Freezing Weather

holiday containers 2014 (5)Our recent weather has been much more like January than November.  Day time temperatures the the 20’s, and night temperatures in the low teens does not mean we postpone our winter container work. Even if we could, there isn’t any need. If the prospect of doing winter container arrangements is leaving you cold, perhaps some of our techniques might help make it more satisfying.  Trying to create is tough when one’s fingers and toes are numb. Most of our construction is done indoors-in our garage. Any enclosed space will be a more comfortable environment in which to to work, even if it isn’t heated much. When we do go outdoors, it is for active work-the installation part.

holiday containers 2014 (6)Some of our centerpieces are constructed ahead of the installation time.  A very stout bamboo stake is at the center of every centerpiece.  All of the other materials are arranged around that stake.  Sometimes a good quality rubber band helps to keep the materials in place until you get everything arranged exactly as you wish.  For large and heavy materials, a loose zip tie will do the trick.  For very heavy materials, another pair of hands is best.  Once all of the materials are arranged to suit, we tighten the zip ties with a pair of piers.  Very bulky and heavy materials are secured with concrete wire. A centerpiece may have multiple components or layers.

holiday containers 2014 (7)We construct forms for our greens from dry floral foam.  We glue two layers together for added strength. All of our premium greens are in the range of 18″ long, and are fairly weighty.  Large scale pots may ask for that entire width over the edge in order to look properly proportioned. We can get 2 lengths of greens from one long bough for smaller pots. For pots larger than 36″ in diameter, we usually glue the foam form to a piece of 1/2 inch thick exterior plywood for added support.  The winter pots need to look good over a long period of time in which the weather can bring high winds and heavy snow. Nothing is more miserable than trying to repair a winter container arrangement gone over in mid January or February.  The foam form is secured to the soil in the pot in two ways.  We remove the top 4 inches of soil, so the lower level of foam fits down into the container. The upper level holds all of the boughs.  We sharpen the stems of the greens, for a tight fit.  We then drive rebar through the foam and greens into the soil, and wire the steel posts together. The hole you see in the center of the foam-a place for the centerpiece.  Foam forms do not have to be exact.  They are an armature giving support and flexibility to the finished arrangement.

holiday containers 2014 (8)All that remains to add to the centerpieces on site are those finishing materials that gives each winter container a distinct and unique look. Very contemporary winter pots may be as simple as a mass of twigs set into cut greens. There are plenty of other materials available, should you want a softer look.  These winter pots have sinamay (also known as poly mesh), bleached pine cones, pale gold holiday picks, and mini vine rolls. Rob does a great job of sourcing a wide variety of materials that can find their way into winter pots. He likes giving every gardener lots of choices. We have a long winter ahead.holiday containers 2014 (3)All of these accessory materials are either wired to the greens, or wedged into the stick stack.  All of these materials will be fine outdoors over a winter. Does this process seem like much too much work?  It isn’t really-as the process from raw materials to finished container is not only fun, but doable.  Any gardener can do winter pots for themselves.

First National 2014 (1)
In composing a winter pot, keep in mind that you are without that miracle we know as growing. The winter pots are the same size and scale on the last day of winter as they are on the first. Eucalyptus is bulky-a single bunch will go a long way.  If your container is large, consider 2.  If you want to feature this material, go to three bunches, and use fewer fresh cut twigs.  Sinamay is a synthetic mesh that when rouched like smocking, will occupy lots of space.  No amount of snow will distort the shape you create from the beginning.  I brush the snow off my sinamay at home when the snow threatens to bury it. Curly Grapevine rolls create a lot of volume from not much material.  These mini vine rolls are perfect for adding an airy layer of interest to this pot.

First National 2014 (2)The materials in these pots are subtly colored, but are of a volume proportional to the size of the pot.  The centerpieces is red bud pussy willow, in a 5-6 foot height.  Some pots need a tall element. Branches are graded by height, so the height you need is the height you get.    The fresh cut natural branch sets the stage for the character of all of the other elements.

