By Jill Brooke
When it comes to good breeding – not only in flowers but also in human kindness – Laura Dowling is a treasured find.
She is an award-winning florist and designer, known for her signature French garden-style flowers, spectacular wreaths and innovative floral decor. From 2009 – 2015 she served as the Chief Floral Designer at the White House, where she managed flowers and decorations for both official and private events, including state dinners, receptions, parties and the iconic White House Fourth of July, Halloween and the White House Christmas. She is the recipient of the American Horticultural Society’s “Great American Gardener Award” and the Royal Horticultural Society of Belgium’s “Distinguished Flower Ambassador Award.” She is the author of 4 books: Floral Diplomacy at the White House, A White House Christmas, Wreaths and the recently released Bouquets, all published by Stichting Kunstboek.
Because it is the holidays, we are going to focus on her wreath-making talents. I asked her to share five of her favorites to inspire our readers and here is what she selected. Definitely buy her book for more ideas – or any of them – and think about what you may want to do this holiday.
There are not many things we can control in our lives but creating aesthetically pleasing surroundings is something you can pursue and you will be rewarded. It will bring both happiness and cheer not only to you but your loved ones. Notice how Dowling doesn’t do the obvious and incorporates personal touches. As we know, not everything must be Santa Claus red to be fabulous.
Virginia hunt country.
A traditional wreath of cranberries ringed in boxwood with a pinecone deer medallion conjures a cozy Christmas scene in the Virginia countryside. I love how a wreath sets the tone for holiday décor each year and can establish a sense of place, evoke nostalgic memories and create a sense of whimsy.
TIP: Purchase a paper mache deer medallion at the craft store and cover the surface with pinecone scales (using hot glue) in a fish-scale motif to create this fun, yet classic design. Photo credit: Laura Dowling
Orange tropics. Although most of us won’t be traveling for the holidays, we can capture the inspiration of a tropical getaway with a citrus-themed wreath punctuated with fresh orchids. I like using unexpected materials and vivid color combinations in my holiday designs so that they stand out in the crowd.
TIP: Use straight wire to pierce three oranges, wrapping the wire around the back of the wreath form to secure the ends. Continue adding the oranges in rows to create a well-balanced and long-lasting design. Tuck individual orchid blooms in small water tubes in and around the fruit. Photo credit: Kevin Allen
Green apples and hellebores. Green apples are a symbol of something new, fresh and positive so they are a perfect choice for a holiday wreath design. Paired with seasonal green flowers (such as hellebores) and variegated greens, the effect is both timeless and chic in a modern monochromatic scheme.
TIP: Spray the wreath with a mixture of hot sauce diluted with water to keep vermin and critters at bay. You can also give the wreath a light spray of acrylic floor wax to create a festive sheen. Photo credit: Kevin Allen
Purple potatoes and heather.
Potatoes may be a surprising choice for a holiday wreath design, but they have wonderful attributes: they are long-lasting and withstand weather extremes, mix well with other materials and can be used as is or sprayed with a touch of gold or silver paint. This wreath of potatoes, crab apples and nandina berries and foliage is one of my all-time favorites; the sprigs of heather add a fresh, seasonal touch with a hint of Scottish flair
TIP: Use mini-potatoes to create a more delicate effect and a balanced design presentation. Photo credit: Kevin Allen
A bountiful wreath of fresh fruit and seasonal greens creates a warm and inviting welcome – and also provides the basis for a colorful fruit and flower holiday theme. My decorations this year will feature a mix of fresh fruit, vintage beaded fruit ornaments and classic magnolia and evergreen garlands along with gilded pinecones and nut topiaries.
TIP: The key is to decorate in layers with the long-lasting elements (e.g., evergreens, pinecones and nuts) forming the basis for the overall design while the fresh items add lightness and finesse. By using beaded (or faux) fruit as a component of the design, you can create the overall effect of a fresh fruit display that has the advantage of being very long-lasting. Happy holidays! Photo credit: Erik Kvalsvik
Most recently, Laura was commissioned by the U.S. Postal Service to design a collection of 4 holiday (USA Forever) wreath stamps that launched nationwide last year. They were so popular that the stamps are available this year and would make great stamps for holiday cards.
Jill Brooke is a former CNN correspondent, Post columnist and editor-in-chief of Avenue and Travel Savvy magazine. She is an author and the editorial director of FPD.