Former White House Chief Florist Laura Dowling has created impressive floral designs for state dinners, but when it comes to holiday decor she prefers the simple elegance of a natural garden-style wreath.
Her favorite natural fruit and vegetable wreaths have such an appetizing look that she once opened the front door to find a squirrel sitting on top of a red apple wreath, taking a bite out of an apple.
She shares with us the layering techniques she uses to create holiday wreaths perfect for greeting guests at a special event or holiday party.
Colonial Williamsburg style
What inspired her to create holiday wreaths with fresh-from-the-garden appeal?
According to Laura, her distinctive designs “represent a modern updated version of the classic traditional Colonial Williamsburg style.” She uses a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and other natural materials “to create a striking and colorful holiday display.”
“It is always fun to see the design come together; no design or color combination is ever the same,” she says.
During colonial times, ships sailed from Jamaica delivering fresh oranges, apples and pineapples to the new colonies. These fresh fruits, especially pineapples, came to represent hospitality as only the most affluent hosts could afford to share the costly imports with their guests.
Today, floral designers still use the unexpected color, texture and form of fresh farm produce to create welcoming displays in a traditional Williamsburg style.
When constructing this type of wreath, Laura recommends creating the design in four layers:
1. Start with a sturdy frame
Select a secure base to build upon, as the designs can be very heavy. Wire, grape vine or straw wreath forms can work well as the foundation of a wreath.
“You can also use a faux fir wreath, covering the form with a layer of fresh greens to create a natural effect,” says Laura. “The bonus is that ready-made faux wreaths often are constructed on strong frames which will help support the weight of the fruit and vegetables.”
2. Cover the form using ruched ribbons or greens
The addition of this floral backing will add width to the design and offer additional support for the weight of the design materials.
Laura suggests using OASIS™ Bind Wire to attach greenery and ribbon to the base to support decorative materials. She uses OASIS™ Rustic Wire to fashion a sturdy loop for hanging the wreath on the door.
3. Wire fruits and vegetables over the top
“I typically wire the fruit to the frame to create a sturdy, long-lasting design,” explains Laura. Florist wire or OASIS™ Spool Wire can be helpful for wiring fruits to the frame.
To aid the design in lasting as long as possible, select hardy farm produce that hasn’t fully ripened. Choose items in good condition minus bruises or tears in the outer skins. The design will continue to ripen and evolve while it is exposed to the outdoor weather elements.
4. Add finishing touches with berries and winter foliage
“Additional embellishments, such as berries or small fruits, can be added as a final layer by inserting wood picks into the frame.” If you need to glue small and delicate items into place or secure the tip of the wooden pick more firmly in the wreath form, OASIS® Floral Adhesive can be helpful.
In addition to the design tips offered by Laura, a good set of tools can be useful when wiring items into place. You might find the OASIS™ Branch Cutter, OASIS™ Wire Cutter, OASIS™ Bunch Cutter, or OASIS™ Jewelry Pliers very helpful for this type of project.
What drew Laura to this garden style of holiday wreath design?
Laura’s signature style
“Inspired by growing up amidst the beauty of the Pacific Northwest landscape and flower studies in Paris,” Laura describes her own signature style as a ‘garden style’. “It’s a lush and layered style of flowers and foliage featuring a variety of colors and textures to create a stylized interpretation of gardens and landscapes,” she explains.
Laura’s elegant designs are always made with beautiful fresh materials. Sometimes that’s not an option for our clients due to weather conditions or the length of time a design is needed. You’ll lose Laura’s lovely natural aesthetic, but you can create a similar abundant look by choosing a good quality faux fruit and botanicals and using her layering technique.
When creating designs made from fresh fruits or vegetables, Laura reminds us that “it’s important to remember that they are not intended to last the duration of the holiday season.” Depending upon weather conditions, fresh fruit wreaths will last about a week on display. After that, they are prone to bugs or fruit flies—and yes … even squirrels.
For more tips from Laura check out her book Floral Diplomacy: At the White House.
Using Laura Dowling’s techniques, what interesting fruits and vegetable combinations can you use to create gorgeous garden-style wreaths for your clients this season?