Monday, December 7, 2009

Getting All Christmasy

My fingernails are black. It must be Christmastime.

Today, the Garden Club of the Back Bay began its annual holiday wreath-making event. Headquarters is the basement of the Lutheran Church on Marlborough and Berkeley Streets. We take orders through the fall for scores of fresh wreaths — plain, with just a bow, or decorated to the point where even Martha Stewart would fling up her hands and cry for mercy — to people of taste and good cheer all over the Boston area. Sales support the care of Back Bay's trees.

Many members of the Garden Club have second homes, where they gather everything from holly, pods, pine boughs, and pinecones to dried hydrangea, roses, and moss to decorate the wreaths. Exciting purchases at the Flower Market supplement the natural materials with shiny glass balls, fake birds and berries, and glittery branches. Boxes holding dozens of rolls of beautiful ribbons sit in one corner, waiting for one of the designated bow-makers. The tables are covered with pine needles, clippers, wire cutters, and baskets of materials.

The designs are generally elaborate and inspired. Since the large, fully decorated wreaths cost $150, it's not unusual for a wreath artist to spend most of a day working on just one.

The club's president pressed me into service as a volunteer even before I joined the club. I am praised less for my good eye and decorating skills than for my remarkable speed. I decorated seven wreaths yesterday, which is viewed as impressive.

I do have one talent: I can pick two messy, leggy wreaths out of a stack, hang them side by side, and clip and shape them into an elegant set of twins, ready for bows or an elaborate decorating scheme. I am the Frederic Fekkai of the holiday wreath.

I also love spraying. There's nothing more exciting than hanging around in a freezing Back Bay alley, waving a can of spray paint and inhaling the fumes from a tray of glittering pinecones and pods.

The other members think I'm nuts, but I come from a different background.

Everyone oohs and aahs at the creations of the most experienced designers. We learn from each other.

Everyone (and we had our first — and highly skilled — male wreath-maker yesterday) wears an apron, brings pruning shears and wire cutters from home, and expects to have black, pitch-covered hands by the end of her first wreath. At lunchtime, everyone cleans up with a glob of Crisco, which is the best thing for removing pine tar. And there is good food: coffee, scones, and mini cinnamon buns in the morning; a catered lunch; and tea breads, biscotti, and cookies in the afternoon. I eat all of it: decorating is surprisingly hard work. Standing over a hot wreath makes me ravenous for sugar. Jabbing florist picks into a tight wreath sometimes requires pliers and all my strength. My hands are sore and scratched at the end of the day.

Here are a couple of my efforts from the morning. The first order requested a red-and-gold bow with gold accents; the second one let my choose my own bow and materials.

I'll be there again tomorrow — there are three more days of fun and pincones ahead.

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