- Cape May NJ Travel Guide and Vacation Planner Blog

Month: December 2012

Local Wines and Local Chef Featured at the James Beard Annual New Year’s Eve Dinner

Brush with Greatness Alert!!

Break out the Champagne and the poodle skirts, because tonight you’re going to party like it’s 1959. Chef Geoff Johnson, who is known for his eclectic menu at Copper Fish on Broadway in historic Cape May, will be re-creating a few dishes from the vast 1959 winter menu from the Four Seasons that James Beard himself helped conceive.


Cheff Geoff Johnson

As you foodies know – tonight is the James Beard Annual New Year’s Eve dinner at the late chef and food writer’s home in Manhattan. Cape May wines and only Cape May wines will be served.

Here’s the menu and you too MIGHT be able to still get a reservation. Cost to members of the James Beard Foundation $200/ General Public $250. Dinner is served at 9 p.m. For reservations call 212-627-2308.


Hors d’Oeuvre

Applewood-Smoked Salmon with Red Onion Marmalade, Anchovy–Caper Rémoulade, and Baby Cucumbers

Swordfish Ceviche with Winter Vegetable Confit

Country-Style Pâté with Mustard Aïoli

Prosciutto, Bosc Pear, and Chive Crêpes

A fine sparkling wine will be served during this reception.


Bisque Duo > Maine Lobster Bisque and Roasted Winter Vegetable Bisque with Duck Confit
Hawk Haven Chardonnay 2010

Barnegat Light Dayboat Scallops with Oaxacan-Spiced Chayote Purée, Chorizo, and Blood Orange Reduction
Natali Vineyards Pinot Grigio 2006

War of the Lobster > Monkfish Medallion and Butter-Poached Maine Lobster with Crimson Split Pea Pilaf and Carrot–Saffron Jus
Natali Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2006

Plank Steak au Poivre with Bone Marrow Broth, Wild Mushrooms, and Cape May Sea Salt Oyster
Jessie Creek Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Irish Coffee–Valrhona Chocolate Marquise with Hazelnuts and Spun Sugar
Traditional Champagne Toast

Couple gets engaged at Cape May’s Emlen Physick Estate


Pictured Here: Staff members at the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) were in on the secret prior to Mike Wulster, 24, right, of South River, N.J., asking Michelle Gallagher, 23, left, of Staten Island, N.Y., to marry him. Shown here, after the proposal, the newly engaged couple celebrates the moment at the gazebo on the Emlen Physick Estate, 1048 Washington St., Cape May, on Saturday, Dec. 15, with visitors to the Estate and MAC staff sharing in the excitement. MAC Director of Visitor Services and Special Events Janice Coyle helped Wulster coordinate his plan weeks in advance, which included placing a sign created by MAC Marketing and Publications Director Jean Barraclough inside the gazebo prior to their arrival, asking, “Michelle, Will You Marry Me?” After the couple took a tour of the Physick Estate, Wulster guided Gallagher into the gazebo, got down on one knee, and popped the question, to which she enthusiastically answered “yes.” They met at Middlesex County College, where they both studied radiology; she now works in Manhattan and he works in Toms River. They have been dating for three years and enjoy visits to Cape May. The Emlen Physick Estate is a beautiful setting for engagements, engagement parties and weddings. The Carriage House Café & Tearoom is available for catering of parties and weddings both on- and off-site. The Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC) is a multifaceted not-for-profit organization committed to promoting the preservation, interpretation, and cultural enrichment of the Cape May region for its residents and visitors. MAC membership is open to all. For information about MAC’s year-round schedule of tours, festivals, and special events, call 609-884-5404 or 800-275-4278, or visit MAC’s Web site at (Photo courtesy MAC)

Places to be on New Year’s Eve


Coming to Cape May for the holidays? Cape May is open. Come on down and enjoy the quiet, festive atmosphere of a seashore small town that really knows how to celebrate. Let us give you a few suggestions on where to ring in the New Year.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations in Cape May

So, you’ve checked into your favorite hotel or B&B or guest house and you are looking for some place to celebrate the New Year. Never fear. The New Year’s Eve celebrations are plentiful. They range from the glitz Glitter Ball at Congress Hall’s Ballroom, which is already sold out, to the more sedate, but très élégante Peter Shield Inn. So, let’s take a closer look.

