A Special Holiday Style

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If you read my essay this past summer entitled “Bringing the Garden Upstairs”, you might remember CB.  She has been a client and friend a good many years, but even more than that, a mentor.  Some clients you meet have a fire burning all their own that makes working for them pure joy.  Her love of garden, home and family is just as evident at the holidays as in the spring. Just as she writes me in early spring to say she has no intention of coming home from their winter home until I have the flowers planted, I can count on her to call in early October about the holiday.  I always ask what she is thinking, as she is always thinking.  Last year, she wanted a feeling “elegant and enchanting”, and by the way, could I look at the airspace? 

Audi _0005Her home has ceilings that soar.  The massive chandelier we hung with skeins 0f gold metal mesh in the manner of Spanish moss. Off white berry garlands were woven in and out of the wood trunk and arms of the chandelier.  The elegant black iron urns she filled solidly with a very tall creamy brown bamboo; this we secured with oversized medallions of bronze ornaments, cream reindeer moss, and cream frosted pine cones.  She had filled the fireplace with candles set on two levels, and dressed the plain terazzo fireplace with a sparkling necklace of delicate mirrored garland.  Tall bronze and silver candelabra each with their own holiday touch complete the look.

Audi _0009Her tree gleams with glass, silver and gold ornament she has collected over the years.  The staircase railings feature thick garlands stuffed with twigs, lights, and ribbon.  This gorgeous look is all of her doing, and ready when I get there.  After we do the outdoor pots and lights, we do just a few things inside.

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (42)Another year she planned to entertain both at Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday.  Given that she expected a lot of guests, she moved her big dining room table into the living room.  Though I have known her long enough that I should not be surprised by moves like this, I always am.  She has a gift for reinventing spaces, and decorating them just enough to make for visual magic. 

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (50)She managed to furnish a small corner of this room beautifully.  She gave this intimate space a chandelier all its own; the seating and prints are beautifully arranged. A wispy twig garland wound in mirrored garland speaks to the holiday without overwhelming any other element.   

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (9)The holiday in the airspace is evident in her kitchen too.  A garland over her kitchen window is dressed in that airy and graceful style that so reminds me of her.  Even the light fixtures over her island take on the air of the season.  The ribbon trees were made by members of her family; everywhere there are signs of family. Her red vase stuffed with candy canes made me look at candy canes as if I had never seen them before.

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (1)Her lower level is a cozy family oriented space; the bar we decorate with Patience Brewster holiday figures, chartreuse wire, and ornaments chosen especially to delight her grandchildren. 

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (38)I made this topiary holiday sculpture for her in the same vein.  Mossy and twiggy, for the gardener in her; the shape straight from the enchanted forest, for the grandkids.

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Everywhere there are signs of life.  I have such respect for her ability to design and create elegant spaces imbued with such strong feeling.  Working with her isn’t working, it’s a blessing.

Home For Thanksgiving

Aug 12 036We spent over a week tearing apart a thirty year old landscape for this client.  They had decided that though their kids were grown and gone, they would stay, and renovate both the inside and out of their family home.  They had not ever spent much time outdoors; a very small back yard with no privacy from neighboring terrraces and play structures kept them indoors.  New screening, and an enlarged gravel addition to their terrace opened the door to a new living space for them.  The finishing touch-a collection of Italian style, English made concrete planters.

Nov 22 093Their children are all coming home for Thanksgiving; they asked if I could dress the pots in their winter coats in time. They are very excited at the prospect of their kids seeing how their home has been transformed in the past 3 months, and the landscape is part of that.  Four of the five pots on the rear terrace would be planted for winter.  As they have little in the way of outdoor lighting in the back, we installed lights in every pot.  The electrician just installed outdoor plugs for them yesterday, in time for the holiday gathering. 

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We stuffed this long and large rectangular planter with a mix of boxwood and incense cedar.  I like mixed greens in large planters for greater interest.  The fan willow centerpiece is backed up with yellow twig dogwood; the pairing makes each individuall element look better. 

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Straight flame willow, and red curly willow have a very similar color, but a very different texture.  These orangy brown twigs stand out against the bigger landscape gone grey.  The blue of the noble fir contrasts strongly with those flames sticks; the planting looks warm and robust.  The leaves of Magnolia Grandiflora have a beautful felted brown obverse; the shiny green leaves change up the texture.

Nov 22 099Preserved and dyed eucalyptus provdes a leafy texture much like the magnolia.  The chocolate brown color is surprisingly lightfast outdoors.  The container looks dreesed for the weather; the colors perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday will go on looking good as winter settles in. 

