For millennia, garlands created from intertwined foliage, flowers and fruit stems have symbolized home, hearth -- and hospitality.
During the holidays, we expect to see evergreen garlands, often made with cedar boughs. But according to floral designers who want to "go local," you don't have rely on Pacific Northwest's forests to decorate doorways, mantels or tabletops.
"You can find tons of beautiful branches to make great garlands right here," says Lori Eschler Frystak, owner of Los Angeles-based Blossom Alliance and a promoter of California-grown flowers for her wedding and event floral designs.
Eschler Frystak forages in her own backyard as well as from her Miracle Mile neighbors - and always with permission. "I have a few generous neighbors," she said.
The designer recently created a contemporary garland to decorate her holiday table. She used just-clipped eucalyptus and pineapple guava foliage from yards on her street and added a mix of greenery -- including "knife blade" acacia and "silver dollar" eucalyptus, plus protea and banksia blooms -- grown by Resendiz Brothers Protea Farm, a commercial flower farm based in Fallbrook, north of San Diego.
"We are so lucky here in Southern California to have local flower farmers around - they grow a great variety of options," Eschler Frystak said.
Based on a silver-green and creamy-white palette, her garland design is more versatile than a conventional red-and-green scheme. "I wanted a garland that would cross over from Christmas or Hanukkah into New Year's," she said.
Together the wide variety of elements creates a textural, lush-looking swag that can be draped or hung -- inside or outside. While Eschler Frystak would likely charge $500 or more for a 6-foot-long, custom-made garland like this one, it's possible to craft your own, she said.
"Something this detailed would be expensive to buy, but if you gather together a lot of textures, shapes and sizes of ingredients, it opens up your decorating possibilities to make your own," she said. "That's why it's great to learn how to DIY your own garlands."
Here's the designer's garland recipe, including the steps to create your own California-grown garland:
Sharp garden pruners or clippers to 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch stems
1 package of paddle wire (22 gauge), available at craft or floral supply outlets
A variety of leafy branches ranging from 12- to 20-inches-long. Eschler Frystak chose enough foliage to create approximately 24 individual bunches. "Some hold up out of water better than others, so you might want to experiment," she said.
Accent flowers. She used several California-grown protea and banksia blooms procured from Resendiz Brothers, a San Diego-area flower farm.
1. Prepare branches of greenery and flowers by stripping stems, leaving about 9-inches of clean stem exposed.
2. Make a series of mini-bouquets, varying the ingredients by color, texture and leaf size. "The longer the branches, the looser-looking your garland will be," Eschler Frystak said. "I like to combine long and short branches for a fuller look."
3. Wire each bouquet securely, wrapping wire along the entire length of gathered stems.
4. Lay out the bouquets in a pleasing order. This will help you gauge the garland's final length and also let you balance the elements.
5. Beginning at one end, wire the stems of each bunch to its predecessor, staggering as you go to prevent gaps.
6. Wire the last cluster of foliage and flowers so it faces the opposite direction. Pull it tightly into the garland to hide stems. Alternately, you can make two garlands and secure them in the middle.
7. If you keep the garland out of the sun and away from an indoor heat source, it will stay fresh for a week or longer. Lightly mist the garland with a water bottle to keep it hydrated. "It will also look nice after the ingredients have dried," Eschler Frystak said.
Let someone else make the garland
Eager to decorate with a California-grown garland but short on time to make it yourself?
Check out Creekside Farms, which makes wreath and garlands from herbs, flowers and foliage grown on its Monterey County farm.
You can order a 6-foot eucalyptus and pepper berry garland for $79, plus shipping.