Even if you have missed your chance to ring in 2013 at Congress Hall’s Glitter Ball, you can hang out in the lovely Brown Room and enjoy cocktails there until your dinner reservations at the Blue Pig are ready and then travel downstairs to the Boiler Room, where you can keep the part going all night long. The Boiler Room opens its doors at 9:30 and stays open until 2 a.m. Enjoy the vintage guitar sounds of the Billy D. Trio. For details call 1-888-944-1816 or 884-8422 or visit

Over on Jackson Street, both the Ebbitt Room, in the Virginia Hotel, and the Mad Batter Restaurant at the Carroll Villa will be hosting New Year’s Eve celebrations.

At the Ebbitt Room enjoy a delicious three-course dinner of your choice hand-crafted by Chef Anthony Micari and delight in the music of live entertainment by pianist Paul Sottile, Jr. Dinner is $75 per person at the early seating (5:30-7:30 p.m.) and $95 per person at the 8-10 p.m. seating. To reserve, call 609.884.5700.

The Mad Batter is serving an extensive menu which offers a four-course dinner, priced at $75 per person, then dance to your heart’s content to the music of Jim Doran. For reservations call 884-5970.

Step one street over to Decatur. The Pilot House, at the corner of Decatur and Carpenters Lane, will feature music by the Open Mic crew which can usually be heard at the P.H. on Friday nights. It’s a great diversity of talent.

At the Merion Inn, right down the street, former piano accompanist for Roberta Flack, Barry Miles, will play until the wee hours of the morning. The Merion offers several seatings for all the family to enjoy beginning at 4:30, otherwise known as the kid-friendly seating. Adults order a la carte from the specially prepared New Year’s Eve menu and kids enjoy a two-course menu for $25. Second seating is at 7 p.m., $85 per person and the final seating is at 9:30 p.m., $95 person. Party hats and noisemakers complimentary. For reservations call 884-8363 or visit

On the east end of town, Peters Shields Inn (PSI) will offer dinner and live music. Two seatings: 5:30-7:15, $95 per person; and 7:30 at $130 per person. The prix fixe menu includes selections which range from caviar for starters to butter-poached lobster. For reservations call 884-9090 to peek at the menu visit

Along the beach front, Cabanas, at the corner of Decatur Street and Beach Avenue is touting a “No worries New Year’s Eve” party. You can pick your party. Chooses are: Party One: $25 open bar from 9 p.m. to midnight. Party Two is a $10 cover to get in with a cash bar. Live entertainment will be performed by Doc Hollywood. Tickets can be purchased at Cabanas or online at

Marq’s Pub, located in the Marquis de Lafayette Hotel on Beach Avenue, is offering a New Year’s Eve package for $55 per person which includes buffet dinner with preferred seating beginning at 7 p.m., live entertainment by Blondage, cash bar, toast and party favors. Show only is $25 per person beginning at 8:30 p.m. For reservations call 884-3500.

The Ugly Mug up on the Washington Street Mall always has a lively band and some tasty treats.

So that wraps it up. Plenty to do. Always plenty to see and then there’s that beach and those sunsets. Have a great time and Happy New Year!

Their Favorite Things


Text by Linda Fowler

You check into a high-end hotel where the owner – say Donald Trump or one of the Hiltons – shows up to extend a personal welcome. After sharing some family anecdotes and a few laughs, the hotelier suggests a private tour of his establishment’s source of pride, whether it be the skytop suite or the multimillion-dollar wine cellar.

Lucille and Dennis of the Dormer House

Lucille and Dennis of the Dormer House with their stained-glass window.

Dream on: This kind of camaraderie doesn’t occur at luxe lodgings. But it does, in a sense, at the humbler B&B. A treasured attraction fancied by guests and tourists, such as an heirloom or striking architectural element, is an innkeeper’s rendition of a show-stopper – and cause for conversation.

In Cape May, it could be the antique Wedgwood china at the John Wesley Inn; a 1911 wedding gown preserved at the John F. Craig House, or the Dormer House’s stained-glass window depicting the movements of the sun. Dormer House owner Lucille Doherty says the window even catches the eye of horse-and-carriage guides, who point to it during excursions along Franklin Street.

“There certainly are plenty of inns that feature photos or other family-oriented artwork,” says Jay Karen, president and CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International in Haddon Heights. “They might be on the walls, in the stairwell or in other common areas for guests to enjoy.”

