On a recent chilly and rainy afternoon I visited McLean Nursery in Parkville, Maryland, to get my annual inspiration for “decking the halls with boughs of holly”. Lots of cheerful people (and a dog!)stuffed into a cozy shed full of holiday trimmings was a nice respite from the constant deluge of rain.
Busy with working on dozens of wreaths, bows, and picks, everyone had a specific job to do. Notable for the use of the beautiful array of holly greens and berries grown on site, McLean customizes and creates to order exactly what the customer wants. Even if the customer can’t decide, there are freshly made unique wreaths lining the greenhouse walls to choose from. If you have ever had a fake wreath adorning your front door, your conversion to fresh is quickly made when you view the dizzying array of wreaths and arrangements and sniff the air.
A Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, the Celtic people of pre-Christian Ireland and England used holly extensively, decorating their homes throughout the Winter Solstice, and Druids thought hollies had mystical powers. Seen as a powerful fertility symbol and a charm to ward off witches and ill-fortune, holly was often planted near homes for this reason. McLean Nurseries in Parkville, Maryland has a plethora of different varieties of holly planted around the property, so they must have only good luck there!
Propagating cuttings in cold frames, many thousands of hollies are grown and sold every year at McLean. The busiest time of year at McLean is Christmas, with the business of decorating hundreds of Balsam Fir wreaths for the public and churches. A great nursery that keeps a low profile, McLean has introduced many new cultivars to the trade that are widely used today and have attained ‘Holly of the Year’ status.
Buying greens and berries at big box stores is the most convenient way for many to purchase their fresh cut greens for decorating. But I find that the greens have been sitting outside in the sun for several weeks at the store, that the greens are cut weeks before that, and they become dry and brittle, starting to shed.
So, you are buying greens that have been cut in early to mid-November to finally get to your purchase point, and they have to last until Christmas and after. For that reason, I make the 20 minute drive up a suburban street where McLean Nursery’s greenhouses and fields of growing hollies are located, to buy something that was cut that morning. You can’t get it any fresher!
Fresh magnolia leaves figure prominently in many of the wreaths
Wreath Making Deconstructed
Wreath making is serious business at McLean. Starting with a base of Balsam Fir, different varieties of greens, including the much-loved holly, are layered in to make a lush looking wreath. Inserting “picked” greens into the base allows you to mix and match all different colors and textures into a wreath. No glue is used. Handwork which is very labor intensive makes the McLean wreaths both beautiful and special, but are reasonably priced.
Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine attaching a metal pin around a flower stem making it easier to insert into the balsam fir base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.
Wreaths are all hand crafted and range in size from 14″ to a huge wreath that can measure 36″ in size for large areas. Green holly, variegated holly, winterberries, incense cedar, blue-berried juniper, magnolia, andromeda, boxwood, and false cypress are inserted using picks. Next, pine cones, fruits, and other pods are added. Space for a gorgeous bow is left on the wreath, with the bow wired on as the final touch.
Made to order for people who visit every year to pick up their special wreath, each one is unique.
Put A Bow On It!
Ribbon is like icing on the cake. Wired, wide ribbon with big loopy bows and lavish tails is essential to make a wreath stand out from the crowd. Red is a favorite, but gold is right up there in popularity. This year, the popular ribbon was a down home one with red trucks.
If you want to order your own hand-made wreath or deck your halls with fresh greens, drive over to 9000 Satyr Hill Rd, in Parkville, Maryland before Christmas, or call at 410-882-6714. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.