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Four steps to the perfect wreath

Get the how-to from a California designer who loves to work with fresh, foraged materials

by Kathleen N. Brenzel

It's a misty winter day at Harms Vineyards and Lavender Fields in Napa, California, and Mercedes Feller is doing what she loves to do this time of year. Stepping onto a picnic bench set at the base of a venerable oak, she reaches into the branches to prune out a few twigs and tendrils of lichen. She'll spend the rest of the morning gathering greenery to make her specialty: "wild-crafted" wreaths that are as elegant as they are simple.

Although the farm supplies Feller with lavender for wreaths in the summer, those plants are flowerless mounds now, cut back and sleeping for winter. So wild crafting - using materials gathered from plants that grow naturally - is the order of the day.

"People who cook with local ingredients can't plan what they're going to make. They just go to the garden or the farmers' market and choose the season's best crops," she explains. "Wild greenery also changes with the season, so I go with whatever looks good."

On a nearby patio, Feller goes to work on her twig-and-lichen creation. In less than an hour, her first wreath is ready to hang. Then the gardener and wreath designer - who recently opened her own store, Tiller Digs, in neighboring Marin County - heads toward a small canyon, trailed by a gaggle of goats, to harvest foliage from the bay trees there.

4 EASY STEPS TO A PERFECT WREATH

"I especially like simple, monochromatic wreaths made entirely from one material and accented with a satin ribbon for hanging," she says. Fragrant bay leaves and sculptural oak branches are among her favorite indigenous materials. The effect is fresh and welcoming - seasonal decor that showcases the bounty of the landscape.

Step 1: Gather the greenery

Choose long-lasting materials that grow in your area - cedar or Douglas fir in the Northwest, spruce in the mountains, or pine in the Southwest, for example.

Feller's favorites, in order of preference: eucalyptus (it stays fresh-looking the longest), oak (for its branches), bay, and magnolia

For subtle accents, she uses berries, seedpods, and herbs. "Rosemary grows almost wild in our area," she says.

Step 2: Bundle the foliage

Cut greenery snippets about 6 inches long, then gather them into 10 to 12 small but full bunches.

Wrap the stem ends of each bundle tightly with 24- or 26-gauge paddle wire, available at craft stores.

Step 3: Attach bundle to ring

eller prefers 10-inch wreath frames, called clamp rings ($2.99; save-on-crafts.com or 831/768-8428); they're strong and have 10 evenly spaced clamps to hold bundles of greens in place.

Secure one bunch at a time, closing the clamp over stem ends with your hands or a pair of pliers.

Step 4: Work around the ring

Continue attaching greenery, one bunch at a time, to the ring, moving in one direction around the circle.

Each bundle should slightly overlap the previous one.

Attach ribbon or raffia for hanging the wreath.

Resources: Mercedes Feller's wreaths (from $49 for 15-in. circle) are available at Tiller Digs, Corte Madera, CA (415/927-1266; no mail order), and Organic Bouquet.



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