Though the first frost is still weeks away, your garden’s bloom is probably off the rose, with the beauty of early summer surrendering to weeds and wildflowers. But the end of the warm weather offers an opportunity: You can use some of this vegetation for seasonal decorations like wreaths, garlands, and centerpieces for Thanksgiving. Of course, some plants work better than others for this purpose.
To start, harvest flowers, herbs, and roses for drying. Consider, for instance, marigold blossoms, the large purplish-pink globes of the Joe-Pye weed, all goldenrods, and wild grasses, in particular switchgrass and the common reed. Other useful fall fodder may include hulls from the giant sunflower, flower heads from the butterfly bush, and all hydrangeas, in particular the oakleaf hydrangea with its oversized, slightly elongated flower heads.
When drying roses, note that smaller buds often keep better than large ones, which tend to release their petals after drying. Herbs that dry well and also retain some of their fragrance include dill, fennel, rosemary, and yarrow (noted for its medicinal qualities). Air-drying is simple and can be done any time of the year.
And don’t overlook the store-bought flower arrangements you receive as gifts throughout the year—they, too, can be turned into an instant dried bouquet. Simply remove them from the vase while still attractive, then tie the stems at the base with string, and hang them upside down for drying anywhere in the house that’s dark and dry with good air circulation.
Also good for wreath-making are dried canes from grapevines or redbud trees, because they lend themselves to bending, shaping, and braiding, especially after the wood has been treated with linseed oil, which makes woody canes softer. Once shaped, you can add dried rosebuds, marigolds, and ornamental grasses.
Naturally, the combination of flowers and the artistic vision is up to you. But (hint), the lacey flower heads of dried fennel go well with yarrow, Joe-Pye weed, and goldenrod. This mélange creates a lovely old-fashioned bouquet when placed into a rustic metal pitcher, for example. If your garden contains evergreens, such as the highly fragrant juniper or the stately camellia bush with its dark green, shiny leaves, then use both to enhance your Thanksgiving wreath with twigs from each.
Here’s what’s you’ll need in your toolbox: linseed oil to soften wood, scented oils for enhancement, thin metal wire and wire clippers, scissors, ribbons, and containers of your choice, such as metal urns, pitchers, buckets, or baskets.
For starters, it helps to lay out everything on a table. Group the plants by species in small piles, then mix and match to see what goes together well. If you’re among the select group of passionate gardeners who let goldenrod thrive (some people are allergic to it), you’re lucky, because its benefits are legion, including soil fortification and its ability to attract butterflies and bees. And goldenrod is also ideal for creating garlands for doorways, and for framing large mirrors, family portraits, or ornate chandeliers.
If you cut 3- to 4-foot pieces and dry them, you can braid the stems, then add other sections and gradually weave in the dried flower material of your choice. The ends of each garland could be held together with rust-brown, subdued yellow, or moss-green organdy ribbons.
Your holiday guests will be asking, “Who made the decorations?”