Wilsonville Garden Club makes holiday arrangements to benefit horticulture education, decorate local homes

SPOKESMAN PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Members of the Wilsonville Garden Club make wreaths for the upcoming benefit sale.After entering the Wilsonville Public Library, turning left and following the smell of fresh pine into the Oak Room last Friday, you could find a room full of florists arranging, decorating and preparing for the biggest event of the Wilsonville Garden Club's year.

At one table, a group of women waded through pieces of greenery and attached them to styrofoam bases while Nancy McElwain — at her own table nearby — took the bases and added pheasants, bows, fabrics and other embellishments to form festive centerpieces. At the other end of the room, a group of women arranged "swags," garlands that include Christmas-themed decorations.

"We do production lines because we have people who like to clean the greens, people who like to do the structure, and people to do finish work where you pick out how they're going to really look with the bows and embellishments," Garden Club member Beth Mistretta said.

That day, the Wilsonville Garden Club, a nonprofit organization that consists of 56 horticulture enthusiasts in the Wilsonville area, was preparing for its annual swag sale Dec. 1 — where the group sold evergreen centerpieces, garlands and holiday decor to local residents last Saturday. The proceeds for the event will go toward horticulture education and scholarships.

"I think it's so much fun and I've done it so many times," Garden Club Chairwoman Sandy Huberd said of the sale.

To prepare for the event, the Garden Club received a collection of branches and ferns donated by the City of Wilsonville and a local tree farm. They also collected various embellishments throughout the year and scoured the natural environment for pinecones.

"You take your dog for a walk and then stuff your pockets (with pinecones)," Minstretta said.

A month prior to the sale, the group made bows out of ribbon, created arrangement bases out of pieces of styrofoam and wires — which can latch onto the back of doors — and stuck wires into pinecones. Thursday, WGC member Victoria Von Tagen demonstrated the looping process of turning fabric into a bow.

"You can imagine if you put that in a flower or a gift the person getting it would think it was really special," Von Tagen said of the bows.

Then on Thursday and Friday last week, they arranged the pieces before hosting the sale at the Library Saturday, where they sold about 30 centerpieces and 100 swags.

The group considers designing the arrangements an art and many said McElwain is one of the best artists of the bunch. McElwain mostly worked on the centerpieces, which are designed for indoor use and placed in a tray of water. Her favorite piece consisted of an ornamental pheasant, pinecones, an assortment of greenery and red leaves. The centerpieces are a bit more intricate than the swag pieces.

"(I like) the creativity of it," McElwain said. "Some people like to be social. I like to be really quiet. That's why Sandy, our chairman, puts me back in the corner because then I can just create."

But the people who aren't as artistically inclined and do the more rudimentary work, such as lodging the greenery and wires into the styrofoam base, are also integral to the process.

"The first year I did this I came in and I didn't know anything," Mistretta said. "But they'll teach you, whoever is here."

Minstretta likes the swag pieces best and especially the ones that highlight natural materials.

"I like the ones that are not shiny. I like them to be fresh gathered greens, which they all are, and the pinecones and a rose and maybe a bird ... That's why I made (one of Mistretta's swags) gold and shiny, because some people love that," Mistretta said.

Some of the other pieces featured an ornament of Santa with a long beard next to gold orbs and a gold bow, one with a snowman ornament, fruit, and a Christmas themed bow and another with a toy squirrel, brown leaves and various greenery.

"When you have 40 people's ideas you come up with a whole array of different styles," Mistretta said.

While McElwain enjoys unlocking her creative capabilities and some take pride in raising money for scholarships, others appreciate the social interaction most and preparing for the event allowed the women to get to know each other better.

"When we go to a meeting we don't get to talk that much to each other," Chairwoman Sandy Huberd said. "In this we're in the room laughing and really getting acquainted. It's a really fun fellowship thing we do."

Not to mention, Huberd cooked up a pot of soup and others provided a large selection of Christmas goodies.

"The people," Von Tagen said about why she participates in the sale. "They're wonderful and they're all good cooks so you always get good food. They're fun and they're happy and glad to be here."

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