Michigan Holly

ilex-verticillata-berries.jpgIlex verticillata is a deciduous holly that goes by many common names.  We call it Michigan holly, or winter berry. They say it is fairly easy to grow, but my my experience was not that successful.  It is easy to spot when Michigan holly is thriving.  The branches are loaded with dense clusters of bright red berries that are visible from a long ways away.  They ask for a soil that is fairly moisture retentive, even swampy. There are newish cultivars that have especially bright red berries. Winter Red is a recommended cultivar for our zone.  It is a strong growing mult stemmed shrub that matures to 8 or 9 feet tall.

Michigan-holly.jpgThe berries make it worth growing.  But if you do not have space for such a large shrub, growers harvest and sell bunches of the berried branches in late fall.  They are beautiful in fresh holiday arrangements that only need last for a week or two.  Indoors, the berries will eventually rot and drop from house heat.  Outdoors, they are longer lasting. Up until a few years ago, I almost always opted for faux berries in winter pots.  Though the color of a berry pick cannot begin to approximate the color of the real thing, they could be counted on to last the whole winter.  Once we started spraying our winter berry with Vapor Gard, our success improved dramatically.  The berries stayed put, and stayed plump well into February. Vapor Gard is a professional grade anti desiccant which is only available in a gallon concentrate. Premixed wilt pruf in a spray bottle will help too.  Be sure to soak the berries when there is no threat of rain, and let them dry.

Michigan holly (2)A client for whom the holiday isn’t right without winter berry branches reports that in mid to late January, the birds discover the berries.  One by one, they begin to disappear. The birds raiding the berries is a treasured part of his holiday experience.

Michigan holly (3)berried holiday containers

Michigan holly (4)winter berry

Michigan holly (6)This container has 6 bunches of Michigan holly in it.  Bunches available at our farmer’s market come bunched together with a rubber band.  We do not take the bunches apart- this disturbs too many berries.  A bamboo stick inserted into the bottom of the bunch is what goes in the foam in the container. Michigan holly is beautiful, but it needs to be handled with care.

Michigan holly (7)Red berries in a lighted container will look like fire when the daylight wanes.

fierySee what I mean?

 

The Holiday Outdoors

holiday (1)As much as I like representing the holiday season in the garden, I like getting ready for it in the garage. Our garage space is large; we can set up a pop up fabrication shop that even Buck would like.  The approach to the work comes first. It is key to doing a job efficiently, and successfully.  We had a garland to make for a holiday installation.  Dan Prielipp from Prielipp Greenhouses, a long time supplier at the Oakland County Farmer’s market, custom makes our mixed fir garland. We find that concolor, noble and douglas fir holds up the best and the longest of all the possible garland greens.  We stretch out the garland on a series of cardboard boxes we save especially for this purpose.  This brings the garland up to a height that is comfortable to work on.  We split the garland in half, and reattach the pieces such that the vertical parts of the garland both left and right side have branches that face up. Branches up one side, and down the other offends my sense of symmetry.  Upfacing branches will eventually respond to gravity, and open up. Open branches are more volumetric.  Branches hung down will close as they loose their moisture.

holiday (2)We add noble fir where we think the garland needs more presence-these new boughs are attached with zip ties.  We loosely wire and attach groups of pine cones to the garland.  This is not a job to do on a ladder.  All we will do on the ladder is wire the finished garland in place.  Working on a flat surface helps to establish the front face of the garland. Once the groups of cones are attached, we wrap the garland with grapevine.  Rob makes sure we have loads of these 35 foot long rolls in stock for the winter season.  The grapevine was cut and rolled when fresh.  When dry, these branches are wiry, and keep their circular shape no matter the weather.

holiday (3)The grapevine, rolled generously over the surface of the garland, is beautiful in its own right.  But it also provides an armature upon which lots of other elements of the garland can be attached. I like garland that has is airy, and has a sculptural shape.  The faux berries and glass ornaments of this garland were attached to nthe grapevine, not the garland.  More importantly, we attached brown corded 100 count light strands to the grapevine.  This placement will illuminate the garland at night.  Lights wound around the greens are too close to assembly to properly illuminate it.  I like to get the lights out there, over and above the garland.

holiday (4)Any materials that go outdoors have to be prepared to deal with freeze, and thaw.  Every glass ornament we attached to the greens in the containers needed to be sealed with glue.  Any water that would get inside and freeze would wreak havoc.  The big idea here?  Any element going in the garden for the holidays needs to be water tight, and securely attached.  Take the time.  The time it takes me to stake up a flopping Annabelle hydrangea or delphinium in bloom is 7 times the time it takes to put the plant supports in early on.  Why this concern about the time it takes?  Every gardener needs some free time to enjoy the results of the work they have done.   holiday (5)

The garland got wired up in no time.  For those of you who are afraid to put a screw into an exterior wall, I would suggest that the potential damage to the integrity of the wall from such a slight act is minimal.  Hanging screws make hanging a garland simple.  The peace of mind knowing that garland will stay put is well worth those little holes.  My advice?  Don’t fret over some holes in the wall 1/8 inch in diameter. Give your attention to the bigger picture.

holiday (7)A holiday expression in the garden takes some effort.  Minimize the effort with a construction plan.  Good planning can make the effort well worth the reward.  This weekend promises milder temperatures. Get out there.  Your family, friends, and community will appreciate it. Driving home tonight, I see so many houses in my neighborhood with holiday lighting ablaze. Love that.  The installation of this project took only 2 hours.  The centerpieces and greens were arranged ahead.  The garland was road ready on delivery. There is no need to stand outside in cold weather longer than necessary.

holiday (8)This client likes red at the holidays.  Integrifolia dyed red is perfect for her pots.  The red glass dots enliven the greens.  The garland lights will make the container glow, after hours.  Red in December shines.

