Day And Night


 The shop this time of year is one of my favorite seasons-but that did not happen by accident.  For years I would watch the good gardening days winnow away, and dread the coming of the dark.  My late fall activites would center around cleaning up, putting away, cutting back, protecting-preparations for the desolation to come.  I still do this.  But there are ways to take the garden with you, when winter calls. 

The shop makes no bones about it-all of our materials and ornament relate in some way to the garden.  Mossed topiary cones can cover a favorite pot brought into the foyer for winter.  Lots of kinds of pine cones can find their way into winter garlands and pots; a plain oval pine cone wreath with a burlap box says gardener in residence.  Rob’s steel rings wrapped with brown corded lights can be hung from a tree branch in a dark corner of the garden. 

An amaryllis growing on a window sill is not only a comfort, they bloom spectacularly and triumphantly in the winter months.  We like them beautifully packaged in a growing kit for gift giving. 

I wish we could be open day and night, at this time of year.  Some materials look so beautiful on a sunny day, but we are fast approaching the time when our sunny days will be at a premium.  What looks good on a gloomy day, or a day that goes dark at 4pm in afternoon?  Faux white berry stems, anything red,  whitewashed eucalyptus, and glass look great outdoors on a grey day.   

This English made pot brush makes specific reference to the garden.  It is a sturdily made handcrafted object that needs to do nothing more than sit there, and be admired.  It reminds me of a place I very much like to be-that is enough.  It would be a great centerpiece for a kitchen table-dressed up with a bow for the holidays.    

Dried natural materials, subtly colored in greys, creams and browns, can be dramatic in winter arrangments, provided they are used in big enough numbers, or dramatically lit. 

Rob walks Larry every day in fields nearby.  It took numerous trips to collect enough milkweed pods to create this stunning arrangement which he then lit dramatically in the shop.  A single milkweed pod in a glass bottle can be just as interesting.  If you collect the pods as the seeds are emerging, they need to be lightly sprayed with Dri-Seal-a sealer specifically made for natural materials.  Otherwise, you will have milkweed seeds floating in the air-everywhere.   

I took these pictures of all of the rooms in the shop last night.  I like to have a record of what we do; this does look like the garden to me.  Rob set giant natural bleached branches into big pots filled with white play sand.  The sand holds the branches exactly where he wants them.  They are hung with paper, wire, and felt snowflakes, felt mushrooms, and stars, felt owls and birch bark balls.  Our pots are full of twine ball picks, berries, and assorted natural materials.        


I know there are people who read here that cannot stop by.  I hope these pictures of the spaces give a sense of the look of the shop now..  It is to my mind and hands, a big space-almost 10,000 square feet.  The work of creating a holiday or winter display, whether in a shop or in a home, involves lots of small objects and lots of time.  I only have so much time in a day.  I would rather devote more time to creating something from the season, as this leaves less time for for mourning the passing of the garden. My butterburr garden is flat to the gound, and mulched for the winter.  It is a big brown blob of a space; there is nothing to be done for it.  But nothing on earth is more forlorn than empty pots in the winter, as there is a season to celebrate on its way.  There is no need for pots to sit idle all winter.   

 I have said before that holiday and winter lighting is a form of landscaping-I stand by this.  I am not so concerned about the lighting in my summer garden, as the sun takes care of that until very late in the day.  But my winter landscape needs light.  How I choose to do that is part an alternate form of gardening. 

The shop greenhouse space goes quite dark in the late fall, given how low the sun is in the sky.  Rob takes special pains to light the  at space beautifully.  There is light directed from the top down.  There is light on the walls.  There are light garlands on the floor.  We have holiday trees that are lit from within.Every material can be transformed by the quality and intensity of the light put to it. 

We are better ready for winter than we were a month ago, and looking forward to our winter gardening.

Warm And Woolly


 Clients are calling about their winter pots, and holiday decor-that season is coming up fast. How to express all of that is a big topic of discussion.  Having installed winter pots and decorated inside and out for the holidays for the better part of 25 years, I can attest to the fact that there are endless possibilities.  My best advice-in addition to every other job you have as a professional, a parent, or a gardener, take on the job of design editor in chief. Great design is about a clear underlying idea about what is important to you.  And subsequently, what beautifully expresses that idea.