By collecting and inheriting unique items through the years, B&B proprietors are like curators of their own mini-museums, and prize certain acquisitions. Cape May Magazine asked four inn owners to play show-and-tell with their favorite things:

Naughty and nice

Sandy Miller

Sandy Miller and a bisque bathing girl figurine

Sandy Miller, owner of the Windward House on Jackson Street, suspects the scantily-clad diving-girl figurines inside her curio cabinets are tipsy. “I think these girls drink at night,” she observes. “Once in a while I come upstairs and they’ve fallen over.”

Not surprisingly, some depict flappers from the Twenties. Her bisque bathing beauties, also known as “naughties,” became popular collectibles in the years following the death of Queen Victoria, when the strict code of etiquette loosened like an unhooked corset. Meticulously painted, some complete with minuscule fingernails and teeth, these beach babes frequently had real hair and dainty maillot swimsuits of lace and other fabrics.

“They were giveaways,” explains the blue-eyed, silver-haired proprietor. “If you went to a store and bought a set of furniture, when you left the store they always gave you a present, sort of like Cracker Jack, to encourage you to come back and buy more. … It was a very good marketing tool at the time.”

Ranging in size from a few inches to a foot or more, the poised figures fill two display cases and are so numerous that Miller has lost count. The array is the main draw during tours of the inn.
“I always say, ‘We have some guest rooms open on the second floor if you’d like to see them,’” Miller remarks about open-house attendees. “Sometimes they’re older and they don’t want to climb the stairs; they just want to sit. I always entice them and say,” [here she clears her throat] “ ‘In case you don’t want to go upstairs, you’re going to miss out on a wonderful collection. It’s my husband’s collection of Victorian pornography.’ Then they all go, ‘Oh, wow!’ and run upstairs.”
For Miller, the collection’s value is overwhelmingly sentimental. She and her husband, Owen, began shopping for the girls and mermaids, as well as era-complementary artwork, in the mid-’80s. After Owen’s death in 1991, she purchased her largest “nudie” in his memory and for all to see: a statue of a long-haired nymph who holds a scallop shell and graces the Windward’s front garden.

Cradle of liberty


The butternut cradle at the Henry Sawyer Inn

Thanks to a visit to Cape May by a vacationing couple from Denver, the Henry Sawyer Inn on Columbia Avenue became the new home for a baby cradle carved by Thomas Lincoln, whose son would one day grow up to be President.

“They had amazing things,” Barbara Morris remembers of Miles and Joan Fairchild’s 1992 stay, “and their only daughter wasn’t interested in antiques. They bought the cradle at auction in the Midwest when they were first married… and they had it authenticated through the carver’s markings.

“They said to us, ‘We’d like to have it someplace where it could be more accessible to the public,’” continues Morris, who owns the Henry Sawyer with her mother, Mary. “And they asked us if we would like to have it. We said, ‘Oh, of course.’”

The butternut cradle, believed to have been built around 1800 in Kentucky, converts to a small crib when its rockers are removed. Indentations near the finials suggest it was originally outfitted for a canopy. Its mattress had to be replicated.

The Henry Sawyer was built in 1877 as a residence for Eldridge Johnson, a dozen years after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Visitors today, especially children, are still “always thrilled” to see an object associated with the Great Emancipator, says Morris, who is a professor of English and speech at St. John’s University in Queens, New York.

“I think it’s just a very special part of history,” she adds. “And, as such, it’s something that you cherish.”

Stair case


The chimney staircase at the Victorian Lace Inn. [source:]

The “chimney staircase” at the Victorian Lace Inn on Stockton Avenue, when viewed upward from the ground floor, calls to mind the surreal images of M.C. Escher or the floating steps of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But it’s a lot more practical than fantastical.

This quirky architectural innovation was an advanced heating and cooling system for summering Victorians. Placed strategically at the center of the home, with two fireplaces on each level and a window on every landing, the staircase functioned as a chimney by creating a draft.

“It wasn’t exactly an air-conditioning system, but it did ventilate the house quite efficiently,” says engineer and architect Andy O’Sullivan, who owns the circa 1869 inn with his wife, Carrie. In addition, second-floor bedrooms had a louvered door and solid wood door installed on the same jamb so the original occupants, the McIlvaines of Philadelphia, could further control the air flow.
O’Sullivan put his expertise to work some 14 years ago by designing an addition and modernizing the mechanical system and duct work; that meant replacing the staircase windows with hand-crafted, stained-glass light panels bearing the family crest and Irish motifs. Hanging at the pinnacle of the 34 steps, three floors up, is a light fixture resembling a starburst.

