Winter At The Shop

DGW holiday 2014 (1)The day we finally get to doing the roof and window boxes at the shop for winter is usually the day after we get the winter and holiday work done for our clients. Though we have a few bits and pieces that need attention tomorrow, our work is finished.  The winter wrap for the shop takes a lot of planning.  There are 8 boxes on the roof that are five feet long each.On the ground floor-5 boxes.  Many years ago we added plain 2′ by 12″ board shutters, and galvanized and painted sheet metal hats-over each window.  Over the space of three warm days this past October, my crew repainted the entire building-2 coats, top to bottom. They did a great job.  The shutters got painted the same color as the walls, in the hopes that whatever would be featured in those boxes would get all of the visual attention.  The dark greenish brown is a friendly backdrop to whatever gets placed in front of it-whether that be plants or ornament.

DGW holiday 2014 (2)A good supplier called-he had purchased a big load of beautiful birch poles, ranging in size from 1″ to 4″ in diameter.  Were we interested?  The prospect of a great material becoming available sparks all kinds of ideas. Of course we were interested.  I had some time to design-there was a lot of work to be done before we would be ready to get our home done for the holidays.  Birch poles are extraordinarily beautiful, and notoriously difficult to work with.  They are big, clunky, and heavy.  They don’t give an inch.  Anything you do with them involves plenty of engineering. My favorite part of this holiday scheme-the poles arranged in a long vintage English wood trough. The overall curve has everything to do with the pattern of the stacking stacking-the poles themselves are straight as straight can be. Birch poles in containers can be overwhelming. I have seen plenty of birch poles that look like birch stumps. No grace. The challenge of the poles was going to be great fun.

DGW holiday 2014 (10)If you live in Michigan, you know about the beautiful stands of white birch in our upper peninsula.  Birch in my area of lower Michigan-really troublesome to grow. Birch borer is a deadly pest. Japanese beetles can chew every leaf off a tree in no time.  White paper birch is always a gamble in the landscape.  The Himalayan white barked birch, Betulus Jacquemontii, is equally as susceptible.  I do plant it, as the trunks are bright white an an early age.  Every planting of them comes with a maintenance plan attached.  The size and age stands of old birch in the northern parts of Michigan are testament to the power of nature.  Extremely cold winter weather kills the borers.  The trees grow to maturity. An old and mature birch tree is incredibly beautiful.

DGW holiday 2014 (12)This green and white winter scheme is punctuated by members of our grapevine deer collection. Their curving and quite sculptural forms stand in stark contrast to those implacably white and implacably straight poles.

DGW holiday 2014 (3)The shop windows got the full treatment. A pair of 6 foot long birch poles frame the shutters.  Thick fir garlands were draped over the window hats- to which we wired whitewashed snowflakes. A short, narrow, and angularly placed birch branch in the center of the garland overhead was kept company by a few snowball picks.  The boxes are stuffed to overflowing with mixed greens. Fir, incense cedar, berried juniper, white pine, shore pine, noble fir, silver fir, mountain hemlock and German boxwood all mixed together-friendly, and warm. Like a thick blanket.  The very cold is soon to come for us.  We mean to be ready.

DGW holiday 2014 (5)The Dutch wicker pots out front took to this birchy and natural look without a hitch.  Dark varnished twigs and snowball picks made a striking centerpiece.

DGW holiday 2014 (19)Winter and holiday picks have their place. The gracefully curving white washed snow ball picks are a contrast to the clipped hedges, and those poles. I would use any material available to me for a winter container arrangement-both natural and not. The idea here is to celebrate and take pleasure from a season in which the garden is dormant.  Anything goes.  Anything could be great. Anything might bring a holiday smile to your face.  I love this holiday season, and plan to celebrate the garden gone quiet in any way available to me.

DGW holiday 2014 (16)The shorter birch centerpieces were placed over a nest of C-9 white lights. We hope to evoke the memory of a fireplace ablaze on a cold winter’s night.

DGW holiday 2014 (15)The poles on the roof were all engineering and secured by the fabricating staff at Branch. It can get very windy up there, so I wanted to be sure everything was completely secure.

DGW holiday 2014 (9)A lighted window box-the C-9’s illuminate the birch stacks.  100 count strands of mini lights illuminate the greens.

DSC_7038The dark of the evergreen boughs and the white of the birch are in stark contrast to one another-too stark, in my opinion.  But we are waiting for the last element to complete our display-the snow.  Once we have snow, I think we will have our own version of a Michigan winter wonderland. This is a good thing-to be ready for the snow.

A Very Merry Celebration

WJ 2014   (7)Rob has lots of clients for who he designs and constructs holiday and winter arrangements. Most of them feature light in one form or another.  One particular client that with whom he shares a great rapport contacts him in early November every year about a holiday scheme.  They are thick as thieves for weeks, planning. Years ago she bought his first light ring, made from a vintage wheel. The result of their collaboration is always beautiful. It is a testament to what good things can come from a long standing design relationship based on respect and exchange.

