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A circle, a ring, a wreath

Karen Z. —  December 22, 2013 — 3 Comments

“A ring speaks of strength and friendship and is one of the great symbols of mankind.”

Those are the words of Jens Jensen, the great landscape designer who celebrated the native and the natural and often included circular council rings in his garden plans.  

At the holidays, we hang wreaths on our doors as symbols of love, of welcome, of community. Twenty-nine wreaths, all handmade by our horticulturists and staff, are currently drawing visitors to the galleries at the Wonderland Express exhibition, and the detail and craftsmanship in them is amazing. (The answer to the frequently asked question “Can you buy them?” is yes—pick them up after January 5, the final day of Wonderland Express. Proceeds from the sale of the wreaths go to fund the Garden’s programs.)

Ring in the new year with our staff’s creative interpretations of the circle, the ring, the wreath.

PHOTO: Six types of colorful indian corn—husks facing outward as a fringe—create this wreath.

This is a BIG wreath—great for an outdoor wall.

Flint. Dent. Sweet. Flour. Pod. Pop. Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden horticulturist Lisa Hilgenberg celebrates these six major types of corn—and beautiful heirloom varieties with names like ‘Blue Jade’, ‘Glass Gem’, and ‘Golden Bantam’—in a seasonless sunburst.

PHOTO: An owl made from natural materials perches in this cotton boll wreath.

The French saying on this wreath translates to, “the moon is my light and my joy.”

Monica Vachlon (administrative assistant of horticulture) and Jacob Burns (herbaceous perennial plant curator) built a wintry vignette around a charming mascot dubbed “Mr. Who.”

Children’s educator Kathy Johnson used just one ingredient for her made-by-hand wreath: natural raffia. It’s hand-knotted into evergreen sprays and red berries, and crocheted into a life-like cardinal couple, nesting at the bottom.

PHOTO: A hand-crocheted raffia cardinal.

Even the branches of this wreath are made of raffia.

A nursery grower in our production greenhouse by day, Lorin Fox is an artist and woodcarver off-hours. A close look at his wreath reveals the mushrooms he hand-carved from tagua nuts and cedar.

PHOTO: Incredibly realistic hand-carved wooden mushrooms on a real piece of wood.

Everlasting mushrooms were hand-carved from wood and nuts.

Star-shaped flowers are made from milkweed pods, with a crabapple at the center.

Star-shaped flowers are made from milkweed pods, with a crabapple at the center.

The supersized fruit of ‘Ralph Shay’ crabapple dot the centers of milkweed pod “flowers” on this dramatic, dried Baptisia wreath by ecologist Dave Sollenberger. He foraged all of the materials from gardens here and at home.

PHOTO: Wreath of grapevine, cotton bolls, and hydrangea.

Cotton turned up as a natural and everlasting element in several wreaths.

Wonderland Express = teamwork. So thoughtfully did the team from the Development Department (spearheaded by Lisa Bakker) brainstorm, gather, and plan for their wreath that it took them just two lunch breaks to assemble and decorate it.

All summer long, assistant horticulturist Leah Pilon kept a sharp eye out for materials that dried well: the Carex seed pods, okra, millet, dried flowerheads (Green Ball dianthus), and Engelmann creeper vine (for the bow) were all collected in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

PHOTO: Wreath created from millet, with evergreens, carex seedpods, a lotus pod and a creeper vine bow.

Even okra works on this wreath made from materials in the Fruit & Vegetable Garden.

Horticulturist Ayse Pogue pays tribute to her Mediterranean roots with a fragrant wreath made of juniper and olive branches. Tucked in in delicate sprays, tiny spray-painted alder cones stand in for “olives.”

PHOTO: Wreath made of real olive leaves and faux olives.

Real olive leaves, with faux olive fruit (they’re alder cones, painted black).

PHOTO: Large, heart-shaped wreath made from grape vines.

Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, showers, weddings: proof that one wreath can do it all.

In simplicity is elegance. Made from grapevines growing in McDonald Woods, this heartfelt wreath by senior horticulturist Heather Sherwood can hang indoors or out. Leave it up straight through February 14.