When the inn was chosen by the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC) to be part of a restoration tour, Carrie O’Sullivan recalls, MAC scouts had difficulty identifying where the commingled addition and other renovations began and ended.

“It’s the only one we know of in town,” says Andy proudly about the couple’s architectural oddity. He gestures to a bench in the entrance foyer, set at the bottom of the stairwell. “One of the fun things is to let people sit there and look up.” historic-endmark

Congress Hall Celebrates 6th Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony and Concert

Congress Hall became a haven for families as it lit up Friday night for the holidays. Transforming into its own winter wonderland, Congress Hall was infused with holiday spirit and decorated from head to toe with Christmas trees, wreaths and garland. This year the Congress Hall Christmas tree was a 30-foot Blue Spruce Evergreen with over 8,000 colored lights.  The Congress Hall Festival Choir started the celebration with a performance in the Ballroom.  The annual fun and festive tree lighting followed.

47th Annual Christmas Parade

Unseasonably warm weather made this year’s 47th Annual Christmas Parade a delight for young and old. Crowds lined the parade route along Broadway, West Perry and Carpenters Lane. And a good time was had by all.

The winners are listed by categories below.

Decorated Fire Trucks
First Place #90 Tuckahoe
Second Place #70 Rio Grande
Third Place #83 Green Creek

Decorated Fire Truck Floats
First Place #73 Wildwood
Second Place #64 Dennis Twp.
Third Place #62 Goshen

Most Outstanding Fire Co.: #46 West Cape May

Decorated Rescue Squads
Fist Place: #79 Middle Twp.

Most Outstanding: #84 American Legion
First Place: #89 Murphy Fence
Second Place: #58 Lower Twp. Rotary
Third Place: #61 First Assembly of God

Commercial Entries
Most Outstanding: #76 Merry Christmas From Cape May Harbor
First Place #69 Alliano Masonry
Second Place #52 Sturdy Savings
Third Place #88 Shore Guys Heating

First Place: #47 Congress Hall
Second Place: #72 TLC
Third Place: #45 John’s Barber Shop

Youth Group Entry
Most Outstanding: #80 Civil Air Patrol
First Place: #44 West Cape May Cub Pack 73
Second Place: #68 Center for Community Arts

Most Outstanding: #60 Cape May County Animal Shelter
First Place #93 Vietnam Vets Museum
Second Place #75 Cape May County Sheriff’s
Third Place #86 Cape Trinity & Wildwood Catholic

Most Outstanding: #49 Green Creek Bethel Methodist
First Place: #57 Seashore Church of the Nazarene
Second Place: #81 Cape Fellowship Church
Third Place: #77 Christian Academy

Most Enthusiastic: #67 Jersey Cape Dance & Gymnastic
Most Precise: #48 Joanne Reagan Dance

Most Outstanding Entry of Parade
#54 Cape May Dance Company


The Painter and the Poet

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Cape May Magazine

“Still the Queen” (1978) The Windsor Hotel on Beach Avenue, two years before it burned to the ground.

Artists paint pictures with brushes and poets paint pictures with words. The desired result is the same – to transcend, to stir the heart and soul and mark the memory.

Alice painting Congress Hall from her front porch in 1986. (Click to enlarge)

It’s been 11 years since beloved Cape May artist Alice Steer Wilson last picked up her brush. She died July 22, 2001. But Alice lives with us still in her watercolors depicting Cape May architecture and in seascapes basking in sea light.

Alice’s daughter Janice Wilson Stridick is an artist as well, a poet; putting pen to paper words that evoke emotions, beckon memory, create music, leave a lasting impression. Janice follows the art form of her grandmother Margery Wells Steer, a poet.

The three generations gathered frequently, each creating her impressions on paper, at the Wilson family home, an 1850s gingerbread cottage on Congress Street, a block from the beach and across from Congress Hall.

Surely they all loved summer. Many of us remember Alice perched on her stool along the seawall or on a street corner, painting a favorite Victorian. An endearing quality of Alice – she would say hi, glance up from her palette and chat, allowing a look at what was taking shape on her easel. Janice, the wordsmith, needs but a pen to jot on an index card or journal inspiration from a swim, a sunrise, a face. Grandmother Margery picked her words from the salty air while musing on the front porch. “What I have been investigating as a poet, a writer,” says Janice, “is this idea of women and art and creating identities through what we make.”

