NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Mary Hunter Curry waded through piles of evergreens and fruits.
Since early November, she and a dozen floral designers and gardeners at Colonial Williamsburg have been busy making all the wreaths and swags that decorate 80 buildings in the historic area.
"I've been doing this for 20 years, so I work fast," she said while bundling evergreens to fashion yet another wreath.
Curry, forewoman at the landscape nursery, creates many of the 18th century-style fruit wreaths, putting together 25 for various doorways. Since early Thanksgiving week, the designers and crews of carpenters have been putting everything up so the Governor's Palace, trade shops and private homes look seasonally sensational.
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Materials used to decorate the historic area include more than 3 miles of white pine roping; 2,550 white pine and Fraser fir wreaths; 15 truckloads of pine, holly, boxwood, magnolia and berries; and 79 cases of fruit. Walking tours are given regularly to explain the process.
"The wreaths are easy to make and actually last longer than you think," Curry said.
"You may have to make a few small repairs, but there's nothing better than the smell of a fresh wreath during the holidays."
Curry explained now to make a Colonial Williamsburg-style wreath for your own front door:
To make a fresh evergreen and fruit wreath for a standard-size front door, you need:
■ An 18-inch, double- wire wreath ring (makes up to an 24-inch wreath).
■ Evergreens (any combination of spruce, boxwood, pine and cedar) and white pine cones (or any cone you desire).
■ Fruit (apples, oranges and lemons).
■ Wired floral picks, floral tape and spool wire (for attaching greenery to wreath ring).
■ 18-gauge straight floral wire to attach small and medium-size fruits. (The wire is usually sold in pre-cut bundles.)
■ 16-gauge wire for heavier fruit, such as pomegranates and pineapples.
■ Stems of dried flowers, holly berries, rose hips or red peppers on picks for colorful accents.
■ Needle-nose pliers to twist wire, wire cutters, and blunt-nose wire cutters to twist heavier wire.
■ Gloves with rubberized palms
Cut and gather evergreens, and condition the stems in tepid water overnight or for several hours before using them.
Arrange short-stemmed evergreens in 25 to 30 bundles (four to five per bundle) and lay them out on a work table (a waist-high table keeps your back straight while you work).
Using green wire wrapped on a spool, attach one end of the wire to a cross bar on the double-wire wreath ring.
Position the first bundle of evergreens on the wreath frame and wrap the wire around the bottom of stems. Overlap the second bundle of evergreens and continue wrapping with wire (never cut the wire). Continue the process until the wreath is lush and filled with evergreens. Then cut the wire and attach the end to a cross bar on the double-wire frame.
Begin attaching fruit, starting with the largest pieces. Fruits look good when they are positioned at noon, 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and 9 o'clock, as if you are looking at a clock face. A larger cluster of fruits at the bottom adds an appearance of weight to the wreath.
To wire an apple, lemon or orange, insert 18-gauge wire through the center of the fruit, bend wires downward and through the double wires on the wreath form. Twist wire and attach to the stems and wire wrapped around the greenery so the fruit doesn't move. Cut off excess wire, and insert wire ends into the greenery so it doesn't stick out and scratch your door.
To attach berries, dried flowers and pine cones, use floral picks with wire. Wrap the wire around the bottoms of the cones and the stems of the berries, then insert floral picks into the evergreen stems.
Optional: Floral tape, which is stretchy and sticky when used, can be used around the top of the wooden picks to hold the wire onto the picks and pine cones.
When your wreath is finished, you can glue wide ribbon to the back to protect your door. A finished wreath can stay in a cooler for five to six days before it's hung outdoors.
Smaller versions of the wreath can be made to hang in windows. You can use foam wreath forms in various sizes and use U-shaped floral pins to attach the greenery; use floral picks to attach fruit and other material.
You also can use similar bundles of evergreens and wire to make roping for your doorway and porch railings. Wire the fruit and attach it to the roping.