The Hats

The last of the holiday celebration in front of the shop had to do with what Rob calls the hats over the windows.  They actually seem more like eyebrows to me.  Last year we hung burlap drapes over them.  Given our dead meadow weeds holiday theme, I thought a weedy hat might add a certain finish to the project.  They took just about forever to make.  Glueing one weed at a time takes time. After finishing the first, I spent two weeks vacillating about whether to abandon this part altogether.  It sat on a table in the back since before Thanksgiving, enduring many rainy and some snowy days.  The matted mess miraculously regained its volumetric shape, once it dried out, but really it was Jenny that persuaded me to keep going.  After they were wired onto the metal hats, I was glad I persisted.  

I added the metal rectangles and shutters to the windows many years ago.  Factory windows do not come with much in the way of architectural interest.  They warm up this old machine shop considerably.  I wired most of the dry elegant feather grass from the roof to three large bamboo poles.  I glued everything into that dried grass I could get my hands on-kitchen sink style. 

Dry anemones and hydrangeas from my yard, dry chicory, boltonia, Queen Anne’s Lace, thistle seed heads-and a whole lot more dry plant stems I cannot identify became part of these three eyebrows.  I have no idea how long all of this will last-I have never done anything like it before.  Sticks, and dry perennial plant stems-that is all there is to this.

I am happy to have something warm and reminiscent of the garden to look at, in December. 


Shop Light, Shop Bright

Today was one of my most favorite days of the gardening year.  I never know what day that will be-that is part of the excitement of the event.  What event?  My crews get most of the last of the landscaping work, and the winter and holiday pots finished.  One moment later, they swarm the shop, intent on getting our holiday and winter display out front up and running.  The 6 pots in front of the shop have had their centerpieces of pussy willow since before Thanksgiving.  I have had lots of time to think over a plan for the holidays.  Time has not particularly helped me this year-Icould not figure out what I wanted to do.   But I knew I needed lights-and lots of them. So why not just get started with that?

The winter is a tough season for any northern born and passionate gardener.  How I might survive the months of the grey freeze is of great interest to me.  I would much rather create a hospitable place where I can live, than wring my hands, and spread discontent. Each of my 6 pots got their own nest of lights.  We twist and zip tie 4 or 5 strands of lights of different sizes, and colors.  White, red and lime is this year’s scheme.  This is not an entirely simple thing-we plan the spacing so each 45 foot garland has lights equally dispersed along its length. 

This giant wreath based on many stems of huck-I have owned it at least 8 years.  Dusty,wobbly and in need of some some restoration work,  I got it out of storage a few weeks ago; it would be perfect for this year’s field and weed holiday theme.   I added many more twigs;  I reglued every stem all around.  Most of what existed from some 8 years ago was sound.  The staying power of weeds is well known to every gardener.  Rob  is, and has been the driving force behind this year’s holiday.  His trips into the fields to collect dead branches and weeds have made for a season with focus, purpose, and structure.  This weedy wreath would be perfect.        

A big part of the window box display in front of the shop-the dried remains of asparagus.  The cultivation of asparagus-I have read lots about this.  But only from Rob have I learned about the dry stems of asparagus-how their wiry skeletal branches might play a part in the winter season. The dead stems are amazingly persistent.

Once I get my act together on a plan, my crews make quick work of it.  The window boxes got green, and had a bed of c-9 and c-7 lights installed in the center.  Lucio was in charge of sticking the asparagus branches between the light string wires. 

Bamboo stakes at the corners of the pots form an armature around which to wind the lights. 

This gold and green sinamay does several things.  It provides a soft transition between the geometrically placed willow stems, and the hard structure that is the light nest.  The shimmery polyester threads will amplify the light coming from the garlands.   

Multiple pots with lots of lights draws a lot of power; the shop has 2 20 amp circuits specifically installed for holiday lighting. 

We have enough lights in the pots to create a daytime glow.  Michigan is well known for its cloudy winter days-this day is no exception.

Dusk arrives 4:30 in the afternoon this time of year; we have an answer to that. 

If you have not put lights outside for the holiday and winter yet, one light garland draped in the branches of the tree will do you, and your neighbors, a world of good.

Some holiday lighting asks for a well placed spotlight.  Lots of lights can throw unlighted decor deep into shadow.  Our wreath would not be visible at night, save for a pair of spotlights. 

The window boxes now provide warm companionship to Rob’s pot o fire at the end of the driveway.  Only one more detail remains to be done-can you spot what or where it will be it is?    

Do try this at home.  It will warm you up.

The Week In Wreaths

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.

I have a few wreaths I plan to make as gifts.  A friend, a sister in law, and a client whose landscape is under construction.  Last of all, a wreath for Buck and I. 

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.

Good Ingredients


 I am not a cook.  I am not especially fussy about what I eat.  I like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  I am happy with a tunafish sandwich, or a burger.  I like whatever Buck fixes.  Milo and Howard have eaten the same brand of kibble every day for 7 years-I am just about there.  I do on occasion long for some liver and onions, or Chinese food for a local and great restaurant, but day to day, I am a food bore.  Feed me please-I need to get that meal over with, and get going. I eat to live, not to be entertained.    

 But I really like fresh vegetables-why?  I grew up with that.  My Dad shopped for fresh vegetables and fruits-we always had them.   At least three, every meal.  A sample vegetable menu-home grown potatoes, spinach, and salad.  Or broccoli, corn, and tomatoes.  I like salad, every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to fix one, I am happy with a wedge of iceberg lettuce-as long as it is fresh.  At this time of year, Buck and I eat good greens every day.  Swiss chard-a favorite. Turnip or beet greens-a close second.  Bok Choy, brussel sprouts, kale, beet greens, spinach, okra-we chow down all of the fresh greens.    

Buck really likes to cook.  He watches cooking programs on cable.  I and happy to join him.  This is the least I can do, considering that he shops weekly, and goes on to feed me every day.  Every program we watch emphasizes the importance of cooking with great materials. Fresh greens. Locally grown produce.  Every program he watches has a common thread-the importance of good ingredients.      

What I cook up in the landscape no one can eat, but anyone can see.  It is  tough to make a beautiful landscape with poorly grown shrubs, or park grade trees. Well grown perennials take hold quickly, and thrive.  Beautiful fresh flowers are easy to arrange.  Preserved eucalpytus has this going for it-the preservation part enables an arrangement that lasts a long time.      

I have lined many a wire container with florist’s moss.  This raw material comes in varying thicknesses, and highly variable dimensions.  Moss rolls- his new product transforms the bits and pieces that I recognize as florist’s moss into sheets that are easy to work with.  How I love this good ingredient!  I could wallpaper a room with it.  

The good ingredients for holiday and winter pots are many.  A wide range of choices in materials means a wide range of expression is possible.   

Cut noble fir is a really great ingredient.  Versatile and very long lasting. 

These double ball topiary sculptures-I made them for a client in 2005.  What you see here-a new, and fresh layer of dried moss.  Good materials are visually fresh.  This moss looks good enough to eat.  


Our first shipment of magnolia came today.  Magnolia makes great wreaths and garlands.  The cut branches are mouthwatering good in winter containers.   

You are halfway home in any holiday decor project, assembling some good materials.  

Should you take the time to represent the season, use good ingredients.  There are lots of places to find them, including your own yard, a field down the street, the farmers market, your local nursery, a local fruit market, the grocery store,   I shop for good ingredients in all of these places-not just my own.