New Year’s

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (3)Christmas came and went, without the shop being fully dressed for winter. We had an incredibly busy season – that work has to come first. No one knows that better than I. But I have a love and a mission for making sure that our shop delights the eye of any gardener face to face with the winter season. The Branch crew constructed and hung the garland that is draped across the top of the roof boxes and all the way down to the ground on a Saturday in mid December. They added greens to the leading edge of the boxes behind the garland, for an especially lush look on the roof. That was a huge undertaking. It took 5 people just to haul it up an extension ladder to the roof. That was all we had going on for at least another week. The next Saturday all of the window boxes were filled with greens, and the 2 pots out front had twigs and greens. Christmas day afternoon, I constructed and set all of the centerpieces in the window boxes, and added small scale vine garlands to the greens, and pine cones to drape. Yes, Christmas afternoon.  Buck was rolling his eyes.  New Year’s Eve day, I had help from a sympathetic crew.  David found lights for the window boxes elsewhere, as we were out, and installed them.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (14)I wanted something tree like at the front door. Dan and his landscape crew cut down a Siberian elm that was growing up through the gas meter at Branch, and set them into steel shoes in the bottom of a pair of fiber pots. Once the fiber pots were filled with gravel, these tall branches were stable. As I had a pine cone fest already going on, I decided to hang pine cones on these trees. Marzela and David did all of the work of it. Dan, my landscape super, named these trees Pinus Ulmus.  We all found this incredibly amusing. The fun of hanging pine cones on a deciduous tree aside, I wanted to bring some of the warm orangy brown of the cones and grapevine garland onto these pale gray branches.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (4)The centerpieces in the window boxes are largely comprised of bunches of short branches that Rob had for sale in the shop. I can’t say what they are, I was looking at the height, color, and texture, and not the species.  The white tallow berry picks are artificial. They and the bleached pine cones add punch and punctuation to the mix. The roof garland features our new pin point LED lights. All of the light garlands are attached to the grapevine.

DSC_3726The two little leaf lindens outside the shop fence got a winter coat of natural curly willow. David got all of the bunches up against the trunk with the help of some bungee cords. Once he had every stem arranged to his satisfaction, he wired them on with concrete wire.  He and I covered that wire with two pine cone garlands wound around and secured to each tree. This is a warm look for winter.  Rob’s wire baskets with lights in the bottom, and a mass of twigs, got placed on either side of a birch faux bois bench.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (5)We were looking like we were ready for the winter. This made me happy.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (9)We have a very gray and dark season ahead of us. It is a tough time for anyone who gardens in a northern climate. The dark comes on in late afternoon, and does not abate until 8 am.  The cold has finally caught up with us. Michigan is renowned on the gray skies list-it ranks right up there. Having the shop with a display for winter will make the winter easier to bear. Every day when I walk to my office door, I will be glad for the warm blanket.  It is as simple as that.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (10)I took this picture at 4:40 this afternoon. The yews and boxwood have gone to their winter black green. The dusting of snow looks chilly.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (12)One of my most favorite items we sold in the shop for the winter are these strings of lights with giant bulbs. I have Rob to thank for these. The linden closest to the road will have this string lighted all winter long.  I come to work in the dark, and I park my car here in the winter.  The light these bulbs provide is adding lots of visual vitamin D to my daily life.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (1)Happy New Year.

 

 

The Garland

evergreen holiday garlandA handmade holiday garland is a labor of love. There is so much involved. Expect to need lots of zip ties, and nimble fingers.  I do buy my mixed fir garlands already made up, at my local farmers market. But that length of cut boughs all strung together with twine is just the beginning.  We routinely add our own cut branches to the existing garland, so it is very thick. Warm for winter is a given. For this 50 foot garland, we split the garland in two, flipped one side, and reattached the two pieces at the center. This makes the direction of the greens face down equally on both sides.  I am not a fan of a garland whose branches go up one side, and down the other. That roller coaster approach disturbs the visual rhythm.  All up facing branches, or all down facing. Decide which look you like. A garland is too much work not to take seriously.

