When Ann Harrington presents friends with the gift of one of her homemade wreaths, they respond with more than a thank you. They're surprised. Harrington's wreaths are made with...

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DULUTH, Minn. — When Ann Harrington presents friends with the gift of one of her homemade wreaths, they respond with more than a thank you. They’re surprised.

Harrington’s wreaths are made with cranberries, evergreen sprigs and berries encased in ice.

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Hung from a deck or fence — or even propped on a patio chair — the wreaths provide food for birds, squirrels and other critters as they slowly melt and relinquish their goodies.

“It’s beautiful as it melts, with stages of fruit sticking out,” Harrington says.

An ice wreath is one alternative to the traditional evergreen wreath. No longer are holiday wreaths restricted to balsam fir, pinecones, berries and a big red bow.

Harrington starts making wreaths when her Christmas tree goes up. Evergreen sprigs snipped to trim the tree are among the ingredients in the wreaths she creates inch-by-frozen-inch in a gelatin mold or bundt-cake pan.

BOB KING / DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE

Step one: Put berries and greenery in a bundt pan.

For one frozen wreath, Harrington begins with an inch of wild berries, cedar sprigs and water in a bundt pan. After it freezes, she adds layers in the same manner until the mold is full and frozen solid. Sometimes she adds spruce sprigs to the final layer for a fuller look.

Another frozen wreath is composed mainly of cranberries. Orange slices are mixed in the first layer that becomes the front of the wreath while evergreen sprigs are frozen into the last layer. Walnuts, cinnamon sticks and glitter are among the other possible ingredients.

“It’s truly creative fun; you can put in what you want,” Harrington says.

All-natural wreaths made of dried materials such as bay and eucalyptus leaves, fruits, twigs, seed pods, nuts and flowers are long-lasting and have become a popular alternative to traditional wreaths.

“I’m finding that people are wanting natural, real materials,” says Zandra Bail-LaLonde, who has been making wreaths out of nature’s materials for five years.

In business as Zandra’s Garden, Bail-LaLonde uses wildflowers as well as flowers she’s grown and dried herself. She also uses preserved leaves, pussy willows, cattails, pods, twigs and other materials, many gathered from her property.

Her holiday wreaths feature the same kinds of materials.

Using a flat, 30-inch spiral twig wreath as a base, Bail-LaLonde adds preserved cedar, noble fir, princess pine, blueberry juniper, pink pepperberries and pinecones.

Other variations are arrangements set in cones or baskets that hang on doors or walls or wreaths that sport irregular shapes like a fleur-de-lis or candy cane.

At Peterson Anderson Flowers, Betty Nelson created a heavy wicker basket that can be hung on an outside entry wall or door. It’s brimming with a variety of artificial evergreen sprigs and berries as well as real twigs and pinecones.

“What’s nice about artificial is that it can keep for a long time,” the floral designer says.

Another alternative wreath features twigs and artificial cedar bound together with sugar pine cones, faux berries and a sprig of wheat.

“We have glitzy and natural arrangements, but people tend to like the natural over the glitzy,” Nelson says.

Elvie Luoma created her own alternative wreath 10 years ago when she started making candy cane-shaped wreaths. She uses princess pine, a forest groundcover that looks like miniature pine trees.