The year was 1948.
With the holiday season fast approaching, Kay Boydston and her husband Walter found themselves short on money. In an effort to still celebrate Christmas with all the grandeur it deserves, Kay wandered the 12.5 acres of their country home north of Buchanan collecting an assortment of evergreens. Using the boughs, she created a wreath for an upcoming dinner party. When one of the guests saw Kay’s creation they suggested she try selling them.
With an array of natural materials readily available at her fingertips, the simple idea soon grew to life. In the first year, Kay made and sold 419 wreaths. Just one year later, she doubled her sales to more than 1,000 wreaths.
The land the Boydstons once called home has since been sold to Niles philanthropists Larry and Mary Plym, who turned it into what is now known as Fernwood Botanical Garden in 1964. However, wreath making remains a beloved tradition at the public garden each holiday season.
“Creating holiday greens is a longstanding tradition here at Fernwood — one that both our members and the community look forward to each year,” says Meg Paulette, marketing and events coordinator at Fernwood Botanical Garden. “Garden design truly is an art in itself. People tend to forget how beautiful Michigan can be in the winter and our greens workshops provide visitors with a unique way to connect with nature year round.”
A gardener at heart, Joanne Sims has been involved with Fernwood in a number of roles over the past 42 years. Currently, she volunteers at the garden, crafting an assortment of holiday greens for sale at the annual Holiday Market and teaching greens workshops.
“I got my start in wreath making eight years ago after attending a class here at Fernwood,” Joanne says. “From there, I began creating wreaths to help raise funds for my church and later returned to Fernwood as a volunteer. I love to give back and making greens allows me to be creative while supporting my local community at the same time.”
It probably comes as no surprise that greens are a staple holiday décor at Joanne’s house. Guests are sure to find a large, handmade wreath hanging prominently above her garage each winter. Her own gardens are also filled with natural items she can repurpose, including boxwood and Michigan holly.
Memories in the making
Hosted throughout the winter months, Fernwood’s greens workshops provide an opportunity for family and friends to gather together and create their own natural
holiday decorations — as well as a few cherished memories.
“We have a lot of people who come back year after year and it’s great to see it become a tradition for families,” Meg says.
As guests enter the classroom they are instantly greeted by the iconic aromas of evergreen wafting from piles of juniper, Douglas fir, arborvitae and yew — most of which are collected fresh from the garden grounds. Guests also have the opportunity to adorn their creations with pinecones, berries, holly and other assorted decorations.
“One of the biggest advantages to making your own wreaths or swag is the greens are often much fresher than what you find in stores, and because of that they tend to last longer,” Joanne says. “People also get a lot of satisfaction from making something with their own hands and they care a lot more about what it looks like.”
Although not everyone has fastened hundreds of greens to wire frames over the years, Joanne says it’s an art everyone is capable of mastering.
“A lot of people don’t think they can do it when they first arrive and by the end of class they are really pleased and excited about what they’ve made,” Joanne says. Of course we’re always there to lend a helping hand, but my goal is to help people find their own creativity.”
Just like the snowflakes that cover the 100 acres of Fernwood gardens each winter, no two wreaths turn out exactly the same.
“Each wreath was unique in its own way,” Joanne says. “There’s really no right or wrong way to do it when you’re being creative. When crafting a wreath I encourage people to think about what speaks to them during the holiday season and use that as their inspiration.”
For a complete list of upcoming holiday greens workshops offered at Fernwood, including the exclusive Wine and Wreath events, visit fernwoodbotanical.org.
Photos by Emily Sobecki