©2013 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org

With the holidays now officially approaching, all hands have turned to preparations for our annual holiday exhibition, Wonderland Express.

The ever-creative Nancy Clifton is putting the finishing touches on her fun and fragrant project for Wonderland Express: she’s making more than 400 wreath and garland decorations from a no-bake “faux dough” made of just two all-natural ingredients, cinnamon and applesauce. Nancy is a horticulture program specialist and popular Joseph Regenstein, Jr. School of the Chicago Botanic Garden teacher. This project is “baking” in name only, as the dough is simply mixed, rolled, and cookie-cut—the ornamental “cookies” then air dry on the counter for a couple of days, becoming surprisingly lightweight and a pretty, cinnamony color. The process is easy and kid-friendly, great to try at home for your seasonal decorations.

Nancy let us photograph her at work, while supplying some tips along the way.

THE BASIC RECIPE

1 pound (16 oz.) cinnamon
3 pounds (large 48 oz. jar) applesauce

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The first question: Where do you buy a whole pound of cinnamon? Nancy orders bulk cinnamon online from San Francisco Herb Company. Any house-brand, non-chunky applesauce can be used. Since these ornaments are decorative only, non-branded, inexpensive ingredients work just fine.

Are you thinking this might be edible anyway? Well, it’s non-toxic, but no, don’t eat this dough! “I tried it,” Nancy says, “And it tastes terrible. It’s for crafting only!”

MIXING AND ROLLING

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Slowly and carefully pour 1 pound of cinnamon into a large stainless steel, glass, or ceramic bowl. (Note: because cinnamon can create a fine dust cloud when poured, make sure that your work area is well ventilated and adult supervised.) Empty the contents of a 3-pound jar of applesauce onto the cinnamon and stir slowly.

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The ingredients will pull together into a shiny, moist-looking mix with few cracks. If the dough seems too wet to roll out, add more cinnamon. (Nancy suggests starting with a 1:3 ratio of cinnamon to sauce, then gradually working toward a 1:2 ratio, adding cinnamon until achieving the feel and sheen of pie dough). If too many hairline cracks form in dough, add a bit more applesauce and mix until glossy and smooth.

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Prep your rolling surface (a granite countertop or marble dough board is handy for this) by spreading a thick layer of extra cinnamon all over it. Heavily dust your rolling pin with cinnamon as well. Remove the dough from the bowl, set it onto the surface and coat the top generously with cinnamon.

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Roll dough to about ¼” thickness (thinner dough can result in brittle ornaments), constantly re-dusting surfaces so dough does not stick.

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Now comes the fun part—dust cookie cutters with cinnamon and cut as many decorations as desired. Like pie dough, extra scraps can be scooped up, rolled into a ball, and re-flattened. A dusted spatula helps to move the cut-outs to a wax-paper-covered surface to dry.

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Dough can also be:

  • Pressed into candy/chocolate molds (dust heavily with cinnamon)
  • Pierced with a wire to string as a hanging ornament when dry
  • Rolled into 3-D shapes: deer, snowmen, branches
  • Rolled into small cinnamon-scented balls to add to potpourri
  • Fragranced with ground cloves or allspice in addition to cinnamon

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FAUX CINNAMON STICKS

They’re fake, they’re inexpensive, and they smell like the real thing! For cinnamon sticks, roll out dough as above, working it into an elliptical shape. Use a sharp knife to cut a straight edge across the short width, about 4″ from a rough edge. Starting at the straight side, roll dough tightly into a cinnamon stick shape. Dust with cinnamon. Continue with remainder of dough.

DRYING AND DECORATING        

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Let ornaments air dry for at least 48 hours (thicker dough will take longer to dry completely) before experimenting with paint, faux frosting, or glitter as decorations. Nancy has displayed these ornaments on the large wreath and garland in the Joutras Gallery in the Wonderland Express exhibition (opening on Friday, November 23). Stop by to see the final result in person!


©2012 Chicago Botanic Garden and my.chicagobotanic.org