Darien Nature Center's annual Festival of Wreaths and Trees is Friday from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Previously, the festival only featured wreaths, but this year, according to Executive Director Lynn Hamlen, the center decided to include decorated trees to use both floors of the gallery -- the trees will be on the lower level with the wreaths on the upper level.

There are several trees that already have been submitted for the auction, including one for breast cancer awareness and anothert made of starfish.

But the wreaths are the real star of the show. It doesn't have to be a traditional wreath, either. One piece of artwork that will be featured in the auction is a group of branches from a pine tree arranged to look like a horse's head crafted by a middle school art teacher Jeanne Kaye-Eleck.

"It doesn't have to literally be a wreath or a tree, but she's taken extraordinary natural ingredients and created a beautiful work of art," Hamlen said.

The center had several trees and many more wreaths ready to be hung on Monday afternoon. The themes included sea shells, flags, cheese graters, and even bullet casings.

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And each wreath is appropriately named, according to Hamlen.

The cheese grater wreath, for example, is titled "Seasons Gratings," but the clever monikers don't stop there. There's a wreath covered in lottery tickets titled "Fa La La La Lotto" and another full of simple, gray presents on a white wreath. When the maker asked her what to name it, Hamlen said "50 shades of ..."

One year, according to Hamlen, a local skin doctor created a wreath made of empty Botox bottles titled `You Better Not Pout."

"Naming the pieces is half the fun," Hamlen said with a grin, adding that some of the people who create the wreaths are artists, but most are just "everyday people."

"A lot of them are moms in our programs, or a friend of a friend, or a board member," Hamlen said. "We have teachers, doctors, local businesses, and sometimes it becomes a family affair where everyone kind of gets together to make one."

Not all of the wreaths are fun and games, either. Some people, like Shelley Sheridan, a member of the center's board of directors, create more traditional wreaths with a different theme in mind.

The California native created her wreath, "Tahoe Treasure," with branches and greenery found in California and not Connecticut.

"I really just wanted to showcase my California roots," Sheridan said.

Her aunt, with whom she created the wreath, is the one who introduced her to wreath making. The wreath was made in California and Sheridan had it shipped to Darien.

All of the proceeds from the event benefit the animals in the nature center.

"We have about 40 different species," Hamlen said. "And it takes a lot of work and investment to keep the animals healthy."

The animals are used in just about every program done by the Darien Nature Center including all of its school visits and trips to Atria. Recently, a naturalist visited the newly opened Maplewood with a few of the animals.

"We always take our animals," Hamlen said. "Whether someone's 3 or 103, they relate to animals. Our job is to keep them healthy and well taken care of and proceeds from this event contribute to that."

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