, and what with all the autumn foliage in my backyard there are a lot of lovely things to choose from.
And so the compostable wreath was born! Even though this project is made from decaying foliage and not tin cans or used clothing, I feel like it’s another layer of what I want to address on this blog. Everything we create with has an impact, but choosing even natural materials found in your backyard over commercially grown plants means less water was wasted, less CO2 was released into the atmosphere because your branches weren’t shipped from who knows where, and hopefully you’ll encounter fewer pesticides with your finished product. I really love how my wreath turned out and it was really exciting to be able to point to it and say that I made a wreath. But can I tell you a secret? I have a feeling I’m not going to compost mine at all and keep it for next year, assuming it stays in one piece.
Just a suggestion on what type of foliage to use: use what you have. I know it’s tempting to go out and buy trendy eucalyptus branches for this project, but I promise it will be just as fun and gorgeous if you use what you have access to. If you live in California like me, there are tons of leafy trees that stay relatively green and full of leaves through most of the winter. I also added some oak and persimmon leaves for effect. If you live in the Northwest, you could go with the traditional pine wreath because you likely have pine in your backyard. If you’re in the Northeast, try red maple branches. If you live in England, please for the love of all that is green find a way to a make a nettle wreath and then send me a picture. You get it, use what you have on hand. Whatever you use, just remember that the branches and leaves will shrink once they are dry, so it helps to dry them for a few weeks ahead of time in a place where they will not mold. The sun is great, but inside is fine too.
- Foraged branches of various sizes, with both strong stems and flexible stems.
- Any foraged additional elements you want to add such as dried flowers, berries, leaves, etc.
- Natural twine or yarn (wool or cotton)
- Gardening clippers
- Floral tape (optional)
**You may find it best to work outside, as this project can be messy!
1. Shake out any loose leaves from your branches, and begin cutting your branches away from the core stem. Select about 6-8 flexible branches to form your base.
2. Begin to tie or tape your branches together, overlapping the branches about every 4-6 inches. You want your base to be solid, with a wide center as you’ll fill in your wreath as you go with more foliage. If you use floral tape like I did, you can cut it away at the end of the year when you compost your wreath. Your wreath should look something like the second picture below when you’re done with this step:
3. Cut about 6-8 more braches and place them around your wreath where you think you might want them to be. Using pieces of twine, tie those branches to this wreath, loose enough to stick your finger through the ties and no leaves brake, but tight enough so that the branches stay on.
When finished with this step, your wreath will look something like this:
4. Start sliding more branches and foliage through the ties you just created, filling out your wreath, and using more twine to tie off loose ends as you go. There’s no science to this part, just add what you think you need to add and tie what you think you need to tie to make your wreath sturdy. When I was done adding all the branches I wanted and tieing it down, it looked something like this:
5. Add additional elements to finish off your leaves. I chose to add some leaves of of a different variety and varying colors to add intrigue to my wreath, but you can add anything you want! Pinecones, berries, twigs, moss, dried flowers, etc… I just slipped my leaves through the loops that I’d already created.
Now go hang your wreath up and be proud of your gorgeous creation! Also…I had to include this behind-the-scenes photo of my cat hiding in the foliage in my workspace outside! After I walked downstairs, I sat down next to the posterboard which I was using to photograph, and she attacked me through the leaves! What a rascal!