There is a story that Island floral designer Mariko Kawaguchi likes to tell about the history of holiday wreaths. The wreath’s origin lies, she says, in medieval Europe, before the streets were named and the houses numbered. In those days a family would hang their own unique bit of greenery upon their door, giving each house an individual character. “I’m the third house on the left, with a sprig of heather on my door,” you might say.

For floral designer Mariko Kawaguchi, each wreath has its own personality. Jeanna Shepard

Nowadays, a simple sprig no longer cuts it. On an Island of 20,000-plus people, you’ve got to be a tad more creative to make your mark. But the fundamental soul of the wreath – its expression of seasonal individuality – remains.

“Each one is like a snowflake,” Mariko says. “It’s perfect for just that person.”

Whether you want to make a wreath yourself or commission an expert to do it for you, there are no shortage of venues to find your own green snowflake on Martha’s Vineyard this holiday season.

Of course, to make sure that all the wreaths get made by the time the holidays swing around, planning for wreath season begins early. On a warm November morning, in the sun-kissed pews of the West Tisbury Congregational Church, the wreath ladies held their first meeting. The limited wreath run this group of six parishioners produces for the church’s annual Christmas fair are some of the Island’s most coveted winter goods.

Getting ready for the annual Christmas Faire at the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury. Jana Bertkau

Along with planning the many other aspects of the upcoming fair, the ladies mapped out plans for this year's classic evergreen designs. Dinny Montrowl will take the lead in greenery procurement. An expert pruner, she has permission to collect a variety of botanicals from Polly Hill Arboretum. Dinny will also collect boxwood clippings from one of their congregants, a task that long time wreathmaker Ruthie Schaffner, who died last year, used to perform.

“We will miss her sunny disposition and her expert touch with the boxwood,” said Libby Fielder, another fair planner.

Mariko, who manages the yearly wreath making workshop at Donaroma’s Nursery, where she has been crafting beauty for almost 40 years, also has her team prepping for the winter wreathmaking well in advance. “Fall does deserve its due,” she says, and so they set up their “Santa’s workshop” alongside the corn tassels and pumpkins.

For a fresh wreath to last, it needs a solid base, like a wire frame stuffed with wet sphagnum moss and wrapped in floral tape. Jeanna Shepard

Their goal every year, Mariko says, is to get the right mix of ingredients and decorations to express each wreath-maker’s own style, from rustic and classic to glitzy and shiny.

“We have a gazillion ribbons,” she says, having not yet determined whether buffalo plaid or classic velvet will be the big thing this year. Along with a wealth of evergreens and ribbons, Donaroma’s has secured a variety of “doodads and bobbles” to add flair to each wreath. Among the most unique are dried artichokes, oranges and pomegranates, each one “lovingly impaled,” as Mariko says, on a wooden stick.

Ribbons, dried fruit, bobbles and more leave plenty of room for creativity. Jeanna Shepard

But as exciting as these bobbles might be, no good wreath can succeed without a solid base. Along with the classic grapevine frame, Mariko says they also prepare a special frame construction meant to extend wreath freshness: a wire frame, stuffed with wet sphagnum moss and wrapped in green floral tape. Pieces of evergreen puncture the tape, sucking up the moisture and staying green throughout the holidays.

Emily Coulter, owner of Morrice Florist, also emphasizes the importance of base construction in her wreath making.

Emily Coulter's wreath-making style is natural and whimsical. Jeanna Shepard

“If you don’t have good mechanics, you are doomed from the start,” she says.

In addition to grapevine, Emily also extolls the virtues of smilax, aka greenbrier, as a wreath making base. Smilax is a common plant on the Island and one that Morrice uses to provide greenery at the weddings they decorate starting in September. After the wedding tents come down, the smilax is recycled into her wreaths.

Emily’s personal style is unique, tending towards more muted, natural colors. “I try to make them like little pieces of art, loose and whimsical,” she says. “You let it form before your eyes.” This year she’s excited to work with the new, interesting foliage and flowers of dried banksia plants, along with dried lavender from The Grey Barn in Chilmark.

Morrice Florist has everything you need to make your own wreath. Jeanna Shepard

If you’re more of a do it yourself kind of wreath-er, the Island has several options for you. Morrice Florist sells its own DIY wreath making kits, complete with base, wiring, botanicals and ribbons. They also plan to start posting wreath making tutorials for their customers on Instagram @morriceflorist.

Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary’s annual Fall Festival (Friday, Nov. 25) offers another opportunity to make your own locally-sourced wreath. Their wreath bases are made from bittersweet, which has the added benefit of removing an invasive plant from Island ecosystems, says Felix Neck education manager Josey Kirkland. Along with bittersweet, volunteers collect pitch pinecones, American holly, cedar sprigs and scallop shells from Felix Neck’s forests and beaches, and members donate dried flowers from deadheading their gardens. “It’s so fun to see everybody’s creative ideas,” Josey says of the annual event, now in its 41st year.

There is also Donaroma’s annual wreath making workshop, usually held on one day during Christmas in Edgartown (Dec. 8-11 this year) and run by Mariko. Participants can make traditional grapevine wreaths or those made with the sphagnum moss base, or they can craft miniature Christmas trees made from boxwood cuttings. Some makers have been returning to the workshop for more than 25 years, Mariko says, not for the instruction but for the comraderie. “Tourists, natives and washashores all join in the pleasure and heartache of creating a finished project,” Mariko said. “There is a lot of goodness in wreath making.”

Thomas Humphrey is a reporter at the Vineyard Gazette.