By Starrla Cray
DELANO, MN Walking into the spacious Christmas wreath-making room at Otten Bros. Flower Farm in Delano, one is immediately enticed by the unmistakable fragrance of fresh coniferous greenery.
The wreath makers, some of who have been coming back season after season for more than two decades, are busy Nov. 1 through the first week in December, assembling thick, lush wreaths of various shapes and sizes.
Most wreath makers start in September, Community Relations Manager Adam Kleve said.
“What differentiates us is that we start making them in November,” he said. “That way, they’re super fresh. These wreaths should go through March.”
Wreath maker Sandy Carver of Delano said the first one she ever made was square-shaped.
“I had no idea how to put them together,” she said.
Now, the workers have had many years of practice, and can assemble a typical 24-inch circular wreath in about four minutes.
The largest wreath they make is 72 inches across, and the smallest is 16 inches. Kleve said he’d love to have a huge 9-foot wreath made someday.
For now, however, the crew of seven wreath makers and four garland makers are plenty busy just making their usual orders. Everything is done by hand, and the focus is on quality, not quantity. The Flower Farm creates about 1,600 to 1,700 wreaths each season.
“We’ve slowed it down so we can focus on the quality,” Kleve said. “We want them to be thick, full, and lush.”
Flower Farm uses a larger steel ring for the frame, with shorter, tighter boughs.
“That’s how we get the thickness,” Kleve explained.
“In a five-week period, we go through about 60,000 pounds of boughs from northern Minnesota,” Kleve added. Tree varieties include cedar, pine, and balsam.
“Balsam is our number-one selling product,” Kleve said. The Flower Farm also does cuts from Oregon and California, which includes a mix of greens for added interest.
“They’re more intricate and have better needle retention,” Kleve said.
All the evergreens are delivered to the Flower Farm warehouse in 50-pound bundles about 3 feet long. They are then hand cut down to about 6 to 9 inches. About a quarter of the material is used for wreaths, while other parts are used in garland or arrangements.
Garland and flocking
Fresh garland is a big seller for the Flower Farm. If all of it were stretched out in a line, it would be about four miles long, Kleve said. They commonly provide garland to churches and cities, with orders for coils as long as 200-feet.
It’s easy to tell Flower Farm garland apart from other garlands, Kleve said.
“What we’re really proud of, is that our ropes are about twice the weight of our competitors,” he said, adding that each 50-foot coil weighs about 27 pounds.
Another unusual part of the business is “flocking,” which is adding white fluff to the greenery to create a snow-covered appearance.
“There aren’t many places that continue to do this,” Kleve said. “It’s a time-intensive process.”
First, the tree, wreath, or garland is brought into a special flocking room, where it is coated with water. Then, the white flocking is applied and allowed to dry. A large fan is used to help the flocking distribute evenly. Last, a second coat of water is put on, which seals the needles.
“A lot of people don’t know, flocked trees don’t need water,” Kleve said.
Some wreaths are flocked, but most are left with a natural look. Decorations such as red ribbons and pinecones are often added by hand, which is an “extensive process” as well, Kleve said.
The wreath group
The group that initially puts the wreaths together has been doing it for many years.
“I’ve been here since 1982,” said Fran Czantkowski of Delano. “I enjoy it that’s why I come back.”
Carol Horsch of Waverly is the newest of the bunch, and has been making wreaths for six years.
Marcella Dubbin of Montrose got her start several years ago, when she came into the shop to purchase some wreaths. It was owned by Ned Butterfield at the time, and Dubbin commented that “it must be fun to work here.”
Butterfield asked Dubbin if she’d like a job, and she has been making wreaths ever since.
“It’s fun with the same ladies coming back,” said Carver, who has been in the business since 1987.