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

Christmas Wreath-Ordinary to Extraordinary

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Decorated Christmas wreaths are a snap using a pre-made wreath base from a garden center or grocery store. The pre-made wreaths created with basic greens make a fine base but adding some additional greens, berries, and ribbon, takes the ordinary to extraordinary.  Below is my base which I purchased at a local store-basic fir branches wired onto a base. Nothing wrong with it all-just could be better!

Starting with a basic wreath base
Starting with a basic wreath base

After trolling through my landscape which has quite a few evergreens and berried shrubs, I added incense cedar, boxwood, and magnolia leaves which really add a textural improvement. My containers grew a bumper crop of Eucalyptus which I preserved with a glycerin solution and I wired some clumps up for a grey green hue. Some variegated white pine added some additional color and texture. Big difference….yes? Oh, and I hot glued all of this onto the base. No wiring, which takes too much time and effort. I find gluing is efficient and quick.

Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath
Wire your clumps together before gluing onto the wreath

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After these additions to the base materials, it was time to amp up the color with berries and ribbon. Gold is one of my favorite colors for wreaths and other decorations, so I chose this beautiful gold wired ribbon and added nandina berries for color and staying power. A find at my local craft store, the gold leaf ornaments added some glitter and dimension. Again, these were all glued in place.

Christmas wreath

Hung and ready for the holidays
Hung and ready for the holidays

For more ideas on wreaths, go to my post A Tapestry of Holly-McLean Nursery. Below is a masterpiece made to order at McLean, using the signature McLean hollies and winterberry.

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Turnips???
Turnips???

A Tapestry of Holly – McLean Nursery

Large 42 inch wreath made at McLean nurseries in Maryland
Large 42 inch wreath made at McLean nurseries in Maryland

Wreaths and holly berries go together like milk and cookies. The combination is a classic and McLean Nursery in Parkville, Maryland has it down to a fine art, growing all kinds of hollies since 1946. When Thanksgiving rolls around, McLean goes into full swing cutting all kinds of evergreens – boxwood, magnolias, and cedar, but in particular their specialty-holly. Bill Kuhl the owner of McLean, has many mature specimens to cut from, including American, English, and the deciduous hollies, commonly called Winterberries, or Ilex verticillata. Satyr Hill Holly, an Ilex opaca, was developed at McLean from a volunteer seedling and named Holly of the Year in 2003 by The Holly Society of America, Inc.

Sprays of holly ready to go to a new home for decorating
Sprays of holly ready to go to a new home for decorating
A table of winterberries, a deciduous holly
A table of winterberries, a deciduous holly

Starting with an evergreen base fastened to a wire form, bunches or picks of tips of evergreens, berries, and holly are added for texture and color. Last, cones, pods, and the odd vegetable are added along with a huge loopy bow. The yellow berries are especially striking on wreaths.

A wreath decorated with turnips!
A wreath decorated with turnips!
Miriam, chief elf at McLean, displays one of her creations, accented with Magnolia leaves
Miriam, chief elf at McLean, displays one of her creations, accented with Magnolia leaves

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Hanging completed bows ready to wire on a wreath
Hanging completed bows ready to wire on a wreath

People know that when they buy a wreath at McLean that the greens will be freshly picked so that the wreath or arrangement will last through the holidays and beyond. The festive holly is used on almost every wreath and arrangement.

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Boxwood trees in the greenhouse
Boxwood trees in the greenhouse

If you want to buy greens or berries to make your own arrangements, a scale weighs your selections and is priced by the pound.

Weighing greens
Weighing greens

Table arrangements of candle rings and boxwood trees are also made with the signature McLean style at a very reasonable price. The freshly picked beauty of the evergreens make McLean’s wreaths stand out from the crowd and people come from all over to snatch them up to decorate their doors and mantels.

Table centerpieces
Table centerpieces

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Large wreath with beautiful 15 inch sugar pine cones
Large wreath with beautiful 15 inch sugar pine cones
Everyone needs a Kermit the frog mascot on their work table
Everyone needs a Kermit the frog mascot on their work table