We have a strong holiday materials thread going on at the shop that I call warm and woolly.  Our winters are fierce, and relentlessly cold.  The garden is silent, and we alternate between short grey days and long black nights.  This state of being brings plenty of ideas to mind.  Let’s address just one. I like to keep it simple, at this stage.  How can my idea to celebrate the holiday and winter season best block out the cold and dark?  I go right from the idea to the materials.   I never design without specific materials in mind.  If I want to stay warm, be warm, host my friends and family warmly, I choose my materials accordingly.

A winter pot ringed with a heavy blanket of greens looks warm.  A tree wrapped in burlap looks warmer.  A holiday tree decorated in pine cones and ornament from natural materials is warm.  The color red is warm; a garland draped over a door is a warm gesture.  The brown felted backs of magnolia leaves look warm.

Felt in any form speaks to warm.  This tree skirt was handmade from from the thickest felt I have ever seen.  It is a natural for our warm for the holidays collection.  Wool is a natural material that wards off the cold.  Felting is a process prized by individual artists-much like the woman who designed and created these handmade tree skirts.  This skirt inspires all kinds of ideas about ornament and decor made from warm fabrics.

Jenny works in the shop.  Her collection of winter headgear is astonishing, and geared to warm.  Her winter hats-there’s an essay of its own there.  These felted birds remind us of someone we know and like. The Jenny birds-we have a good feeling about them, from the fake fur trimmed hats to the scarves to the felt beaks.  They are good humored, sturdy little birds.

These spools of thick red twine look great.  Individual strands would provide a cheery and homespun look to a package, or garland. I could see a big red bow made from multiple strands.  I could see a plant climber wrapped with lights-and the cords covered with this twine.    Materials empower any design idea.  I shop the fields, and the hardware store.  I look around for homegrown inspiration.  Once I assemble a group of materials that represent the feeling I am strying to create, I tinker with putting them together in some coherent way. You can do the same.  This red bud pussy willow looks great with the orange ilex berries.  These materials are a sure bet to warm up a winter pot.

This knitted bird is very appealing.  A customer yesterday put that into words.  It looks like a child created it, she said.  Well said.  Should children figure in your holiday decorating, materials like this might work. 

 Perched on a jute bow in a twig wreath-simply charming.   

 These paper mache owls have an entirely different feeling to them. I think they look like a group of people-each one with its own sophisticated and complicated personality. They represent a grown up kind of warm.  

The dark and cold days are just about here. This steel hoop strung with brown corded lights-this is what I see first when I get to work.  Very warm, this. 


Heart Felt

Though I have landscape projects still underway, a lot of my attention is focused on the shop.  Our yearly holiday open house is but one week away.  Why early November?  We stock materials for winter and holiday pots-that season is but one breath away.  We have clients planning parties, or having company for the holidays.  We like to say thank you to each and every person that shops the season long with us-thus our holiday open house.  We also like to give the gift of time.  Time to look over, plan, and decide.  We open up for the holidays, early.    

This year’s holiday represents shopping Rob and I did in January of 2011.  I like that timing; the season is still fresh in my mind.  In no way am I able to anticipate what anyone will like almost a year in advance, so I concentrate on what strikes me as appealing and fresh.  I was drawn to what I will call heart felt.  Homespun.  Natural materials.  Warm.  Friendly.  Woolly.  This was easy, given our relationship with Jenny.   

Jenny monitors our website. She is the point person for people from far away that wish to buy from us.  She handles sales in the store, every day, day to day.  Not incidentally, she is a graphic designer with considerable talent.  She has a big love for hats; her winter headgear is always sensational.  The felt holiday birds with their big winter hats struck a chord with us-we had to have the JennyBirds.   

Given that we see Jenny every day of the cold months in big tall hats, a committment to these felted birds was easy.The felted hand stitched birds were a starting point.  We were able to find other materials that had that homespun look. Rob has followed up with great natural materials from the fields he frequents with Larry. Sooner or later a point of view emerges. This is not to say we don’t represent other points of view-not everyone responds to that cottage look.  No matter whether the holiday decor is informal or formal, it in some way will represent a feeling from the garden.    

This felt tree skirt with overlapping flowers and button closures enchanted me.  A small company in New York hand makes these skirts.  They are as elegant as elegant can be-but still warm.  The felt is thick; the design is beautiful. 

