McLean Nursery is gearing up for a big Christmas holly decorating season! Hundreds of fluffy festive bows are hanging from the workshop ceiling and the ‘elves’ are busily making the many wreaths and boxwood trees that are destined to deck the halls of some lucky customers. And those customers come back year after year as they know they will be taking home freshly made greenery wreaths, boxwood trees, and the ‘fixins’ for DIY Christmas decorating that will last them for weeks at a reasonable price.
Hand crafted with decorations added with picks of berries and variegated holly, and other distinctive greens, each wreath is unique and distinctive. The picks of bright berries are created by a small team, the decoration is done by someone who has an eye for what looks good together, and the bow is added last – ‘It takes a village!’
How They Do It
On a recent sunny afternoon I visited the nine acre farm called McLean Nurseries 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 my way of getting into the spirit. You know it is time to start decorating when McLean’s is heating up.
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. 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 Noble 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 store bought greens have been sitting outside in the sun for several weeks already, and are cut weeks before that, and become dry and brittle, even before you get them home.
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!
Wreath Making Deconstructed
Wreath making is serious business at McLean. Starting with a base of Noble Fir, adding 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 hot glue is used. Handwork which is very labor intensive makes the McLean wreaths both beautiful and special.
Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine attaching a metal pin around a foliage stem making it easier to insert into the base. I have one of these hard to find contraptions and it is ingenious in making mixed picks of florals quickly and efficiently.
Wreaths range in size from 14″ to a huge wreath that can measure 36″ or larger in size for large walls and doors. Green holly, variegated holly, winterberries, incense cedar, blue-berried juniper, magnolia, andromeda, boxwood, and false cypress are inserted using picks. Next the accents such as pine cones, fruits, and other pods are wired in. Space for a gorgeous bow is left on the wreath, with the customer selected bow wired on as the final touch.
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. Last year, the popular ribbon was a down home one with red trucks and I still see it is popular. But anything with red or plaid is always popular.
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. Tell them that Claire Jones sent you!