December 10, 2015 007Lots of our garlands are wrapped with grapevine. A 50 foot evergreen garland will take a pair of 35 foot rolls of grapevine.  Yes, we roll the vines around the garland in opposite directions, from the center. Grapevine is incredibly strong and resilient. We zip tie the loosely wired evergreen garland to that grapevine every few feet.  This creates a garland that is very strong, no matter how many pine cones you pile on. That grapevine is incredibly strong. It is a great vehicle for a string of lights. One 72 foot strand of 1000 warm LED garland lights will completely illuminate a 50 foot garland in one fell swoop. We attach the lights to the grapevine.  The grapevine stands proud of the evergreen garland.  The light encircling the evergreen garland will illuminate it.

20151209_120833A garland needs to be properly scaled to whatever architectural feature it means to celebrate. Big garlands are incredibly heavy, and require a number of people armed with ladders to install.  It is my good fortune that Buck sends his fabricators from Branch over to me for several weeks, during garland hanging season. Their fabricating jobs at Branch has given them a good idea of what it takes to accomplish a solid construction and a great finish. Once they hang a garland, they rearrange every element we have attached to it in a pleasing way.  Everything we wire on a garland is loosely wired, so we can rearrange once the garland is aloft. I can construct the most complicated work in the studio-those Branch men know how to get it up in the air, beautifully.

holiday garlandHanging a long and heavy garland may take four people. Yes, we do drill and set screws where we need to. A winter garland is a beautiful way to celebrate the winter season. It needs to stay in place the entire winter, through the snow and winds.  Do I leave garlands up all winter?  Oh yes.  A garland can tell a story about a garden, and a gardener. A thick garland adds a lot of warmth to a garden season which is dormant and cold.

DSC_6934A garland framing a doorway is welcoming and festive at this time of year. I would not do without a winter garland over my doorway at home. I often think about how any gesture in the garden is so much a response to a gardener’s relationship with nature. The garland framing my doorway tells all who enter that the garden welcomes them.

recent work (18)What I think about when I see this detail of a garland we install is about the relationships have been forged over the gardening season past. These materials reflect the taste of my client. Our good relationship makes it important to me to represent them as best I can. The winter is no gardeners favorite season, but there are lots of ways to celebrate and enjoy the off season. Warm and generous comes first.

holiday garlands 001We do all of the construction of our garlands in our garage. The approach to the work is such an important element of construction. We set all of our garlands on a string of cardboard boxes, at a height which is comfortable.  These artificial garlands to which we have added other elements will be installed indoors for the holidays have gotten a personal signature based on the taste of our client. Red, green, and white, she says. We are happy to oblige.

holiday garlands 004These bleached ponderosa pine cones are a major element, both in size, and in color. They are the organizing metaphor around which every other element – the sage green eucalyptus, the tallow berries, and the red berries – provides a supporting cast.

holiday garland (3)Those elements which get attached to a winter garland are wired together.  We decide in advance the frequency with which we attach them.  Typically, the spacing at the top is closer together than the spacing at the bottom.

DSC_6907At the top of this archway, every color and texture element essential to this garland is massed together. That density will fall off as the garland descends. I do not mean to imply any rule. This is a construction which I think looks good to my eye.  Every gardener needs to trust their own eye, and proceed accordingly.

holiday garland (1)Our construction in the shop is not so fancy.  The garlands get set up on a collection of cardboard boxes we reserve for this purpose.

holiday garland (2)The additions to the evergreens may have a number of elements.  I try to err on the warm and generous size and spacing.

IMG_7464holiday garland

DSC_6791winter garland

DSC_6911winter garland

Jan 6 2013 (16)Every year I install a garland on the shop of one type or another. Once the snow comes, our building looks snug and warm. The garlands over the windows are eyebrows of the garden sort. The best moment of any garland is what nature bestows in the way of winter weather. This is my idea of  great winter garland.  Yours might be entirely different. No matter your idea or construction, a winter garland is a way to warmly wreathe, and breathe, over the winter to come..

