Between Steve and I, two crews, and some help from Jenny, Scott, and Julie in the shop, we installed 15 projects this past week. One crew came in Saturday, yesterday, to do my pots at home, and start the holiday display outside the shop-where they got the energy to do this, I have but one idea. They are consummate professionals, all of them. Some jobs were small, and went in quickly. Others were more complicated-holiday decor inside and out, and holiday lighting. Steve worked on our last landscape project of the season every day but Friday-that project is not included in the 15. Needless to say, I did very little in the way of writing, and a lot in the way of work this past week. Any work for the holidays has to be done with dispatch-anyone who asks me to decorate for them wants to have the time to enjoy it. Though we start our season the week before Thanksgiving, the first 10 days of December are always our busiest. I find all the activity stressful, and exhilarating.
I see that decorating schedule repeated in people who come to the Works to shop. There are but a few weeks late in the year to dream it up, and get it done. November and early December have been incredibly mild. This meant more people took the time to decorate outdoors, and put up holiday lighting. It means more people who have the inclination or passion to garden are staying outdoors a while longer. In a good season, I may do 60 landscape projects, 80 annual plantings, and 40 holiday/winter projects. This really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in a greater community the size of mine. The shop is a way in which lots more people are exposed to ideas, materials, and encouragement. When the weather cooperates, I see winter and holiday gardening in lots of places. People we help in the shop go on to represent the holiday in their own special way. The neighborhoods now are full of light, at night. A big celebration going on outdoors-I love this.
We have had only 2 days of temperatures below 30 this season-that is very unusual. A holiday season when the ground goes rock hard before Thanksgiving is more ordinary, and is extra hard work. I have watched my crews pry soil out of pots with a crow bar-it’s not work we look for. It also discourages people from getting their materials out of the basement, attic or garage, and doing their own. This year is shaping up to be a good one-I see good looking work every day, everywhere. We are working-everyone is working! Buck and I went to a party last night just 20 minutes from home. The neighborhood was lit up, decked out, and looking very festive. I almost ran off the road in a few places, trying to get a good look at everything.
Once all of my work is done, Buck will drive, and I will look. I am so interested to see how other people interpret the holidays, decorate their front porches and doors, light their yards. What appeals to me? People taking the time and effort to express themselves.
I decorated 14 wreaths for the shop this year. All of them were made from twigs left over from the 2010 holiday season. In January, Pam and I wove all of these twigs into small wreaths; we put them into storage the first of February. I decorated all of them with natural materials, and knitted birds in late November. This wreath-the last of the lot, was sold to an old client as a gift for his very elderly Mom. He explained to me in great detail why he thought this wreath would be a good gift for her. His gift to me was considerable; we had a conversation, person to person.
I have made 39 wreaths so far this season-I have 10 more to go. I do each and every one of them personally. The holiday pots and installations I design and draw; my crew creates and installs them. But the wreaths cannot be drawn. I just do them. There is a client, an idea or place they have in mind, a color scheme-my clues are many. I write most of that down. I read over the notes just before I get going. Next up? I get going.
14 0f this year’s holiday wreaths are Christmas presents I send out for one client. She has a point of view which I honor; all 14 are different. 12 wreaths were for the shop, a handmade twig wreath was the starting point for all. Thirteen others were individually made for individual clients. Individual places.
I have 10 more wreaths to go. Am I complaining? Yes-I wish I had more. I do truly enjoy this part of the holiday season. I plan to have all 10 done by the end of the day Tuesday. More likely, I will be done Thursday.
This client? They have been great clients for many years. Would I please funk it up a little this year? In red and green? Am I happy to oblige? No doubt, I am.
Have you ever? This fireplace, with its painted surround and mantel is like nothing I have ever seen before. The wood panel on top of the mantel, with its elaborately detailed carved vignette soars better than 14 feet above the mantel. I would guess the entire fireplace tops out at more than 20 feet. A new client wanted this mantel decorated for the holidays. What direction would I take? The room’s furnishings and rugs are in dark and rich tones-rust, red, and brown. The Christmas tree was densely trimmed in copper, gold, and green ornaments-and lots of very wide brocade ribbon. This made for a good start.
The client, charming and friendly-quite unlike this very imposing architectural feature. She said she was sure she would like what I did. I made sure to take note of what she liked. People generally surround themselves at home with things they like-things that make them feel comfortable. I knew the only holiday decoration which would harmonize comfortably with this fireplace would need to be very large, and tall. A pair of cast iron urns would provide the weight I needed for a tall element. The copper curly willow branches, bahia seed pods, and copper glass ornaments made for trees of a holiday sort, that would sit on the mantel.