WJ 2014   (11)Holiday elements that have been part of her collection for some time are remixed every year.  There are those people who like the holiday the same every year, and those who like to change it up.  Change doesn’t necessarily mean abandoning old materials for new.  It means a willingness to re imagine.  One thing the two of them share is a big love of the holiday season.  It shows in the work.  I asked her if I could post pictures of this year’s holidays-she said yes. Some are her pictures, and some are Rob’s.  Though no picture could truly do justice to the work, you’ll  get the gist of it.  WJ 2014   (9)bottom lit container

WJ 2014   (5)light rings

WJ 2014   (1)light rings after dark

WJ 2014   (13)holiday chandelier

WJ 2014   (10)12 foot red flocked Christmas tree

WJ 2014   (12)lighted red flocked wreath

WJ holiday 7another holiday tree

WJ 2014   (4)view from the rear yard terrace

WJ 2014   (3)lighted spheres

WJ 2014   (2)looking out to the lake

WJ holiday 9After dark-how striking is this?

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.

The Stick Crop

natural-twigs.jpgThe most glorious color award in the landscape must surely go to the fall season.  From the asparagus to the sweet gums, color is in the air.  The green of the evergreen shrubs and trees is all the more intense by contrast with the colors sported by the leaves of deciduous plants.  Once those leaves fall, the landscape takes on a much more subdued and subtle palette. The natural birch branches, honeysuckle vine rolls, grapevine deer, wood crates and pumpkins in the above picture are one shade of brown or another.  The bark of the linden is a gray variation of brown. So much brown!  The garden is going quiet. For every gardener unwilling to go quiet, the branches, twigs and poles available late in the fall can offer a new lease on a garden life.

red-curly-willow.jpgFor those gardeners who live in more northerly zones, the time between the last of the fall leaves and the spring crocus can be a very long time indeed. This means that the shrubs and trees that sport bark with great color are of great interest. Planning a landscape for winter interest is a good idea in my zone. My dilemma-space.  I have a very small urban property.  I run up against the limits of the space all the time.  Given a large property, I could have swaths of red and yellow twig dogwood, groves of bungeana pine, a group of London planes, and all manner of interesting willows.  Lacking that kind of space does not mean that I have to do without some winter color.        red-twig-dogwood-bundles.jpgI am fortunate that there are farmers in this country that grow certain species of shrubs and trees from which they harvest cut branches. Our shipment of cut branches arrived a few days ago.  The colors are astonishing.  The dogwood branches have glossy bark in a variety of shades of red and yellow.  The curly copper willow is a yellowy orange.  The flame willow is the color of cinnamon. The red bud pussy willow has a glossy dark red brown bark, and red orange buds. This color and bark texture destined to last throughout the winter- so welcome.

red-twig-dogwood.jpgThe species red twig dogwood is dull and dark red. Cut from the garden, this dogwood has small branchlets, and cream colored growth scars. New cultivars of dogwood sport clearer and more intense color than the species.  Spring Meadow Farms has been instrumental in offering great new cultivars of vibrantly barked shrubs to nurseries.  Dogwood which is grown for branches is at some point cut back near to the ground. This process is known as coppicing.  The English have been growing shrubs and cutting them back hard with the express purpose of harvesting the branches for fencing for centuries. A shrub that is cut back hard responds with vigorous new growth.  The straight and unbranched new growth provides the best color, and the glossiest bark.  The red twig dogwood “Cardinal” has the most brilliantly red bark of any cultivar I know.  The color of these branches is as luscious as a red tulip.

pussy-willow.jpgPussy willow is an enormous growing shrub whose main claim to fame is the fuzzy and silvery spring catkins that sally forth in the spring. But pussy willow branches are a gift to a winter landscape. We buy the cut branches at 6 feet tall or better.  The green and chocolate bark, and the orange red buds are sensational.  So how do I use these glossy barked and beautifully colored branches?  In containers at the front door.  On the mantle for the holidays. Over the door.  They can be woven into wreaths. In any application, they are a lively reminder that the harvest from the garden can endow your winter seaso..

red-bud-pussy-willow.jpg A casual bunch of branches has a more informal and traditional look. They pair well with other materials available for the season-grapevine, evergreen boughs, pine cones, dry hydrangea flowers and berries-even the sturdy remains of perennials from the garden.  Ornamental grasses, cut and fixed to a bamboo stake make a graceful foil to the more substantial branches.

yellow-twig-dogwood.jpgAn arrangement of fresh cut branches can have a very contemporary look, placed vertically in a container. The height is a welcome addition to a winter container.  Stems stuck into soil may very well root and sprout in the spring.  The willow leafing out means the branches can be part of a spring container planting.

cut-twigs-and-branches.jpgThe branches are beautiful this year.  They make an enormous visual impact in a winter landscape with minimal color.poplar-poles-and-grapevine-rolls.jpg These poplar poles are much bigger than a branch.  There are places where barked poles are the perfect thing.  A celebration of the season in whatever style and shape suits you.

twig-time.jpgDetroit Garden Works is a source for branches, twigs, poles, and other natural materials in November.  These materials help to make the celebration of the winter season all the better.  These branches can help make a winter landscape all the more beautiful.