The Installation

holiday container arrangements 2 (1)I am always appreciative of how much of the construction of the winter pots we are able to do in the shop, once we get to the installation phase. The greens for this oval bronze container had been stuffed into a form several days ago.  We try to be very accurate about the size of those forms, especially given that they will last through at least 3 seasons. Once the centerpiece was set, we attached a collar of red sinamay. Sinamay is a polyester mesh available in various widths.  We run a wire through a length of mesh, folded in have, with long running stitches.  Once the wire is pulled tight around the centerpiece, it creates a wavy graceful collar that softens the transition from the greens to the centerpiece. Sinamay with a metallic thread is a simple way to say holiday, and is very simple to remove after the holidays. Marzela did all of the finishing touches.

holiday container arrangements 2 (7)We did have to shovel the snow out of the pots. Some pots had just the right depth of soil, once the fall plants were removed.  Others needed a little topping up.

holiday container arrangements 2 (5)Even though these centerpieces were large, it was a short and simple matter to cut through the foam holding the greens, drive the bamboo stake down into the pot, and add a few greens to the ragged edges. This gold sinamay adds a very festive and absolutely weatherproof holiday note. Sinamay is also known as decor mesh, and it is readily available, should you search for it on your computer.

holiday container arrangements 2 (4)This low rectangular arrangement was finished in its entirety in the shop.  We only added 10 stems of red twig to the center, once the installation was complete. This pot is festive and dressy.

holiday container arrangements 2 (6)Every pot got filled. If I have a container I do not intend to fill for the winter, I put it away. A container in the landscape that is left empty for the winter is a missed opportunity to garden. I have one very special, sculptural, and old French pot in my landscape that I never plant.  That empty pot, and the weather acting on it, has a significance to me that I cannot really explain.  Some garden ornament evokes very strong feelings, and that can be enough.  But all of these pots needed filling.  A winter life for a garden and its head  gardener can be a good life.

holiday container arrangements 2 (3)These concrete urns needed to be filled for the winter.  They are not especially fine pots, but there are six of them, and they punctuate a long terrace.  What we have in them is simple. Of particular interest is the choice of greens. Mountain hemlock branches are harvested from trees at very high elevations.  We have to take these greens early in the season.  I could not order them now. These trees are up high, and buried in snow by now. They are perfect for containers in exposed and windy locations. Even in cut form, they will stay green until the end of March.

holiday container arrangements (1)The pots and boxes in the back yard got installed today in fairly steady rain. Our high temperature today was 58 degrees-I will take that, and shrug off the rain.

holiday container arrangements (8)This client bought these French made orangery boxes from me in 2003. The oval medallion at the bottom of each side of the box details the year of manufacture. These French boxes, the history of the manufacture of which dates back hundreds of years, are very dear to my heart. There are no other garden boxes quite like them. They are as beautiful a box as ever graced a landscape. They inspired me to open Branch.   Though the oak and cast iron fittings are as solid as they can be, the paint has deteriorated. Weather takes its toll. We will restore them, at the end of the winter.

holiday container arrangements (4)There is not so much more to say about this installation, except that once a container arrangement comes out of the shop, and finds a home in the landscape, it is easy to see what they provide is like no other element. If you are a gardener, I would encourage you to add some pots to your landscape and garden. They are a challenge and a delight, year round.

holiday container arrangements (5)Landscapes with multiple levels of interest sustain the eye.

holiday container arrangements (2)I am not so fond of working in the rain, but today was different. My mind was on another topic entirely. The garden can be so satisfying, on so many different levels. Year after year. Moment after moment. This unusually late November warmth and rain was an experience I would have missed, had I not been out there filling the pots for the winter season to come. Some garden pleasures are so unexpected, simple, and so striking.

holiday container arrangements (7)rainy late November day

holiday container arrangements (3)the terrace in November

holiday container arrangements (6)This view out to the late November garden was beautiful. I have been working for these clients for going on 30 years. The holiday/winter pots fit right in. It was a perfectly rain soaked and fabulous November day.

