Lauren Cleary was decorating her daughter’s nursery and wanted to add a splash of natural color, so she gathered some dried flowers into bundles and fashioned them into a circle for the wall. “That wreath was so beautiful, I made more, and pretty soon I had more wreaths than I had space for in my home,” says Cleary.
Soon after, the mother of two closed the door on a 15-year career in corporate marketing to launch Arlington-based Nova Wreaths. “Friends started asking me to make wreaths for their weddings, mantels, and doors, so I realized this was a real opportunity to create a business that worked for me and my family, not the other way around,” says Cleary.
Nova Wreaths was an instant success from its 2018 start. Cleary produces about 75 wreaths per week, which she sells through Etsy and at Northern Virginia craft shows and markets. “We have delivered wreaths to every state in the country,” says Cleary, who now employs three assistants. “I’ve sold overseas from Australia to Germany, and I have many military clients who request flowers and plants that remind them of home wherever they are stationed.”
One of Nova Wreaths’s first customers was Kylah Klinge from Concord, Massachusetts, who chose a simple hoop filled with different shades of green and white vegetation. “I like the way my wreath captures the movement of nature, with rustling grasses and flowers,” says Klinge.
Cleary credits her deep affinity for nature to growing up in rural New England, where her parents always maintained a flower garden. “I saw how important flowers were for my parents’ overall life balance,” she says. “These days, we are all very screen-based, so bringing nature into our homes is good for mental health, especially in urban settings.”
Not just for front doors, wreaths can bring nature to any location and all occasions, according to Cleary. Hers are displayed over mantels or windows, surround candles as elegant table centerpieces, hang from the backs of chairs to create a romantic dining experience, and nest with decorative displays on sideboards and shelves. Some brides order wreaths to hold in lieu of bouquets, or use a large wreath as a backdrop for the couple during the ceremony.
Drying flowers makes it possible to enjoy a garden’s colors, fragrances, and textures all year long. Except for a few ornamental objects, such as small foam pumpkins or items made of paper or silk, Cleary is committed to using only natural finds in her wreaths, which range in price from $75 to $175, depending on materials, size, and complexity.
Cleary harvests most of her flowers from her own garden, from local farms, or during walks through the woods near her home. When she can’t produce her own dried flowers, she buys them from wholesale suppliers, staying as local as possible. Based on experience, she chooses materials that are both durable and long-lasting, including strawflowers, lavender, thistles, yarrow, zinnias, gomphrena, chamomile, hydrangeas, foxgloves, lunaria, eucalyptus, pampas grass, quaking grass, ferns, sage, lamb’s ears, wheat, cedar, juniper, berries, and pine cones.
If handled gently and stored properly, Cleary says, a well-made dried wreath should stay perfectly intact for at least 10 years.
“Handmade wreaths show a balance of textures and colors that is more wild and less symmetrical than mass-produced commercial wreaths,” she says. “With custom wreaths, each element is separately bundled and thoughtfully nestled on the frame, with an outcome that is much more lush and intentional.”
Consider location, size, and weight before choosing a wreath, suggests Cleary. “If you plan to use a plastic taped hanger instead of a nail, choose a small wreath of lightweight materials,” she says.
Last September, Mary Catherine Wickham, who lives in Old Town Alexandria, ordered a 21-inch fall wreath of pampas grass, eucalyptus, and bright-red maple leaves. She recently brought the lushly decorated circle out of storage to hang on her living room wall. “I didn’t want to hang it on my door where I couldn’t see it,” says Wickham, “because it’s too beautiful not to have in my daily view.”
Want to Make Your Own? Cleary’s 10 Steps to a Perfect Wreath
Nova Wreaths holds regular DIY workshops, with dates and times updated on its website. Just want a few hints? Cleary offers this cheat sheet:
- Have your tools ready: floral clippers, 24-gauge floral wire, and ribbon, raffia, or twine.
- Choose a base. Cleary’s favorites are simple natural or metal hoops and grapevine.
- Select natural flowers and filler materials based on season, color, durability, and longevity. Meadow grasses, oak leaves, wheat, bunny tails, eucalyptus, hydrangeas, thistles, and yarrow are all good choices for beginners.
- Cut stems between 4 and 8 inches long, or make them longer for a wilder look.
- Gather six to eight complementing elements, and fashion them into multiple small bundles. Using wire, lightly wrap each bundle at the ends of stems to secure, and cut the wire at the end of each bundle.
- Using more wire, attach the first bundle to the base, winding wire around base until bundle is secure. Do not cut wire.
- Now attach the next bundle by layering it over the first bundle, and continue winding the wire around the base to secure bundle. Again, do not cut wire.
- Repeat the process of adding bundles until you’re pleased with the result. Cut the remaining wire, and cover the exposed wire with twine.
- For holidays or to usher in a new season, add decorative ribbons and accents. These little extras can change along with the time of year.
- When not in use, store wreaths in a sturdy box, choosing a dry location out of direct sunlight. A closet in an extra bedroom is perfect.