When Troy showed up at work with this eight week old Catahoulee leopard cur (yes that’s what Louisiana hunting people call these hunting dogs) he had named Annie, we were all oohs and ahhs. Her eyes were raptor blue; her toenails looked like he had painted them a luscious shade of white pearl. Her coat that looks to me like gravel is formally known as blue Merle. Her eyelashes were white-wow. She gave no hint at this stage of the hound she would become.
Troy is a gardener of exceptional ability, in addition to his gift as a sculptor. Growing up on a farm on the west side of Michigan, he grew a giant vegetable garden, ran a blueberry farm, did surveying, hunted, fished, and walked the woods. He came by his skills as a naturalist, naturally. He sculpted for me in concrete; this two-headed fox bench is his work. Annie went everywhere with him, including to the studio.
Troy would produce a body of work, and then show up at my office; “what do you want me to make now?”. I was watching Annie run her self designated obstacle course around the pots and up on the wall, and back, down and over a iron cistern and so on; she is a miracle in motion. Naturally, I translated what my eyes were watching; “what about a pack of hounds? Make me a pack of hounds”. A week later I was looking at a pack of welded steel rebar and steel mesh frames. A whole lot of dogs-working, at attention, sleeping, skulking, howling, moving; dogs doing what they do.
These very gestural and simple structures provide strength for the concrete and mortar to come. He squishes and packs concrete around these frames; the strength that a garden sculpture needs first and foremost, comes first. But I could tell from these frames I was going to like what came next. The outside mortar layer he hand carves.
I was not prepared for how much I liked them. His sculptures of hounds are not about a biologically correct reproduction, they are about the heart and soul of his hound Annie. I was astonished by how much energy, motion and fluidity he managed to wring from a marriage of steel, and hundred pound sacks of concrete. This explication aside, these hounds won me over.
One hound was on his back, sunning and scratching, in the garden. Another was howling at the moon as if he had ten minutes to live. Yet another was tentatively down, those back legs were tucked under in such a position he could be cruising at a second’s notice.
This sculpture makes clear the legs that make for balance, and the legs that carry the weight. The position of the ears suggest this hound just shook his head, and looked up towards the moon. Most garden sculpture leaves me cold; these hounds are right at home in a landscape.
There was some discussion with Troy regarding sculpture that relies on the environment to be complete. He said, “don’t give me the history, just tell me what you need”. So ok fine, I asked him for a hound barking up a tree-the tree would be supplied by whomever took this barking dog home. She does have a good tree, and this hound has a good home.
Troy’s sculptures of hounds could be in or out, up or down, on a sidewalk, in a bed, on a wall. I have placed 16 of them; they all moved away from me. When the garden wanes, I think about how much I value the sculpture that enchants me, all year long. His sculpture-creature comfort.
MCat moved in some years ago; we heard him mewing under a stack of Italian terra cotta pots. He could not have been much more than four weeks old. When the hounds first came to the shop, he moved in with them. He slept on this table every night for six weeks straight. Enough said, about the hounds.
An evergreen is nature’s equivalent of an engineering miracle. Evergreen needles are long, narrow, thick and waxy; their shape evolved specifically in response to one thing-the conservation of moisture. Evergreens cannot take up water once all the available water in the soil freezes. The needles thus have a minimum amount of surface area from which moisture can evaporate; such is how they stay green all winter. Even when cut, the needles stay green a long time. Trees cut in August destined to be Christmas trees are still green in December, though they are beginning to dry. Cut greens play a crucial role in our winter displays. White pine has a gracefully informal look. We stuff our forms with the branches curved side up, as they are pliable in stem, and soft in needle. The very sculptural centerpiece in this urn rests on its pillow of white pine.
Mixing greens makes it possible to hedge your bet. Cut evergreens are best in cold temperatures; the cold further slows the rate of water evaporation. Though all the cedar species have attractive flat scaly needles, they are the first to dessicate if the late fall takes a warm turn. Their loss of color from evaporation is less noticeable when they have more lively companionship. Mixed greens add textural interest interest in volume. This mix of Douglas fir, white pine, cedar and silver fir illustrates clearly how variable a natural green color can be.
