Holly for the Holidays

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.

The ceiling is dripping with finished bows
Miriam is the chief elf and wreath maker
Beautiful swag ready to go home to decorate somebody’s door
Each wreath is hand decorated with fresh greens, bows, berries, and pinecones

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!’

Lots of hands are needed to clean and pick the bight holly berries that are inserted into wreaths

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.

Bows galore with a home made stand for propping up wreaths

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.

Hard at work on a wreath

Christmas Tradition

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!

Beautiful yellow-gold holly berries
A work area full of festive trimmings

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.

Greens and berries are sold by the pound
Weighing up some Winter Gold berries

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.

Fresh magnolia is used in many of the wreaths

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.

Tips of berry full holly branches are cut and wrapped with a metal pick maker to add to the wreath base
Tips of berry full holly branches are cut and wrapped with a metal pick maker to add to the wreath base
Removing holly leaves to get pure berries is labor intensive

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.

A Pick machine makes the wreath making go faster
A Steelpix pick machine attaches metal picks to your greens by pressing down on a lever
A Steelpix pick machine attaches metal picks to your greens by pressing down on a lever

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.

Miriam designed this beauty
Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these "flower" like decorations
Sugar Pine cones are cut into thirds to make these “flower” like decorations
Boxwood trees are made by hand

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.

Red truck ribbon
Variety of ribbons
Variety of ribbons ready to be made into bows
The plaid ribbon give this wreath a down home look
Plaid ribbon gives this wreath an elegant down home look

Order One

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!

Birch tree ribbon is one of my favorites
I love the red and white scheme of this wreath
‘Winterberry’ ribbon on wreath
Bill Kuhl is the owner and loves to talk about all his different holly varieties
You can buy and take home your own holly plants so you can grow your own winterberry

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