I have a love-hate relationship with this time of year. I’m sure I’m not alone. In the country, I believe we are more closely connected with nature and when the sun’s warmth hits the earth we feel it more intimately. All the animals begin to come out, and both day and night, the air is alive with sounds. Our cats are desperate to go outside – I keep them in until late morning to protect the birds as much as possible. The chickens are ecstatic to be out pecking in the earth looking for whatever tasty lifeforms have come to the surface; and the dogs are excited to survey the leftovers of winter.
There are days when you can sit outside in a protected spot and almost convince yourself it’s summer. The birds are raucous in the morning before sunup and since I sleep with the window open all year long, I hear the various creatures out in the woods and fields making themselves known.
But with the mud and all the “treats” revealed by the melting snow, digging out from winter on the farm can be messy and not nearly as nice as feeling the warm sun on your face.
I often give the dogs raw bones throughout the winter. As the snow recedes, the bones emerge; and since our dogs are old, they prefer to stay close to the house when nature calls. It’s a minefield walking from the drive shed to the house. I’m guilty too. I’m often lazy when throwing away flowers or Christmas branches after they’ve expired. I’ll just heave them just off the front porch, then in the early spring there they are, waiting for me to properly dispose of them in the compost. It stresses me out, having visitors come to the front door and seeing all my winter debris. So, every week I pick up, toss out, and tidy up. It’s all part of digging out from winter.
I grew up in Vermont, where we had a fifth season. It went: Summer, Autumn, Winter, Mud, then Spring. “Mud” is when the earth is so soft and wet folks are in constant danger of losing things to the black, warming ooze: keys, boots, small tools, gloves. Cars would sink and get stuck; the roads at the time were just dirt, and when the snow melted, they became muddy rivers often engulfing cars and drivers. Here, it’s not so bad. Sure, the melting snow creates little rivers but for the most part, the roads are passable.
And although the sun brings hope, it’s still rather grey out there; there isn’t too much growing in my part of Ontario that I can bring inside to brighten the house. But, there are some branches and buds to be found and fashioned into arrangements and wreaths until the real spring arrives with blossoms and blooms.
I love having seasonal wreaths either on the front door or off to the side, and I really enjoy making them, even if I have to resort to buying some greens or pussy willow branches from my local florist. I also force flowering branches from fruit trees and flowering shrubs to add to the wreath, but you’ll have to remember to do this week before wreath making begins.
If you don’t live in a place where you can forage for natural wreath ingredients, you can pick up everything you’ll need from a florist or greengrocer – they have branches in stock at all times of the year, giving you the luxury of choosing flowers that are already in bloom. Choose things that are sturdy, not just pretty. For example, I love tulips but they’re just not durable enough for wreath making.
Here’s what you’ll need:
Floral wire – I prefer the green wire
A wreath base – as described below, such as grapevine or bittersweet
A selection of plant materials: flowers, branches, vines, foliage – fresh or dried
Ribbon for hanging the wreath
Begin with the base. I start out with some branches that I can twist into a circle. This time of year there are a number of options: dogwood works well although requires some manipulation; honeysuckle vines are also lovely and make a beautiful wispy base, but my go-to is grapevine. It’s sturdy, easy to shape, and holds together well. Also, grapevine will last all year long. Each season you can remove things that have dried up and add in fresh or seasonal items.
Take the branches or vine and begin to make a circle however large you wish. Keep adding in more branches, tucking them into one another. If necessary, use floral wire to keep things in place. I try to make a base tight enough that I can slip things in without having to do too much wiring.
The next step is finding some other things that give you joy and are lovely to look at, to incorporate into your base. Do you want to see foliage or florals all around the wreath or tucked into a corner or on one side? This time, I decided to center the extras at the bottom of the wreath, leaving the rest of it bare.
I prefer natural things in my wreaths but that doesn’t mean you can’t use manmade things you love. I had some dried lavender from the garden last year and a few other dried flowers that I included in mine. I also have yellow dogwood in the garden and that is a great spring colour to add – a few twigs go a long way.
You can also insert things like grasses or dried herbs from the garden; even now, their brownish tones add contrast. If you have fresh herbs growing in the house, such as rosemary, clip some and tuck it in. It will smell nice as you walk through the door. After a while, it will dry. Remove and replace it with fresh or just leave it.
Colourful spring bulbs are just around the corner – at least here, where I live – but a wreath on the front door will get me through the season of mud and debris until my beloved tulips make their entrance once again.
About Danielle French
I founded South Pond Farms in 2008. The property is on the Oak Ridges Moraine in the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe Mississauga. South Pond started as a small food delivery business making fresh prepared meals from ingredients in my garden. Together with my family, we restored the barn, the iconic heritage silo and the land to become a destination for authentic culinary experiences, weddings, celebrations, workshops. Inspired from the farm, I also create a line of culinary products and gifts.
In 2021, I was ready to move away from the farm. As much as I loved the land and the country, it was time to let someone else bring their passion to what we had created. My new home is in Peterborough, Ontario where I’m taking some time to write, contemplate next steps, train my dogs, blog about recipes and interesting explorations and unpack!