First National 2014 (3)Though the pots are 36″ tall, and 36″ in diameter, the arrangement is graceful.  Each pot is different, as they are done by hand.  Done by hand can endow anything you with a certain feeling.  Containers imagined and arranged by gardeners have that hand made look. The evidence of the human hand is always attracts my attention and interest.

holiday containers 2014 (4)These pots could stand as is until the spring.  I don’t mind a little sparkle during the winter.  Alternately, they would work just as well, if the sinamay and pale gold sparkle picks came out after New Years.
holiday containers 2014 (2)These very large containers have enough variation in materials to provide some interest, even though the color palette is subdued.

holiday containers downtown 2014The steel gray color of the pots was an important consideration in the selection of the materials.

holiday containers 2014 (1)Few things pain me more than pots sitting empty over the winter. Pots full of this or that, enduring over the course of the winter, speak to the hope that grounds every gardener.  The garden goes on all year round, does it not?  Some seasons, the forms and available materials are different. No reason not to celebrate, whatever the weather.

Holiday Tables At Cranbrook

Cranbrook 2014 (11)For 39 years, the Cranbrook Auxiliary has raised money for the restoration of both Cranbrook house and the gardens via the Holiday Tables event in late November. This year, 18 designers spent the day yesterday decorating their tables for the holidays. I did a table for them at least 10 years ago. A good friend, client, and long time benefactor of Cranbrook asked if I would return, and decorate a room, this being the last year for this particular event.  I am sure this group has an event plan for the future, with an entirely new format. As for this finale event-we were all in. The theme of this year’s tables-Illuminate the Season.

Cranbrook 2014 (12)If you are local to our area, you are well aware of the Cranbrook property, house and schools.  It houses one of the most respected graduate art programs in the nation.  If you are not local, suffice it to say Cranbrook is a vibrant institution with substantial gardens of which we are very proud. Interested in the entire story?  http://housegardens.cranbrook.edu/about

Cranbrook 2014 (14)The house is of a particular period and time.  The wood furnishings and tile are dark. The rugs are old and quietly gorgeous.  The lighting is subdued.  The period and style of this room drove the design for our table. For starters,  Rob hand fashioned three strands of holiday lights –  a reproduction of lighting from a much earlier era comprised of taupe colored cloth clad twisted wire, bakelite sockets, and large scale reproduction bulbs. Each bulb got its own vintage tin reflector before it was inserted into its bakelite socket.  These light strands are outfitted with a dimmer switch, so the light can be adjusted to fit the mood of the occasion. A small flock of our grapevine deer sculptures with sparkly gold and cream lit collars help populate the space. The quality of the light is key to our design.

Cranbrook 2014 (15)The china is my own, collected a few pieces at a time since my twenties. The Compleat Angler, manufactured in the early 1980’s by Portmerion China in England,  was inspired by the watercolors of English game fish done by AF Lydon in 1879. I have never used this china-I display it, and enjoy looking at it. The flatware is Ambience Olivewood, made by Alaine St. Joannis.  This we have used every day for many years. So why am I talking china and flatware?  It is a tradition with this event.  The sunset room is a fairly large room.  We were going to need more than a table, set for a holiday gathering.

Cranbrook 2014 (5)We placed three Christmas trees in the room-two of which are flocked. Detroit Garden Works is featuring flocked frasier fir trees for the holiday season this year.  They are available in a variety of sizes and colors, by special order only. These are the first flocked trees I have seen since my childhood, but apparently they are popular from the mid west to Paris. The French blue is my favorite color.  As the light string wires looked beautiful with that color, we had a color scheme for the decor. The wires themselves are handsome enough to feature them as holiday garland.

Cranbrook 2014 (20)We did bring an artificial Christmas tree.  This is my favorite style of artificial tree. It is clearly artificial-not a representation of a real tree.  The branches are brown, and lightly dusted with snow. We decorated it with pale French blue glass balls, and long crystal drops.