Our felt snow people sit on a disc of wood.  I bought lots of them, in the interest of representing the idea of community.  There is an element of just plain fun here.   

Holiday picks of cotton bolls-I bought lots.  Cotton, wool, felt-these materials will compliment our natural twigs and greens. A holiday making reference to the garden-great. 

This handmade felt mushroom is very small, but very special.  Small and special-this describes my idea of the strength of my shop. Good gardeners notice the little things.  So do we.    

I was willing to commit to a few felt sheep, but Rob felt we needed a flock.  OK, we did a flock.  The big idea here-take an idea, and run as fast as you can with it.  This applies to landscapes, gardens, container plantings, garden ornament-and the holidays.  

This felt owl-handmade.  Charming.  It would make a very special ornament for a good friend.  Or a very special bow on a package.  Very special-this we like.   

These felt Santa Claus-we passed them up, last January.  In February, Rob let me know he had to have them.  OK, Rob.  I have no problem representing what he cannot bear to leave behind.  Better yet, I like to explain the process by which we interpret the holiday season.  Stop in-we are all available.  As for your holidays-what will you do?

Earthbound Farms

Rob took 5 days off last week to take a little holiday in California.  Every holiday for him is at least partly a busman’s holiday. A busman’s holiday?  This refers to people who do much the same sort of thing on their vacation that they do at work.  The reference speaks particularly to a bus driver who takes a driving holiday-as opposed to a stay put on the beach holiday, or a cruise holiday, or a skiing holiday.  Rob on vacation-he is gardening.  He does a great job of putting his eye to the gardening news, no matter where he is.  

So I get a look via his photographs of the fruit stand owned and operated by Earthbound Farms.  The same day I am writing about how a long twisted stem is an element that could make a pumpkin spooky, he is checking out the fall harvest of California grown pumpkins and gourds that have long beautifully twisted stems.  He tells me given his visit to California,  that fall pumpkins are beautifully defined by what is preserved of their vines and stems.       

Via Wikipedia, I learn that Earthbound Farms is the largest grower of organic produce in the United States.  150 farmers cultivate some 30,000 acres of land.  The well known writer Michael Pollan refers to Earthbound Farms as ” a company that arguably represents industrial scale organic gardening at its best.”  No wonder Rob was interested in their side of the road fruit stand.  He saw varieties of pumpkins with which he was unfamiliar.   

He was very keen about the arrangement of the stand.  Pumpkins of different varieties were heaped high by variety on the ground.  As much as I love an ordinary pumpkin representing orange in October, I am interested in all of those other less common varieties.  Like any other gardener, I willing to experience variation.  Whether I am looking at plants or produce, I like the opportunity to know a name or origin.  The best of all-a plant, an idea, a design, an arrangement, a move, and a story that goes with.    

I have seen the pumpkin Jarradale before-I just never knew its name.  The story of this pumpkin variety I need to absorb.  I will confess that I am surprised that Rob found pumpkins for sale in California.  This surprise represents an illiteracy of a regional sort.  How could fall pumpkins ripen in such a climate?  I know-what an ignorant idea.  I must have believed that the fall harvest is specific to the midwest.  OK, I need to attend a fall 101 course in the fruits of the harvest.  My photo visit to Earthbound Farms courtesy of Rob-eye opening. 

I loved the crate and iron chairs with grass cushions-what an inspired gesture. 

The left long stems on these pie pumpkins were perfect to hook over a wire spanning the length of the fascia board of the fruit stand building.  The same pumpkins line the railing.  The display would have encouraged me to take everything home that I could. 

I find it very interesting that every farm, nursery, or stand at market I frequent features gourds distinctively all their own.  Each grower decides what seed to buy; every result is different.  This is one of the simple pleasures of being a gardener. The element of surprise, mixed with a big dose of individuality.  The need to imagine, choose, grow, and shop-and work like crazy, yes.  This describes farmers and gardeners alike.   

Should you garden near me,  the fruit stand of Earthbound Farms is not available for a quick visit.  No harm here-we have plenty of local growers who do a great job.  I make it my business to patronize them, as I want them to be successful.  The efforts of our farming community are never so clear than they are at this time of year.  Whether you live in Michigan, California, New York, or Louisiana-it is harvest time.  My advice?  Load up, locally, whatever you can.