“View in Summer” (1992)

They all shared a secret. They loved Cape May in winter when the throngs are gone and the sea light softens and the surf pounds louder.

The View in Winter is a book of poems written by Grandmother Margery during “the winter of her life,” when she was 92. In the foreword, thanking daughter Alice for watercolor illustrations and granddaughter Janice for editing, she writes:

Winter..that quiet time of deep snows and warm fires…dreaming of things past and things to come. A time of waiting for another spring.

Alice’s winter watercolors are not as prolific or well known as her summer art. She and husband Fred spent winters in Cape May after he retired in 1985. They added heat and hosted family Christmases at the cottage. By then their four children, Janice, Deb, Kate and Jim, were adults and the pile of presents and the dinner table grew larger with spouses and grandchildren. “Mom loved Cape May in winter especially when it snowed,” says Janice. She painted views from her front porch – snowy Congress Hall and Congress Place, and tidy bungalows at Lafayette Street that have been torn down and replaced by mansions.

“Our House” (1989(, the Wilson family home pictured in the center

“Mother came to Cape May before it was discovered, before it became a Historic Landmark, and she adored it,” says Janice. “Winter, I think, reminded her of the Cape May she knew in the 70s, a neglected historic village, a beautiful, fragile, somewhat ephemeral place. And the light, the light is legendary, and then you have the art of this natural landscape which is beyond compare.

“When she was coming to Cape May in the 70s, the village was just waking up commercially. There were young people starting businesses and restoring Victorians.” They were the age of her children and invigorated Alice, who painted the Mainstay, the Abbey, the Queen Victoria as they transformed from battered white elephants into colorful, elegant B&Bs.

“Pink House” (1975)

“Mother was an avid preservationist as I still am,” says Janice “Part of her motivation to paint the historic buildings was to preserve them. The Windsor [1879 and designed by Stephen Decatur Button] was at the end of our street, and we loved it.” Alice painted the Windsor many times and her watercolors are cherished images of the rambling old hotel which was destroyed. It burned to the ground in a wind-whipped fire in 1980.

“Congress Place in Winter” (1996)

Alice and Cape May flourished together. She painted from life, plein air, seldom using photographs. In many ways, her interpretations of Cape May’s Victorians helped brand the city in the 1980s as the renaissance place to be. Her brush caught the passion, the energy, the synergy of that time of brilliant renewal.

“Autumn Triumph” (1998) The lighthouse in autumn sea light

She was the first Cape May artist to display her watercolors in one-woman shows at the Chalfonte Hotel’s Magnolia Room. Her show receptions became a Labor Day ritual over a decade with a growing collector base that was enhanced by Janice’s marketing skills. In the final year Alice’s painting partner, Virginia Tabor, joined the show. The two traditional artists studied together at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, both mothers with teenage children, in the revolutionary 60s, when pop art ruled. Virginia was inspired by Alice’s passion. “She took her paint box with her on her honeymoon!”

Alice started painting young, in oil. Daughter Janice has a small oil of the farm house where Alice grew up at Sunnyslope, North Lima, Ohio. The house is history, but the farm fields remain. Alice’s children remember visits. “Doting grandparents, wonderful fresh farm food, scores of animals, being read to, picnics with friends,” says Janice. “All four of us loved the farm, and Ohio.”

“Winter Porch” (1994)

There’s another small oil of a house on Long Island where lucky farm girl Alice spent summers on North Fork, a thin finger of land offering beautiful views of Long Island Sound. Vineyards, apple orchards, potato fields flourish there. Alice’s girlhood landscapes of farm and sea came together in Cape May, which provides both.

Daughter Janice, in the months after her mother’s death, set about a project she vowed to finish in a year. She would produce a catalog of her mother’s work—from the beginning: those little oils to her early efforts at being a classical portrait painter to her blossoming into a prolific award- winning, sought- after watercolorist in Cape May. After the catalog was finished, Janice reasoned, she would organize a museum retrospective of her mother’s body of work –and ultimately wrap it up in a book about Alice Steer Wilson’s legacy as an artist.