Felt furniture dots underneath the urns insured there would be no scratches to the wood. The garland for the mantel would be anchored to these very heavy topiary trees. Attaching a garland to a mantel is always a challenge, if there is no option to sink screws into a wall, or brads into the wood. Any opportunity for a vertical decorative element with enough weight to hold the horizontal element in place is welcome.
A 6 foot long garland of faux white pine was p[laced behind each of the urns, and wired together in the center of the mantel. Fresh magnolia braches were added to that garland. It did not seem to me that the garland needed much else, besides some very wide ribbon.
Working with ribbon can be a challenge; wired ribbon is so much easier to work with. I get the ribbon on, check the lengths, move it this way, and that, before I worry about the finished appearance. Once I have an idea of the shape and directions of the curves, I can fine tune. This ribbon is copper sequins in the center, and woven gold on the border-sumptuous.
It took another 40 minutes after this picture was taken to get the ribbon out of its awkward krinkly phase, and just right. Flowing and graceful takes a little time to achieve.
I like decorating the mantel for the holidays. I like even better that every mantel is different, and that every client is different. What characterizes all of them is an interest in making sure to represent the holiday. This client just moved into a new house 4 days ago. This massive fireplace that is open to two rooms has a very simple and shallow mantle. We dressed it simply in silver fir lashed to a length of bamboo pole, fresh pomegranates, artichokes, oranges, and a few white coconuts. As her furniture has not yet arrived, and boxes are everywhere, she was thrilled to see this sign of normal holiday home life.
This granite fireplace surround has no mantel. It is the only solid surface in a wall of glass. A mixed garland of Douglas Fir and white pine is draped over the very top, and trails almost to the ground. This is a very modern version of first fireplace pictured. It has the same imposing scale and presence. A very large mixed green wreath is of a scale proper to that massive granite surface. The tweo fireplaces could not be more different in appearance, but they are much alike in spirit.
This client’s mantel is constructed from purple anodized wire, glittered netting, chartreuse reindeer moss, and three dimensional gold fabric stars. Though the wood mantel is very traditional. the holiday materials are anything but. A wired artificial garland provides a base to which all the other elements are attached. Lead sinkers or pot feet, can provide additional ballast, should you need some.
The garland on this mantel is low, so as not to obscure the print over the fireplace. The elves at each end-yes, this is a family with kids.
Several years ago, all my mantel got for Christmas were three pots of pink cyclamen. Who knows what this year’s decoration will be. This much I know-it will be different.
These pots are a bit of a bedraggled mess, but there are some good things about them. It is proof positive that we have 4 seasons, each of which lasts about three months. I planted them the end of September- that makes this planting just shy of three months old. This client got a full season’s worth. I did have a client who did not plant fall pots this year. By October 15 she was wondering when the winter pots could be done.
Twigs and greens become available in the early part of the winter season. The twigs arrive after all of the leaves have dropped; in a good year, this is November 15. The winter cut greens are not far behind. She emailed me threee times-that fall season with empty pots proved to be a long one for her. This fall pot is finally beginning to succumb to the effects of relentless fall rains, and cold. The kale are still amazingly fresh looking and colorful.
The mess of a deteriorating situation reminds me of the look of my perennial garden in early winter. The grasses bend, go over, break off, and blow down the street. The kales are still their inflexible and massive selves. Brown is beginning to seem like the dominant color. Clearly my client has not touched these pots up in any way. All of the dead leaves are still there. Not one thing has been snipped off, propped up, or fluffed out. What I am looking at is the end of the fall season, plain and simple.
I don’t mind the look of plants going dormant, or succumbing to the cold. There is a certain stark beauty in that. I had to chop back all of the perennials in my rose garden early this fall, as I repainted all of the trim and windows on the house. I am already missing seeing that garden in its early winter incarnation.
This spike will eventually dry to a pale cream color. The wiry stems firmly resist decomposition. Would that my hosta leaves would dry, rather than collapsing into mountains of yellow mush. Hosta leaves are mostly water; a good frost finishes them off for good. Have you ever tried to rip a spike leaf in half? The entire plant would come out of the ground first. If you have a plan to leave your dead plants in your pots over the winter, spikes and grasses will brave the winter weather better than most.
Certain plants represent robustly-all fall long. The cabbages and kales far outlast the pansies, and the creeping jenny. The seed heads of grasses far outlast their foliage. Vinca maculatum is the most amazingly cold resistant plant. It is as green as green can be, in December.
There are those bridge plants-plants that can thrive for more than one season. The succulent trailer known as angelina is green all year round for me. Persian Queen geraniums are great in the summer, and good very late into the fall. The fairly new perennial geranium Rozanne is still throwing flowers in December. Some pansy cultivars planted in the fall are right back the following spring. I probably will redo this container for winter, but I do not really need to do so anytime soon.
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.