DSC_6742My crew spent a lot of time getting this project ready for installation. It was better than a day’s work.  There was a lot of talk between them about the look of the finish.  This I like. They review everything we do, and talk to me about it.  The review from my crew-I treasure that moment. Work is one thing, but reflection and appreciation is better.  Make, furiously. Reflect.  Remake, or stand pat.  Wade into the process.  Enjoy every step of the way. Do more than you thought to do.  Be generous. This is how I would describe garden making.

holiday (9)Brown corded lights attached to grapevine

holiday (6)red integrifolia centerpieces

holiday (10)A holiday landscape is a landscape for a moment.  The winter celebration-delightful.

 

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.

Limelight Hydrangeas In Bloom

August 29 2014 (29)I know this is the mid westerner in me talking, but is there any shrub more widely hybridized and marketed and eventually disappointing than the hydrangea? I can barely keep up with the new cultivars. Some are blue.  Some are blue and pink.  Some are red. Some claim to bloom all summer.  A list of  of all the names would take better than a paragraph.  All Summer Beauty, Nikko Blue, Endless Summer, Pinky Winky, Vanilla Strawberry, Invinciball – the list is long. The promises made for these new introductions are big. The performance of various cultivars of hydrangeas in the mid west-a mixed report. I drive by big plantings of hydrangeas every day that are all about the leaves with precious little in the way of flowers. Some are planted in much too much shade.  But others just are not great bloomers. If you are a gardener in my area, and have a big love for hydrangeas that bloom reliably, consider the paniculata hybrids, especially the Lime lights.

August 29 2014 (26)We did have a terrible winter-no gardener would dispute this.  But the hydrangeas I see everywhere with one bloom or so is a usual thing.  Some cultivars bloom on old wood.  In a hard winter, the bloom shoots freeze.  Though the plant may come back and thrive, there are little to no blooms.  Some cultivars rely on more temperate zones than ours.  Some cultivars seem to bloom with abandon for growers, but fail to deliver with gardeners.  The Limelight hydrangeas pictured above are on a very busy street in my area, in full sun. They are blooming their hearts out.  I have no idea what the gardener in charge does for these plants, but they are gorgeous. It could very well that this gardener leaves well enough alone.  This brick wall would be lonely indeed without the hydrangeas.

August 23 2014 (14) I plant professionally, meaning plants that cannot or do not perform are discouraging.  I hope that every landscape I design and install encourages my clients to become involved, take over, and become interested in gardening when I am finished.  This means I favor plants that have some success features built in. I like plants that thrive. Hydrangeas in full bloom are breathtakingly beautiful. Hydrangeas are by nature lusty growing and just about fool proof, given a proper placement.  If you are keen for the flowers, and lots of them, Limelight delivers.

DSC_3979

I have read so many articles claiming that hydrangeas thrive in the shade.  Hmm.  The shrubs may tolerate part shade, but good blooming on hydrangeas in my area asks for a fair amount of sun.  Do  not plant hydrangeas in shade, if you have a love for their flowers. They like regular moisture – the leaves are large, and thin.  Those leaves will crisp if the plant goes dry.  I have my hydrangeas at home on a drip zone, so when they need a drink, I can provide it right to the roots.  I do not recommend overhead watering except when it comes from the sky.

DSC_4001The old Annabelle hydrangea is as charming and as floppy as ever. They bloom early, usually in June.  I like them placed on top of a wall, where their cascading habit looks graceful and deliberate.  The Oakleaf hydrangea is just as beautiful in leaf as in flower – maybe more so.  This bony structured, open growing hydrangea with its loosely arranged blooms-gorgeous.  Climbing hydrangea does tolerate a lot of shade.  It sits for a long time after planting.  Once it gets going, it can engulf a wall.

DSC_3982Pink and blue hydrangeas perform sporadically in my area.  There are neighborhoods where they are lush and floriferous.  I only have one client whose Nikko blue hydrangeas bloom heavily every year.  They are grown in full sun, in a fairly protected location.  The idea of using chemicals to alter the Ph of the soil is not my idea of gardening. Their is a hydrangea cultivar hydrangea macrophylla “Nantucket Blue”, for those gardeners with blue hydrangea envy.  I have never grown it, but I have seen it for sale with the caveat “acidify the soil with sulfur for a deeper blue color”. There are those times when I am envious of what gardeners in other parts of the country are able to grow that I cannot, but that feeling is not that deep seated.

DSC_4046Lime lights are very big growing plants.  Mine at home are over 8 feet tall this year.  They have loved all of the rain.  If your space is smaller, plant a smaller growing version.  Little Lime tops out at 4-5 feet. Little Lamb is another smaller growing panicle hydrangea.

hydrangea-Bombshell.jpgI am trying a new cultivar this year. “Bombshell’ is a dwarf cultivar that typically grows in a rounded mound to only 2-3′ tall and to 3-4′ wide. It was discovered growing in Boskoop, The Netherlands, in May of 2003 as a naturally occurring branch mutation on Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’. It is particularly noted for its dwarf/compact shape, abundant star-shaped sterile flowers with elliptic sepals, dense nearly round flower panicles, and free blooming habit. It blooms earlier and longer than most other panicle hydrangeas.” – this description is from the Missouri Botanical Garden. I recently planted them with a collection of perennials that mature to about the same height.  Big growing shrubs that are pruned to fit small space always have that uncomfortable and anxious feeling about them.  A hydrangea planted with all the room it needs to grow is not only less maintenance, it looks good.

DSC_3983The Lime Lights are putting on a particularly good show this year.

DSC_4000It wouldn’t be late summer in Michigan without them.