By Dawn Wagner Todd, MsK Nursery Intern

Ancient gold wreath found in subway dig

The Kruckeberg annual wreath-making event, in conjunction with my Propagation class final project, got me to wondering…how long have folks been making wreaths?

It turns out they’ve been making wreaths a long time. The photo above is a gold wreath of olive leaves dating to the Early Hellenistic Era, at the end of the fourth—or perhaps early third century B.C. It was a headdress.

That takes me back to my own history. Is there anyone among us who hasn’t been tempted by various forms of foliage to create a headdress? As a Navy brat I spent a few of my formative years in Florida, where the trees are thick with Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides. It is an epiphyte, which is a plant that grows on another plant, but is not a parasite. It is an air plant, getting nutrients from the air and the rain. Though no doubt riddled with insect life, we nonetheless draped it over our heads, using it as disguise and decoration both. I am not the first to think of Spanish moss in conjunction with wreaths; there are entire websites devoted to the subject.

Wreaths can be traced back (at least) to the Etruscans. Then of course there were wreaths in the Greco-Roman era. Consider the mythology behind the laurel wreath. It was about Apollo’s pursuit of Daphne, and the river god helping her escape by turning her into a laurel tree. Apollo started wearing laurel around his head and we now associate laurel wreaths with strength, achievement and victory. Victory? From now on I will associate them with graceful resignation!

Different wreath materials represent different things. One myth has Zeus going into a grove of oaks just to think; now oak leaves represent wisdom. Wheat represents harvest, and people make harvest wreaths of that and of other autumn plants. We know about the Greek and Roman olive wreaths, like the one pictured above. (Far tidier and one hopes more sanitary than moss.) Apparently wreaths in those times were fashioned to represent a person’s status or occupation.

There are funeral wreaths, and there have been for a long time. The circle has perhaps always represented eternity. On a more cheerful note, spring flower wreaths for May Day used to be popular. (They weren’t popular with the Puritans, of course.) There are midsummer wreaths made of white lilies, green birch, St. John’s Wort and flax, among other summer plants. There’s a wealth of history, superstition, and beauty in wreaths.

My sister-in-law uses them in all seasons to decorate her home; and I know she is not alone. They do look pretty, and they can be made with materials to suit any occasion. For myself, I do not want them indoors. I avoid anything that must be dusted. Even more, I avoid anything that needs dusting and can’t be properly dusted. I like wreaths to hang upon the front door. I like wreaths made of natural materials that can be laid to rest in the recycle bin when they have faded beyond enjoyment.

Christmas wreaths are perfect. Or call them “Winter Holiday” wreaths if Christmas isn’t your holiday. They are lovely, they smell good, and one expects to discard them when the season ends. If you didn’t get a chance to make one with us, you can find a “how-to” video on-line, or just go buy one. You can add your own touches—bright ornaments, sweet-smelling branches or herbs, even small citrus fruits. A quick search on-line or in your own yard or kitchen will give you ideas. Come here to the Kruckeberg Garden for ideas! If you are really stuck, you can purchase Spanish moss by mail.

Oh! And what about my Propagation project? I’ll tell you about that another time.