Cranbrook 2014 (21)The 10 foot long shallowly oval table with square ends is meant to be placed against a wall.  This was a perfect size to set the table on one side, and decorate the far side.  The flocked fir branches hold a variety of other materials.  A light strand, the dried curling fronds of garden ferns, glass balls in cream and blue, and fresh magnolia leaves are interspersed throughout.

Cranbrook 2014 (22)table detail

Cranbrook 2014 (13)The soup tureen and pike oval platter

Cranbrook 2014 (8)What I like best about this display is that it seems visually believable in this space. The antique Victorian wicker chairs are ours, but they look appropriate to the room.Every item has a vintage, or a garden feel. The color is subdued, but festive. If you are interested in seeing all 18 of the holiday tables, a formal buffet tea is scheduled for 11 to 3 today,  a cocktail party for Friday evening by reservation, and general admission Friday and Saturday from 10-4. We think the Cranbrook House and Garden auxiliary is well worth your support.

Sunday Opinion: The Peaceable Kingdom

Blossom and FriendsWe have had quite a run of unseasonably cold weather the past week – night temperatures in the 20’s. The ornamental kales and cabbages that often persist without a blemish into December look wilted. I have reluctantly put away my tee shirts, and stacked up wool sweaters and fleeces in their place. The evergreens in my landscape have begun to change color.  The winter color is a darker, or more bronze green.  I can see that the winter and holiday container work will be more difficult than usual. I would work with any kind of soil rather than frozen soil. I am pleased our methods of construction have evolved such that only the final installation takes place in the field. Even so, our garage space is a chilly place now. I have traded sneakers for warm boots.

old unknown sheep breedNonetheless, there is much to look forward to.  The garden going quiet means there will be time to reflect on the season just past.  What not only worked, but worked peaceably.  For instance, elements of  garden design that contrast can be interesting.  Elements of design that out and out fight with one another can make a space disquieting and uncomfortable.  Simple landscapes where the relationships are subtly detailed and modest are liveable and restorative. High energy landscapes are certainly dramatic and exhilarating, but even the most devoted eye needs an occasional place to rest.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI do value evergreens, as they can make a sleeping garden feel warmer, and more visually inviting in the winter months. They make a landscape feel substantial.  Even though they have gone dormant too, the green is a sure reference to life.  As for the leafless trees and shrubs, and the remains of the perennials, there is an opportunity there to appreciate the subtle textures and colors of bark.  The landscape may be gray and brown, but there are infinite variations of those colors.  The variation in the overall shapes of plants, and their appearance in winter weather is an invitation to appreciate the sculptural forms in nature.

american_blackbelly (2)So warm and woolly is and will be the order of the day for months to come.  But there’s no sense worrying about the months to come part.  Only a few small bits and pieces of the landscape work remains-the weather turning has a lot to do with that.  We have our winter and holiday containers and outdoor lighting season immediately ahead.  This late season work makes it possible to enjoy the holidays and the winter season over a longer period of time than most. So why all of the pictures of the sheep today? The moment I start thinking winter and holiday, I think peaceable.  As in the peaceable kingdom.  Though the rams generally have horns, and some with multiple horns, a flock of sheep has a very peaceful aura about it.   They are also an incredibly beautiful group of creatures. Though I am sure this American blackbelly sheep could be an adversary to be reckoned with, he has an affable and dignified expression.

e4a2f2e86b475a34-ValaisBlacknosesheepFrom sheep101.com: There are more breeds of sheep than breeds of any other livestock species. Worldwide, there are more than one thousand distinct sheep breeds. There are more than 40 breeds in the United States alone. Sheep come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors. Their wool is prized for its warmth.  This Valais blacknose sheep is native to Switzerland.

