Bring a little magic into the house... It's time to make a wreath!
Updated: Dec 29, 2019
It’s a cool rainy day here on the hill. The outdoor chairs have been pulled away from the table and sit haphazardly under the archway of wet wisteria by the kitchen. Drops of water fall onto the table top and collect forming a dark pool. All the cats are curled into tight balls and even Lu is resting his chin on a black paw and looking out over the garden with melancholy in his eyes.
It seems like only yesterday when it felt so hot that it was almost impossible to go into the garden. I love that heat. I‘m usually awake early and watch the sun come up over the village catching the Achillea and Roses in the flowerbeds with a light so beautiful, it makes you happy to be alive. And then, almost overnight, there’s a change in the air and summer becomes autumn.
There’s still the possibility of a few good days, even a string of them if you’re lucky. But each time the sun shines, it‘s like a beautiful reminder that winter is around the corner.
Last weekend we were lucky and there was one of those golden days. The weather was beautiful and so I took Luca for a run in the field. I noticed that there were still large patches of Yarrow and Tansy growing even though the grass was thin after months of hot dry weather. So, later that evening we went back and collected some bunches of the aromatic wild flowers. This way, we might be able to hold onto summer just that little bit longer by bringing these magic plants into the house in the form of wreaths.
During the autumn clean up, the amount of leaves, cuttings and general organic matter that comes out of the garden is vast. I’m not a great composter but this year I’ve cleared an ideal spot ready to take the endless wheelbarrows-full of greenery.
Most of this stuff is fallen leaves and dead stalks etc. but a lot of it is still quite attractive and some of it is also pretty useful. There’s nothing more satisfying than making something beautiful out of leftovers.
The grapevine at the back of the house tends to grow over the area where I store the winter firewood so needs cutting back. Rather than throw these cutting away, I decided to strip the leaves off them and use the vines as the base of my wreaths. If I hadn’t had vines I could have also used cuttings from the willow, hazel or even dogwood.
I want to try and make these wreaths without using any wires or plastic coated cords. In fact, I want to try and only use the natural waste I have at my disposal so I'm truly creating something from the fruits of the season. This isn't always possible for many people, as they live in towns or don't have a garden, but if this stuff is going to end up on the back of a tractor or on my compost heap, why not use it?
There's a long history surrounding wreaths and wreath making and they seem to go back for thousands of years and have been used by many cultures worldwide. In ancient Egypt a type of wreath called a Chaplet was worn around the head and was formed out of a linen band with flowers sewn to it. The ancient Egyptians also placed garlands of flowers onto their mummies as a way of celebrating their entry into the afterlife. Materials such as pine, olive, laurel and palm were used for wreaths by the ancient Greeks who awarded them as prizes at the Olympic Games. The Romans bestowed laurel crowns as a mark of honor, and in a similar way, an honored guest at a banquet in Victorian England, might find their chair surrounded by a floral wreath. They have been used as symbols of love, protection, fertility, vitality, the list goes on...
The circular form of the wreath itself is a powerful symbol with many meanings and interpretations. Circles can represent inclusion, wholeness, infinity, but can also represent time and the cycles of the seasons. Our sun and moon are two powerful circular forms that are fundamental to life on earth, and casting a circle in spiritual practices suggests protection of what is enclosed.
The materials with which the wreath is made also have a whole host of meanings. Typically at Christmas evergreens such as holly, pine, cedar and fir are used. To our ancestors these plants continued living while all others lost their lives during the cold months of winter. And these became symbols of ongoing vitality, a reminder of how life is constant. There is also a strong religious significance surrounding the Christmas wreath. At the other end of the spectrum a spring or summer wreath made from flowers and lush vegetation is a celebration of life, birth and abundance.
For me it's about using something that's currently available in my garden and surrounding area, and the ones that have caught my eye this year are Yarrow and Tansy. When researching into these two plants they seem to be pretty amazing!
Achillea, commonly known as Yarrow, is a symbol of healing and protection. It is believed to have been named after the ancient Greek hero Achilles who is said to have used Yarrow to treat his and his soldiers' wounds during the Trojan War. If you look up the uses of Yarrow, the list is long, impressive and includes: treating fever, the common cold, hay fever, dysentery, loss of appetite, diarrhea, toothache, and it has even been used to fight demons or to exorcise evil from a person!
Tansy is the common name of the most popular species of Tanacetum which is derived from an altered form of the Greek word "athanasia", meaning "immortality", This could be because of Tansy's long-lasting flowers, or its use as an embalming herb. Tansy symbolizes protection, health, resistance and immortality and was used by folk healers to treat fever, indigestion, rheumatism, intestinal worms, and many more. Now Tansy is considered too toxic to use internally without the guidance of a qualified herbalist. But its beautiful yellow flowers are going to look very striking on a wreath.
While picking these plants I was wondering if I was choosing them, or they were choosing me. Maybe we were drawn together for some reason and by bringing them into my house, they will be able to help me in some way, or give me something I need.
I kept the stalks as long as I could so I'd be able to weave them into the vine frame without using wire or string. While working with these herbs the smell was overwhelmingly and strangely beautiful. They are certainly potent.
While looking online for instructions to make a yarrow tea, I found an article (link below) that describes how Yarrow was found in a Neanderthal burial site in Iraq, dating from around 60,000 BC. The article goes on to list the many medicinal uses of Yarrow... This plant is absolutely mindblowing!
Decorating my wreaths using Yarrow, Tansy and other plants from the garden and field has been a wonderfully calming experience, but discovering a little bit more about such ancient plants and practices has been truly fascinating. There's a whole world out there, we just need to bring a little bit of it into our houses.
To find out more about Yarrow follow this link: www.indigo-herbs.co.uk/natural-health-guide/benefits/yarrow