“Red Roof” (1982)

The catalog project was much more daunting than Janice imagined. She is still working on it. She has computer-catalogued 1,200 paintings and has images of 1,000 She believes there may be another 800 yet to be located. The project is painstaking and expensive in time and production. She needs to find each painting, borrow it from the owner, have it scanned, reframed and returned to the collector–all the while keeping up with technology that allows excellent image reproduction.

“This is fascinating detective work,” says Janice. ”I have the heart of an archivist or curator. I became deeply fascinated with cataloging the work, learning more about my mother, the artist, in her notebooks, sketchbooks and journals. I learned more about her painting during the last year of her life, for her last Chalfonte show when
her cancer reemerged and took her.” The show went on without her and sold all but three paintings in the first 30 minutes.

“Portrait of Jan” (2001, oil)

Janice tells this favorite story: “Shortly after Alice died, a collector called to say he had discovered this message, handwritten and signed, on the back of this painting [Windsor in September, 1975] he was having reframed:

“In case my paintings are ever ‘discovered’ after I’m dead, this is my statement of what I was trying to do. I loved the appearance of things, light particularly, and tried to copy it as accurately as I could, leaving out what was boring and exaggerating what I liked. Why I loved certain sights better than others I never understood, and neither do the people who are explaining it to you now.”

“Self Portrait” (1996)

The journey of discovery by Janice, the poet, continues. She has rediscovered her mother’s childhood summer place. The cabins her great-grandfather Horace Joshua Wells built in the 1930s still stand on a rise overlooking Long Island with stairs descending to the water. Janice and husband Paul joined with some kinfolk at Shady Dell this past September. She took with her the pencil drawing her great-Grandfather sketched designing a simple frame dwelling with wrap-around screen porch. A perfect place for inspiration and the book of poems Janice is writing titled UnfinishedDaughter.

Meantime in Cape May this season, the Wilson home on Congress Street continues to celebrate life. Father Fred Wilson had an 89th birthday with the family gathered around the big table, and Christmas and New Year’s are just around the corner. 

Time to Decorate – Naturally

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of Cape May Magazine

Man has made wreaths – the unbroken circle, a symbol of eternity – since ancient times. Today they are still made in the same manner. Small bunches of plant material are attached to a form in a circular style. I use a thin, yet strong wire (#26) on a spool or small paddles.

People in South Jersey have a bounty of natural materials to gather when they need natural holiday decorations. When winter approaches, I love to be able to go out-of-doors to bring nature in. Take a winter walk to collect materials for holiday decorations.

Winter gardens, fields and woods are like a banquet table laden with colorful dishes. Leaves are gone, so bright berries, cones and pods can be seen everywhere

The Berries Of Winter

Holly berries

On a foraging walk you might find holly berries, beautyberries, cedar berries, nandina berries and firethorn berries. Then there are all the “berries” that are not called berries, like rose hips, choke cherries, drupes and fruits of so many other plants found in our gardens. I love red berries best this time of the year, but also love the silver gray of bayberries and cedar.

Bayberries (Myrica pensylvanica) are a favorite that birds have spread all over in the overgrown area of towering trees in one of our old tree farms. We gather these fragrant, gray/white waxy berries to use because they keep well and will dry and last for years. Glue them to swags or wreaths for a beautiful fragrant touch. I also made fragrant candles by adding the berries and leaves to beeswax.

Nandina domestica is a plant I usually associate with Williamsburg, but it does well in our garden and several plants in our yard produce pretty colorful foliage and striking red berry clusters. These showy, conical shaped bunches of berries last really long in wreaths and arrangements.
I had an artificial garland on my mantle and to make it smell good I cut concolor fir and rosemary to add to tuck in between the branches. Then I topped this with nandina berries. Boy, that lasted a long time and even dried and were used the following year.

When I use crab apples, persimmons or other fruits on bird watcher’s wreaths, I keep it outside or in a very cool spot so the fruit will last. Subtle with deep russet hues, rose hips can be collected from many types of roses and are a pretty berry cluster this time of the year. Since these are invasive in the wild, I feel good about picking them and bringing them inside, so they will not spread.

Another attractive berry is the icy blue fruit of the native cedar tree (Juniper virginiana). An extraordinary blue in winter arrangements, they keep well in fresh containers or on wreaths and swags. The cedars that have the most berries are the ones found in sunny, sandy fields. They are relished by wildlife too! A few dried hydrangeas, especially blue ones, look really wonderful near these berries in wreaths, arrangements or garlands. Our Herb Society native plant study group made wreaths of this cedar and then glued deep scarlet sumac berries in them. They looked awesome. The birds loved to pick at the berries when the wreaths were hung on the door.

