Although the Christmas wreath is still the most common, the year-round variety is coming into vogue.
Today there are wreaths for all seasons and all reasons. They look good. They smell good. They may even taste good. A number of factors have contributed to this renaissance: an abundance of literature, new materials and catalogues.
Florist Kenneth Love sees it as an offshoot of the popularity of gardening in general. Catalogues from seed and flower companies, such as Smith & Hawken and Calyx & Corolla, offer wreaths in the non-growing season. Located in the San Francisco area, these companies have made the lush California vegetation of which their wreaths are crafted familiar across the country.
"Things have definitely changed. In the past three to five years, people have been ordering more wreaths for inside use. Some have them year-round as decorations," Love says.
A greatly increased variety of ingredients for wreath-making has also helped generate interest in the art.
In a continuing quest for the exotic, wholesale florists have taken to importing seedpods and grasses from as far away as India and Australia.
One of the largest, Knud Nielsen Co. of Evergreen, Ala., imports from 18 countries and sells finished wreaths in 50 states and 15 countries.
Barbara K. Register, the company's sales manager, says it handles "millions of pomegranates" each year. She believes the trend in wreaths, the Christmas season included, is going back to nature with dried flowers and grasses.
Improvements in curing processes have contributed to the widespread availability of decorative materials. Most of these--from herbs to reeds, mosses to nuts--are dried.
Because drying by air and heat can darken and fade colors and make the flora somewhat brittle, fragile blooms like gardenias and roses benefit from freeze drying.
In the last five years, freeze-drying machines, like those produced by the Northstar Co. of Nisswa, Minn., have been developed to vacuum dry 2,500 roses at once, preserving their form, texture and color.
The company's sales manager, Bill Schaefer, says such machines can capture "the suspended beauty of a fully opened flower."
"We used to use silk poinsettias," says Judy Bohn, a professional wreath-maker in Roseville, Calif.
Freeze-dried materials are "the most incredible thing to hit the floral industry in 20 years," she added.
New this year are freeze-dried fruits and vegetables, says Ruth M. Owades, founder of Calyx & Corolla. Smith & Hawken already carries an edible apple wreath. Suppliers like Nielsen are predicting that citrus wreaths will be a big item next year.
The availability of ready-made bases and decorating materials, the convenience of the hot-glue gun, demonstrations, classes and pamphlets at local stores and community organizations have put wreath-making within the grasp of almost anyone with enough time (about two hours for a beginner) and artistic bent.
Or, for about $35, Sterling Publishing Co. in New York will mail a kit with base, preserved decorations and instructions.
A dried wreath need not go out in the trash with the spent Christmas tree but can be packed away for another season or two. Flowers can be replaced. Herbal decorations can be used as seasonings.
Homemade wreaths usually cost less than the mail-order and professionally produced wreaths, which can sell for several hundred dollars.