For most professional gardeners, November’s frosts signal the end of the gardening season. By then, the final cutting back of clients’ gardens and the mounding of roses have been taken care of and it is time to put the rakes and hand tools away and begin considering the winter’s agenda of planning for spring. But for Christine Statler, who specializes in perennial gardening during the spring and summer, November’s frosts are her cue that balsam fir and other greens are ready to be cut for holiday wreaths. [Harvesting branches too early in the autumn runs the risk that needles will shed before the holidays. The needles harden or set when the temperature dips below freezing for several nights.]
“Making wreaths is the logical end to the growing season for me,” says Statler, who calls her business St. George Wreath and Garden Company. “But the wreath-making season is very short, from about November 11 to the second week in December, so you have to be ready. You really can’t do anything ahead.”
The one thing that Statler can do to prepare in advance is to collect pine cones, dry flowers like statice, eucalyptus, and teasel, and harvest rose hips and the pods from sea holly, nigella, poppies and iris. “I’m always on the lookout for natural materials that look interesting. People don’t want plastic.”
This year her work space occupies the corner of a new workshop boatbuilder George Emery recently completed at their Beckett Road property. “I’ve been making wreaths for 18 or 20 years,” Statler notes. “I used to clear out the living room of the house and set myself up in there. Having a separate work space this year is great.”
As she works, she is surrounded by many containers and piles of materials. “I tend to use a bigger variety of greens than other wreath makers do,” she observes. “Everybody has their own style—some only use balsam fir, others go for a big variety of ribbons.” Thinking about bows, she adds, “Over the years I’ve found that most people want red no matter what.”
Statler makes more than a hundred wreaths a season, turning out as many as three or four an hour, sometimes more. Although her preference would be to make each wreath from scratch, using “a ton of greens and weaving everything together—the greens, the cones, the flowers—so that everything is integrated,” she admits that as a one-person operation (her son, Sam, now a junior in high school, no longer helps out), performing all steps of the construction process is too labor intensive to allow for reasonable profitability.
“I figure that wreaths are kind of like going to the dentist,” she says with a laugh. “Everybody needs to go to the dentist at some point and just about everybody needs a wreath at holiday time. And if that is the case, I feel it is important that I keep them affordable, so I do start with double wreath bases I get from a place in Searsmont to save time. But I still try to be thoughtful about the design of each wreath.”
She is also experimenting with what she calls “living wreaths,” most often table-top constructions fashioned by inserting living plant materials into moss that is kept damp.
Most of Statler’s wreaths are priced at between $25 and $30. In addition to selling wreaths at venues like Hedgerow during St. George’s Yuletide event, she has built up a good base of loyal clients. “I have developed a niche,” she says with a smile. —JW
For more information about St. George Wreath and Garden Company call Christine Statler at 207-372-9602. [Although Statler is willing to ship her wreaths anywhere, she warns that shipping has become expensive, often costing as much as the wreath itself.]