Holly Love-The Art of Wreath Making at McLean Nursery

McLean Nurseries workshop
McLean Nurseries workshop
Boxwood trees ready for sale
Boxwood trees ready for sale

Decking the halls with boughs of holly is a Christmas tradition that goes back centuries, rooted in Pagan times and plays a pivotal role in Christianity. The prickly leaves represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore at his crucifixion and the berries are the drops of blood shed by Jesus. 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!

The nine acres of the nursery are widely planted with evergreen and deciduous hollies and magnolias
Nine acres of the nursery are widely planted with evergreen and deciduous hollies, and magnolias
Deciduous hollies are fenced because of deer
Deciduous hollies are fenced because of deer

The genus Ilex is a popular winter evergreen in gardens, and is easy to grow on any well-drained soil. Grown as a free-standing small specimen tree is common, but it’s ability to resprout from cut stems makes it an ideal hedge plant. The berries are a key part of the holly’s charm, and can come in a range of colors, like yellow, orange and different shades of red. Deciduous hollies, Ilex verticillata, lose their leaves in the fall to display tightly packed berries clothing the stems.  

A peach colored deciduous holly
A peach colored deciduous holly

McLean Nurseries has grown hollies on their nine acres for over 70 years. Many Ilex introductions originated here with the best known one Ilex opaca, ‘Satyr Hill’, named for the street the nursery is on. I planted a hedge of ‘Satyr Hill’ three years ago to create a wind break at the back of my property and I love this variety for its toughness, beauty, and ease of growth. Bill Kuhl, the owner of McLean, grows more than 100 cultivars of Holly and lots of varieties of the deciduous ones, Ilex verticilatta. Other shrubs like Boxwood, Hydrangea, Viburnum, and native perennials are sold at McLean and garden clubs are welcome to tour the nursery.

An array of cut greens and berries for sale
An array of cut greens and berries for sale

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. Visiting McLean recently to see the beautifully designed wreaths that will end up far and wide in the Baltimore area, I love to see the varieties of holly and greens that create a Tapestry of Holly. 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.

A beautiful variegated holly
A beautiful variegated holly
If you want to decorate your house, McLean Nurseries has many fresh cut greens
If you want to decorate your house, McLean Nurseries has many fresh-cut greens, like this Magnolia
Greens are weighed and priced by the pound
Greens are weighed and priced by the pound

Wreath Making Process

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 resonably priced.

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

Workers at McLean use an old-fashioned pick machine which attaches 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.

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
A pick ready to be inserted into a wreath
A pick ready to be inserted into a wreath
A wreath stand that acts like an easel to hold up the wreath
A wreath stand that acts like an easel to hold up the wreath

 

Wreath stand with Balsam Fir base ready to be decorated
Wreath stand with Balsam Fir base ready for decorating

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.

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

Made to order for people who visit every year to pick up their special wreath, each one is unique.

Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stand proudly next to a special ordered wreath
Miriam, the chief wreath maker, stands proudly next to a special ordered wreath
Red ribbon and berries make this wreath pop
Red ribbon and berries make this wreath pop
Closeup of cones, balls, and sugared fruit
Closeup of cones, balls, and sugared fruit
Variegated boxwood stands out on this wreath
Variegated boxwood stands out on this wreath

Ribbon

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.

Variety of ribbons
Variety of ribbons ready to be made into bows
I call this "Winterberry" ribbon. I love the red and white contrast.
I call this “Winterberry” ribbon with the red and white contrast
The plaid ribbon give this wreath a down home look
Plaid ribbon gives this wreath an elegant down home look
Making picks that will go into wreaths, Bill Kuhl, the owner is on the right
Helpers making picks that will go into wreaths; Bill Kuhl, the owner is on the right taking a break

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. Wreaths, swags, boxwood trees, centerpieces, and greens are reasonably priced and guaranteed to create an instant festive touch to your home.

I love the red and white scheme of this wreath
‘Winterberry’ ribbon on wreath
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Turnips used in a wreath

Blooming Hill Greenhouse-A Family Owned Business

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Blooming Hill makes use of old ironing boards to display flowers

Patronizing independent nurseries, not big box store chains, is an important part of my shopping for plants. A totally different shopping experience greets me as I walk in the door and you will find knowledgeable and eager to please owners and workers. The plant selection is quite eclectic with little gems that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.