awassi ramawassi sheep

breeds-of-sheepunknown breed of sheep

Dreadlocked_sheepunknown breed of sheep

cheviot sheepcheviot sheep

 

manx loaghtan sheep in the UKmanx loaghtan sheep

East-Friesian-sheepEast Freesian sheep

jacob's four horned sheepJacob four horned sheep

blue faced leicesterblue faced Leicester longwool sheep

cheviot

Cheviot sheep

Barbados Blackbelly sheepbarbados blackbelly sheep

dorsethornsheepdorset horn sheep

boreray sheepboreray sheep

booroola merino rammerino sheep

hebridean sheephebridean sheep

Leicester-Long-wool-Sheepleicester longwool sheep

Lundysheepheaddetaillundy sheep

Norweigan sheep breedNorwegian sheep breed

Romney sheepRomney sheep

sheepsheep face

TexasDallSheepTexas Dahl sheep

slovakian sheepSlovakian sheep

YearlingEwesWensleydaleWensleydale sheep

shetland sheepshetland sheep

rare-breeds-childrenHerdwick sheep

Texel sheepTexel sheep

sheep1

sheep

Flock of sheep, New Zealand, Pacificflock of sheep

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAfour horned sheep

lincoln-sheepLincoln sheep

 

Capone RS 12-01Jacob’s four horned sheep.

black wensleydaleblack Wensleydale sheep

So why all the loosely connected thoughts about landscape design, the peaceable kingdom, the holidays ahead, the garden season just past, and the beauty and diversity of nature?  That is what a Sunday in November can do for a gardener.

The Materials

milkweed-and-flame-willow.jpg

Let’s suppose you have a great collection of materials.  A truckload of one gallon pots of wildflowers.  50 perennials of 5 kinds in the trunk.  2 flats of groundcover.  10 flowering stems from the garden asking for a vase. A palette loaded with brick.  5 yards of compost. A box of tulip bulbs.  A small tree in the markdown lot at a local nursery. The remains of the branches from a dead tree. A truck load of fallen leaves. A cutting from a rose. A pack or a pound of seed.  The trimmings from a boxwood or yew hedge.  The log rounds from an old tree that had to come down. A collection of galvanized buckets. The cuttings from a rosemary plant. All of those materials may be asking for something to be made for the garden.

cedar-cone-and-grapevine.jpgGreat materials fuel any great garden project.

hardy-hibiscus-stems.jpgAn armload of stalky cuttings from  perennial garden in the process of being cut back for the winter might have a place in a winter display.  Coming up upon the winter season, what can be harvested from the landscape may make the long winter easier to bear. Great materials are also readily available from your local farmer’s market.  Our market features birch poles, red twig dogwood branches, dyed integrifolia, and pine cones. The natural materials available come the end of the gardening season will be the mainstay of my winter containers.

twigs.jpg

The  genius of natural materials can drive great design, and great work.   Any natural or living material that happens to come into my arms is a call to make something of it..  Making something  of a collection of plants, a pile of dirt, or a group of materials, is one way to describe a gardener.  The byproduct of making a garden is an opportunity to repurpose materials that can carry on and delight into the next season.   In the late fall, gardener make plans to endure the long winter.  Making something beautiful of the garden harvest will make the winter easier to bear.

okra-pods.jpgThe gorgeous cut stems from the dogwood and willow, the garden and the forest floor or the field next door-what will you do with them?  These materials are asking for an expression from you. To follow-a few ideas. My ideas-take from them what you will.  Go on to take those materials, and interpret them how you will. To follow, some stick works that might inspire you to create something all your own.

grapevine-wreath.jpggrapevine wreath

DSC06434stick stacksDec 17 2010 069yellow twig dogwood

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Michigan holly

winter-container-arrangements.jpgwinter container arrangements

red-twig-dogwood.jpgred twig dogwood and Michigan holly

bleached-twigs.jpgpainted sticks

copper-curly-willow.jpgcurly copper willow

yellow-twig-dogwood.jpgyellow twig

December 17 2012 019grapevine

mixed-twigs.jpgmixed sticks

native-red-twig-dogwood.jpgnatural red twig

Nov 28 2012 084farm grown red twig

winter-container-arrangements.jpgthe sticks-what will you do with them?