Of course, the hollies are the brightest of all berries! Both evergreen and deciduous holly berries are wonderful. Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) loses its leaves to reveal outrageously beautiful red berries once the frost claims its leaves. The most handsome stand of winterberry is across the creek and only accessible by canoe, so now we planted them along this side of the stream. (For years when our sons were growing up they would take turns on wintry days paddling a canoe over so I could precariously lean over into the shrubs and cut branches! Luckily we never capsized!)
A favorite of bluebirds, the brightly colored firethorn (Pyracantha) berries can’t be beat for decorating. I start to use them around Thanksgiving along with small gourds.

Dark red berry clusters from highland sumac add a subtle elegant look to evergreens. Rhus typhina (not the poisonous variety) are beautiful added to wreaths or arrangements. These grow in vacant lots, sandy dry fields or in a sunny well-drained landscape. The crimson drupes seem to keep forever if the birds don’t get at them.

Making the botanical wreath

We start with a mixed greens wreath of fragrant concolor fir, spruce, pine, cedar, and arborvitae and wire small bunches on wire frames. Natural decorations that can be hot glued all around the wreath include clusters of rose hips, sumac, holly, nandina, persimmons, crabapples, bittersweet, wheat, Black-eyed Susan seed heads, apple slices, various cones, nuts, and pods. You can use the same materials and glue them to a garland around the door or on a fence.

I can’t resist trimming this with a red velvet or plaid bow before hanging it on our door. The birds often think it is an extension of the feeder and so it is not unusual to see chickadees, titmice or even a Cardinal posing on it. The wreath becomes a live Christmas card that looks like it is right off a page of the National Wildlife card catalogue. They are a nice winter decoration and can be moved to another spot in the garden and left up till late winter.

Types of Fresh Greens

Most evergreens can be picked during November and December to be used for winter decorations. My very favorite evergreen is concolor fir. It is gray-green and has a lovely citrus scent. It just makes you feel wonderful when you use it and your hands smell so delicious! It is a very long lasting green, like most firs, and looks excellent in wreaths or arrangements.
Another extraordinary green that really adds charm to any arrangement or wreath is the Hinoki false cypress. These vibrant dark green branches are impressive and one of my very favorite greens to use year round in arrangements.

Although all in the spruce family can be used, I like the bright green Norway best for wreaths, as it is less bulky and seems to last longer than some of the others. White pine is quite common, but still one of the nicest to use in wreaths. It not only smells delicious, it lasts a long time.
I could never decorate in December without cutting bundles of fragrant, graceful Arborvitae. As its name states, ‘tree of life’ is a long lasting, aromatic addition to winter wreaths or bouquets.
Shiny Magnolia leaves are for decorating! If you have evergreen varieties, use their shiny foliage to add another texture to needled foliages on wreaths or in vases or bowls.

Greens used outdoors do not need to be in water. I heap branches in an old wheelbarrow along the walk and also in an old wooden bucket by the door and these keep well into spring!
Making Wreaths then and now

I learned to make my very first wreath on vines twisted into a circle. We eagerly waited to help when my Dad and Uncle Ed would make wreaths. Later on as a grade school 4-H member, I learned to make outstanding wreaths on coat hangers that had been shaped into circles. This became a holiday business from 8th grade through college when my brother and I made wreaths each year. When my husband learned to make wreaths, he once made a huge one on an old hula-hoop!

When our three sons were old enough to learn to make wreaths, they also made them to sell each Christmas. Their first wreaths were on coat hangers and later on metal rings. We still use these rings and have made wreath tables to hold the gadget that pushes the clamps shut.

I figure that I have taught thousands to make wreaths over the past 40 years. It was not unusual to have PTA, scouts, 4-H, Herb Society or church groups making wreaths in my kitchen, family room or porch when the boys were young. Now we have classes at our nursery, so the wreath cycle goes on. Son Joe and our nursery manager Jola teach most of these classes at the nursery now (I teach the decorating part). He has personally made very remarkable 5-foot wreaths of unusual plant material. There is no end to what you can do with wreaths. Last year I taught a handful of people how to make a wreath on a coat hanger and realized that some things never change.