Fir species are instantly identifiable. The needles are arranged in the half round; the branches are flat on their undersides. Douglas fir is one of my favorite evrgreen plants. They will tolerate a little shade, and they are very disease and insect resistant. They are commonly available as Christmas trees; their soft needles make trimming a tree easy on the hands. As cut branches, they are remarkably long lasting. Their bright medium green makes them a good choice for arrangements viewed from far away. It is not unusual for me to clean out winter pots in April where the Douglas fir branches are still green.
Cut boxwood is a great choice for more formal arrangements. As boxwood is a broad leaf evergreen, I wiltpruf the cut stems after I arrange them. This liquid waxy emulsion helps to further slow the loss of water from the leaves. Milky when applied, it dries clear. Research has shown that late fall plantings of boxwood, yews and evergreen trees benefit greatly from a treatment of wiltpruf.
Silver fir branches are an icy blue color; it is all the more attractive paired with red. These spheres are made from giant wood shavings that are dyed red. The color is remarkable stable outdoors; there is little in the way of fading even in full sun. We test any materials we think might go outdoors, to be sure they can withstand wet weather.
Berried juniper, and noble fir contrast in texture, and compliment one another in color. Natural eucalyptus pods are quite blue, and weather to a soft grey. Chocolate and cream ting stacks complete the ensemble.
This dried mood moss is soaked with a spray of moss dye before it goes outdoors. In full sun, this treatment may need to be repeated during the course of the season. The wood dowel trunk of this winter topiary is covered in mountain reed of a color similar to the rusty age on these vintage English painted steel boxes. The top of the box is stuffed with a variegated boxwood known in the florist’s trade as oregonia.
No matter which form or color of evergreen appeals to you, they all perform a great service during our winter months-in or out of the ground.
I do have a memory of getting into my Mom’s rouge pot in an idle moment. Those bright red perfectly circular spots of red I applied to my face made her laugh. I was terribly offended, as I thought I looked beautifully dolled up. All these years later I still like how a little rouge can doll things up; this is never more the case than in a garden gone wintry. Red twig dogwood and preserved and dyed eucalyptus can enliven a winter garden like nothing else does. I am not a fan of red tulips, or red dahlias; the red flowers and the green foliage is a little too much excitement for me. But the excitement generated by rouge red, in a garden gone grey, brown and black ,warms me up.
Dark red eucalyptus and red twig paired with the blue needled noble fir is a dramatic color combination. Very dark colors are best in small spaces viewed up close, or places backed up by a lighter color. The lighter orange/brown brick of this entrance makes that dark red read loud and clear. The big round leaves of the eucalyptus are a great foil to any needled evergreen branches.
Bright red is all the more electric paired with a light green element. As no plant in the landscape has this form or color right now, I have no problem adding in artificial stems. Sometimes people ask how I could stand anything in a pot that wasn’t natural or real; it’s easy. Gardens make people feel good; if an artificial stem helps make an arrangement a little better and the winter a little more tolerable, I am all for it. This contemporary arrangement is all the more contemporary given the obviously faux detail.
I am a fan of many shrubs and trees that sport berries in the fall and winter. However, they have a short lifespan, cut and in a container. The berries of Ilex Verticillata, or what we call Michigan holly, are spectacular but fragile. The berries in these urns will look great all winter, and can be removed the beginning of March. The boxwood might need a little floral dye sprayed on it by then, but I like keeping the pots intact until April sometime.
This wired and windswept winter display was entirely inspired by the floral arrangements of Jeff Leatham. His floral arrangements for the Four Seasons Hotel Paris, the George V often feature flowers set in vases at startling angles. This out of vertical placement attracts attention instantly. Each one of these dogwood stems were wired individually so the form would be kept intact whatever the weather.
Cardinal redtwig is a relatively new cultivar that shines. It stands out so beautifully in front of the drab woodland background. We are sure to elevate the pot off the terrace surface, so water does not collect and freeze around the base.
I have good success using fresh silver dollar eucalyptus outdoors. As it dries, the color does become more subtly taupe-blue, but the big leaves are an invaluable texture. The littleleaf euc tends to dry much faster and not to good end; I am not sure why. Eucalyptus pods dry blue, and hold their color well.
This pair of pots welcomes anyone who comes to visit. They make a very strong reference to my client’s love for their garden, from a long ways away.
Likewise, this redtwig massed in copper pots, framing the view to a beautiful beech. Placed at least 75 feet from the road, they make a clear statement to passers by.
It is good to have something in place and ready for this day. This is exactly how I like my snow and ice.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.