Using foliage to decorate homes in the depths of winter is a tradition which goes back centuries.

As well as presenting wreaths made of olive or laurel branches as awards for successful military campaigns and sporting prowess, in Roman times wreaths and garlands were exchanged during the new year festival of Kalends.

Lighting a candle in a wreath on Sundays during Advent was first recorded in the 1830s – although it is thought that the tradition may date back as far as the 16th century.

And it was during the 19th century when it became popular to hang a wreath, or welcome ring, made of seasonal foliage, on the front door at Christmas.

Great British Life: Katie Gavaghan of The Parsons Wreath CompanyKatie Gavaghan of The Parsons Wreath Company (Image: The Parsons Wreath Company)

It’s a tradition which Katie Gavaghan, of the Parsons Wreath Company, loves.

The family business has been hand-making dried floral wreaths for more than 30 years from flowers grown at the family farm at Parson Drove in the fens.

And at Christmas they use foliage foraged from near their Norfolk home to create luxury wreath-making kits so that people can get crafty and make their own.

Dried flowers have had a huge resurgence in popularity in recent years, particularly with the rise in more informal, festival-style weddings.

Katie studied fashion, and uses her design skills to create gorgeous floral crowns and flower headbands, button holes and corsages, bouquets and table centres.

Great British Life: A piece by The Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: The Parsons Wreath CompanyA piece by The Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: The Parsons Wreath Company

The Parsons Wreath Company has worked with the Sandringham estate since 2020, including making pieces to sell in the gift shop, which were given personal approval by the then Prince of Wales – and they made a special arrangement to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee.

And in the summer, they were thrilled to be asked to take part in the inaugural Sandringham in Bloom, and made a gorgeous display for the arched gate outside St Mary Magdalene Church.

Katie has also recently started holding flower arranging workshops, which are proving popular as a creative and mindful activity where people can switch off from their screens for a few hours.

She and her mum, Lesley, run the creative side of the business, and her dad, Clive, and uncle, Anthony, grow and harvest the flowers, which are a mixture of annuals and perennials: helichrysums, nigella, miscanthus, amaranthus, safflowers, celosia, statice, thistles, lavender and more.

Great British Life: A piece by The Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: The Parsons Wreath CompanyA piece by The Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: The Parsons Wreath Company

The flowers are grown in a few locations because they like different growing environments – some thrive in heavier soil, some in sandy soil and some in a clay-based soil. They also have some polytunnels for those that prefer to be protected from the elements.

When the flowers are harvested, they’re dried in the loft.

‘The best way to dry them is in the dark, so they don’t lose their colour and obviously somewhere warm, but with ventilation,’ Katie says.

‘We have the best-smelling loft in the country, I think,’ she laughs.

Great British Life: Norfolk Magazine December 2023 coverNorfolk Magazine December 2023 cover (Image: Norfolk Magazine)

Creating our cover wreath

We shot this month’s cover in Norwich Cathedral Close. The doors in The Close have to be painted dark blue – in Cathedral Blue to be precise - so Katie and her mum, Lesley, made sure that they used colours which would pop against the backdrop and still look welcoming and festive.

Being as sustainable as possible is important to Katie and her family, so they start with a traditional moss base rather than a foam base.

‘You need a licence to gather moss,’ says Katie. ‘And there are only a small amount of people who have them. Our moss comes from Thetford Forest – we've worked with our supplier for donkey’s years, so we know we get a really good quality.

‘The secret to a long-lasting wreath is a nice thick moss base to keep it nice and moist. So we wire that on first.’

The next step is to wire the foliage on.

‘All our foliage is either from our own gardens or locally sourced from our poor, long suffering neighbours,’ says Katie.

‘For this wreath we used eucalyptus, conifer, two types of variegated holly, one whiter and prickly then a smooth leafed one, yew, the very aptly named Christmas box and traditional fir.’

Great British Life: A Christmas wreath by the Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: Denise BradleyA Christmas wreath by the Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: Denise Bradley

Katie wires the foliage into little bunches of three or four items at a time.

‘When I wire them on, I add the smaller bunches to the inside and the larger ones to the outside, so that you get that lovely splayed effect,’ says Katie.

Then it’s time to decorate.

‘Again they’re all natural,’ says Katie. ‘We forage our cones, our conkers and our walnuts and we buy in our cinnamon.

‘Then we’ve got the oranges in it to give it that nice Christmas pop and we also sometimes include some foliage from the garden as well ,like seed pods such as Nigella.

‘Then we add in some dried flowers, the red helichyrsum to give it that Christmas red pop.’

The finishing touch is a bright red velvet bow.

‘The final bit is always looking at it and deciding where to hang your bow. You will just know,’ says Katie.

Great British Life: The detail on a Christmas wreath by the Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: Denise BradleyThe detail on a Christmas wreath by the Parsons Wreath Company. Photo: Denise Bradley

How to care for your wreath

If you take a few simple steps to look after your wreath, it will make your door look beautiful for the entire festive season, says Katie.

Here are her tips:

The most important thing to keep your wreath looking at its best is to make sure that the foliage stays hydrated. If the weather has been damp, that is great for your wreath because the natural moisture will soak into the moss and feed the foliage.

If it hasn’t rained for around five days, either give the wreath a spritz of water or take it down and lay it on the grass to reinvigorate the moss.

If it’s windy, bring the wreath indoors temporarily. ‘You don’t want it flying down the driveway!’ says Katie.

Make your own wreath

The Parsons Wreath Company is holding a luxury Christmas Wreath Workshop in the Cattle Barn at Happy Valley in Grimston on Sunday, December 10.

It runs from 10.30am-1pm and costs £65 per person, including everything you need to create your own wreath. There will also be festive treats including handmade mince pies and Christmas cocktails.

Advance booking is essential.

Make your own wreath kits are also available to order online, dispatched from the beginning of December.

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