Wreaths have long been part of the Christmas tradition, but one company in Central California has made them into a year-round celebration of natural beauty.
Flower/herb grower and wreath manufacturer Creekside Farms in Greenfield, California, is now bustling with activity as employees ship out orders for the winter holidays, sending out thousands of wreaths each week in November and December, their time of peak demand.
“This is the busiest time of the year,” said Carol Umbarger, who started the company with husband Larry in 1988. “The holidays are always big for us.”
The family grows flowers and herbs on 20 acres in Greenfield, and six years ago built a warehouse there as its base of operations. Growing quietly and steadily over the past 22 years, it is now a major manufacturer of herbal and fresh holiday wreaths for retailers across the United States, with two of its biggest clients being Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, for which it creates exclusive designs.
Most of us associate wreaths with Christmas, but in recent years, the natural look of dried flowers and herbs in wreaths, garlands and swags has become a popular home accent. Wreaths are a very old tradition that dates from the time of the ancient Romans and Greeks, for whom wreaths were signs of status or victory.
In addition, the pagan rituals of the winter solstice often featured wreaths, with their circular shape and the evergreen boughs symbolizing eternal life. Lit with candles, wreaths were also a harbinger of hope that the long nights of winter would give way to verdant spring.
These days, we don’t assign so much meaning to wreaths, but herbal wreaths continue to be a lovely and fragrant way to enhance a home, not just at the winter holidays, but year-round.
Creekside Farms produces and ships wreaths throughout the year, and designs them for every special occasion you can think of – Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Mother’s Day are popular wreath-giving holidays in addition to Christmas.
And some of Creekside’s wreaths have unique touches specially meant for Monterey County, such as the one festooned with artichokes.
It all began back in the late 1980s when the Umbargers, residents of King City, began casting around for a way to help pay for their children’s college expenses. Because Carol enjoyed plants and gardening, the idea of growing flowers sounded appealing as a family business.
“It wasn’t a hobby. We really needed the income, and it really grew,” she said.
After the farm got going, a friend asked for some help in making wreaths, and so the natural combination of growing flowers and making wreaths blossomed into their current enterprise.
The Umbargers’ oldest son Allen and wife Teri joined the business in 1994, and Allen’s younger brothers Aaron and Scott came on board a few years later. Other family members are also involved in the operation.
Creekside Farms’ first big customer was garden decor giant Smith & Hawken, which came to Creekside in 1990 when help was needed in making a signature eucalyptus and pepperberry wreath, when demand outstripped supply. The Umbargers worked with Smith & Hawken for 19 years, making that wreath and many others, until the company closed its business and sold its brand name to Target stores a few years ago.
“They (Smith & Hawken) really put us in business,” said Umbarger.
Creekside Farms continues to grow as the demand for natural décor accents continues. In addition to the wreaths it creates for Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn, it also makes products for Restoration Hardware, Sur La Table, Front Gate, Orvis and ProFlowers, as well as home designers and specialty garden and gift shops.
During this time of the year, truckloads of Christmas greens are brought in from the Pacific Northwest to Creekside Farms, so that the evergreens can be combined with what the farm grows to create unique winter wreaths. The farm also relies on California-grown plant materials such as eucalyptus, bay and olive branches for its wares.
T he farm grows and harvests a whole range of flowers and herbs. On the floral side, there’s lavender, yarrow, statice and larkspur; herbs include rosemary, thyme, cilantro, Mexican sage, purple oregano and anise, among others.
Much of what the farm grows is dried for future use, although some is sold as cut flowers at various times during the year. Everything is grown without pesticides or herbicides.
The wreaths, designed by sales president Teri Umbarger, often have clever touches that set them apart from ordinary herbal wreaths, such as hiding garlic bulbs and chili peppers among the dried flowers. There are floral and herbal wreaths in addition to seasonal and holiday designs, and custom designs are available.
A lthough Creekside Farms has primarily been a wholesale enterprise in previous years, it is now developing retail and corporate gift divisions. It’s been a stop on several recent agriculture tours and visitors are encouraged to stop by.
For information on Creekside Farms, see www.creeksidefarms.com or call 674-1234.
Interview with Carol Umbarger, December 2010