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Coleus ‘Coleo”

Also, the plants are taken care of and not neglected like I see too many times at big box stores. Mainstream garden centers and big box stores tend to stick with the tried and true, afraid to plant “outside the pot” for fear that customers won’t buy something different.

Jo Troy, owneer of Blooming Hill Greenhouse
Jo Troy, owner of Blooming Hill Greenhouse in Parkton, MD
moss basket
Jo Troy working on a moss basket, one of her specialties

But as a plant lover, there are so many new varieties and cultivars out there to try, I think that the more to choose from the better. I do love Petunias, Verbenas, and Sweet Potato Vine, but there are so many alternatives available to create something a bit different from your neighbor.

Abutilon
Abutilon

Abutilons or Flowering Maples caught my eye as I entered Blooming Hill Greenhouse, in Parkton, MD and I had to stop and admire this treasure that will be sure to attract hummingbirds to your garden.

You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!
You rarely see Abutilons at nurseries; at Blooming Hill they have three colors!
Unusual annuals are everywhere
Unusual annuals are everywhere: I forgot the name, but check it out at the open house!

Tucked away off a winding country road, you would never know the greenhouse was there until you stop at a bottom of a hill and spot the small sign. After turning up a steep driveway through woods dotted with Azaleas and other woodland plants, you know you are in for a treat. Greeted by 3 medium size poly greenhouses at the crest of the hill, there are always outdoor selections on tables to slow your journey into the mix of living, breathing, beautiful plants.

TheTroy family lives right next door to their business
The Troy family lives right next to their greenhouses. Row covers are ready to throw on top of outdoor plants for cold snaps

Brimming with treasures, the usual and unusual that you never see anywhere, and hanging and moss baskets everywhere, Blooming Hill is full of surprises. I enter like a kid in a candy shop and want one of everything. Or even better, three of everything! Also carrying tons of herbs and vegetable plants, this is a one stop nursery to fill your place with color.

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A completed bowl arrangement

Begonias of all colors and sizes fill Blooming Hill as one of Jo Troy’s favorite plants. She told me that she never met a Begonia she didn’t like! I have to agree with that as I survey the selections of Begonias.

Begonia 'Unbelievable Miss Montreal'
Begonia ‘Unbelievable Miss Montreal’
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Begonia ‘Glory Pink’

Blooming Hill Greenhouse

As a landscape designer, if I have a customer who wants to create their own containers but needs help with selection and colors, I send them to Blooming Hill for their expertise and advice. Owner Jo Troy is patient and helps customers personally select their plants to take home or if you bring in your container to the greenhouse, she will customize your planter for a very reasonable cost.  Her daughter Millie is also sought after as a designer of masterpieces in a pot.

Millie, Jo's daughter, is watering all the plants by hand
Millie, Jo’s daughter, is watering all the plants by hand

A plantaholics’s dream come true, Blooming Hill specializes in the creation of “moss baskets”, hanging baskets planted around the entire circumference of the “moss” covering in a wire basket. Requiring many plants to fill in the stuffed balls, and time to grow in, the moss baskets are works of art.

Moss basket
A hanging moss basket is a ball of flowers

See how Jo creates these masterpieces from scratch.

All plant lovers and collectors will find something to ooh and aah over and take home with no location in mind, but thinking that you can’t do without it!  Still selling well- filled market packs, the most economical way to buy plants, I splurge on zinnias, vinca, and other annuals to fill my beds for the summer.

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Sun Patien
A variegated Sunpatien: you just need one of these to fill a pot

So, if you are in the Baltimore area, check out their upcoming open house at 18700 Frederick Road in Parkton, MD, April 30 & May 1st, 2016 from 9AM to 4PM. If you go to the open house, please tell Jo that Claire sent you!

Blue Plumbago
Blue Plumbago, another annual that I never see anywhere else
Surfinia 'Summer Double Salmon'
Surfinia ‘Summer Double Salmon’
Container at Blooming Hill
A piece of art container for hsade; A customer dropped off this container to have it customized

Moss basket in the making
Moss basket completed but starting the process of growing in and producing flowers

Asclepias
I took this new variety home, a variegated Asclepias for my visiting Monarchs