 

Constructing The Winter Centerpieces

centerpieces for winter containers (4)Setting the centerpieces in winter and holiday pots has the same procedure, whether we have small or big pots to fill.  The centerpiece often involves fresh cut branches that have considerable weight. The vertical element in a winter pot needs to stay vertical all winter. This large bunch of red twig dogwood been secured with several zip ties, and some concrete wire.

centerpieces for winter containers (5)Buried in the twigs is a stout bamboo pole. When we are ready to install, we cut a hole in the foam that holds the greens, large enough for the twigs to pass through and rest on the soil.  The stake will be driven down as deep as possible into the soil. This pole anchors the twigs in the pot. Very large centerpieces will have short lengths of steel rebar inserted all around.  The steel posts will be wired together. Once the soil freezes, these arrangements will not move, or go over. If this seems like a lot of work, it is. A beautiful centerpiece gets some of its beauty from the strength and integrity of the installation.

centerpieces for winter containers (6)
Any other materials that get added to the twigs can be secured with another layer of zip ties.  For more height, we may wedge additional materials between the branches, or wire them to the branches. The method of choice is whatever method makes the arrangement strong and weather proof. Snow and ice on a winter arrangement can be gorgeous.  Snow and ice that brings an arrangement down is a nuisance.  Once the soil freezes, a centerpiece gone over can be difficult to fix.

centerpieces for winter containers (7)All of the evidence of the construction at the bottom of the centerpiece will be buried in the greens. Florist’s wire is a dark green that recedes from view. Preserved eucalyptus is a versatile material for winter centerpieces.  The color does not run or fade. It is flexible and pliant. Very heavy snow can be gently broomed off-the eucalyptus will spring back. The soft, loose and leafy texture is a great contrast to the twigs. It helps to cover the evidence of the construction. Though making a centerpiece like this is a considerable amount of work, it needs to look effortless.

centerpieces for winter containers (9)There are so many materials available for winter centerpieces that are weatherproof.  Winter berry will hold for a long time outdoors, provided it has been soaked in Vapor Gard, or some other antidessicant. It seals the moisture inside the berries. It also helps keep the berries attached to the stems. In these centerpieces, the faux berries are a believable symbol of the real thing. The centerpieces have been scaled to the size of the pots that will hold them.  The bamboo is just as thick as for a large centerpiece, but shorter.

centerpieces for winter containers (8)This client is interested in an expression of the holidays, in addition to their wintry look. The evergreen base to come will hide most of the stiff stalks of these glittered cone picks. A few more sprigs of eucalyptus will hide the rest. The holiday picks can be removed after New Year’s.

centerpieces for winter containers (10)We do as much of the construction as we can in the garage. Each of the white tallow berry picks in this centerpiece came to us packed flat in a box.  It is so much easier to fluff out a wired pick in the garage, than outdoors. Some of the work is very hard to do with anything other than bare hands. Once the basic form of the centerpiece is set, there is a lot of hand work to come. More than anything, unfriendly working conditions discourage expression.

centerpieces for winter containers (11)I was glad for the two days we had in the shop to ready all of the materials for this holiday/winter installation. It will be cold today. Right now, it is 23 degrees with freezing fog.  The high temperature will be 40. Having everything ready to install with a minimum of touch up work means we will not have to spend the entire day outdoors.

centerpieces for winter containers (13)We make small centerpieces for our garlands, as well as our pots. A variety of materials get zip tied together, and wired to a branch in the garland. If we use pine cones in a garland, we wire them on separately, and loosely.  Having a long wire lead means you can nestle that cone in the evergreens wherever it seems appropriate and natural.  Wiring them too close to the garland makes for a stiff look.

centerpieces for winter containers (14)Since a garland is primarily viewed from below, we don’t worry so much about hiding the evidence of the construction. This new LED lighting we have this year features black/green wires that is small.  The tiny bulbs are mounted on wire stalks that approximate evergreen needles.  It is so light weight and flexible it is simple to attach to the garland. And the light is warm. Based on what I have seen so far, this is holiday lighting that is simple to use, and very durable.  I did not need to worry about dropping the strand on our concrete floor.

centerpieces for winter containers (1)There are 4 of the LED bulbs  barely visible in this picture. The wires will be just about invisible once the garland is hung.

centerpieces for winter containers (12)We are as ready as we can be for today’s work.