Nov 22 108The pots are positioned to provide good views of the outdoors from the inside.  I will move pots from a summer location to a winter one, if need be.  I spend a lot more time looking at my garden in the winter from indoors; I am outdoors as much as possible in the summer. These pots can help alleviate that cooped up feeling invariably creeps up on any northern gardener.    

Nov 22 090After the rear terrace pots were installed, they called-could I please do three more.  Though they plan to replace these front door pots in the spring, they are not the center of attention here.  Red bud pussy willow and dark purple eucalyptus make a formal and quietly beautiful statement at the door.  My landscape crews construct and install all of this work; they do such a beautiful job. Clients who have winter pots done for the first time are surprised at what a difference they make.  I hear about how nice it feels to have something beautiful to look at outdoors at this time.

Nov 22 086The side door has the same pot as the front, but a different treatment.  As variety is a very precious commodity this time of year, I avoid repeating  the same materials everywhere.  These snow branches are all plastic; they look just as good up close, as they do in this picture. I try to include a third, mid-level element in all the winter pots; just sticks and greens is a little too spare for my taste.   

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This is my idea of warm holiday wishes from the garden.

Creature Comfort

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When Troy showed up at work with this eight week old Catahoulee leopard cur (yes that’s what Louisiana hunting people call these hunting dogs) he had named Annie, we were all oohs and ahhs.  Her eyes were raptor blue; her toenails looked like he had painted them a luscious shade of white pearl. Her coat that looks to me like gravel is formally known as blue Merle. Her eyelashes were white-wow. She gave no hint at this stage of the  hound she would become. 

DSC03581Troy is a gardener of exceptional ability, in addition to his gift as a sculptor. Growing up on a farm on the west side of Michigan, he grew a giant vegetable garden, ran a blueberry farm, did surveying, hunted, fished, and walked the woods. He came by his skills as a naturalist, naturally.  He sculpted for me in concrete; this two-headed fox bench is his work.  Annie went everywhere with him, including to the studio.  

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Troy would produce a body of work, and then show up at my office; “what do you want me to make now?”.  I was watching Annie run her self designated obstacle course around the pots and up on the wall, and back, down and over a iron cistern and so on; she is a miracle in motion. Naturally, I translated what my eyes were watching; “what about a pack of hounds?  Make me a pack of hounds”.  A week later I was looking at a pack of welded steel rebar and steel mesh frames.  A whole lot of dogs-working, at attention, sleeping, skulking, howling, moving; dogs doing what they do.   

Dogs in wireThese very gestural and simple structures provide strength for the concrete and mortar to come. He squishes and packs concrete around these frames; the strength that a garden sculpture needs first and foremost, comes first.  But I could tell from these frames I was going to like what came next.  The outside mortar layer he hand carves. 

Concrete Fox HoundsI was not prepared for how much I liked them. His sculptures of hounds are not about a biologically correct reproduction, they are about the heart and soul of his hound Annie. I was astonished by how much energy, motion and fluidity he managed to wring from a marriage of steel, and hundred pound sacks of concrete.  This explication aside, these hounds won me over.

DSC06590One hound was on his back, sunning and scratching, in the garden.  Another was howling at the moon as if he had ten minutes to live.   Yet another was tentatively down, those back legs were tucked under in such a position he could be cruising at a second’s notice.

Concrete Hound 1This sculpture makes clear the legs that make for balance, and the legs that carry the weight.  The position of the ears suggest this hound just shook his head, and looked up towards the moon.  Most garden sculpture leaves me cold; these hounds are right at home in a landscape.

statuary (7)There was some discussion with Troy regarding sculpture that relies on the environment to be complete.  He said, “don’t give me the history, just tell me what you need”.  So ok fine, I asked him for a hound barking up a tree-the tree would be supplied by whomever took this barking dog home.  She does have a good tree, and this hound has a good home.   

E05Troy’s sculptures of hounds could be in or out, up or down, on a sidewalk, in a bed, on a wall. I have placed 16 of them; they all moved away from me. When the garden wanes, I think about how much I value the sculpture that enchants me, all year long.  His sculpture-creature comfort.

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MCat moved in some years ago; we heard him mewing under a stack of Italian terra cotta pots.  He could not have been much more than four weeks old.   When the hounds first came to the shop, he moved in with them.  He slept on this table every night for six weeks straight. Enough said, about the hounds.

A Little Rouge

Lobsinger (8)I do have a memory of getting into my Mom’s rouge pot in an idle moment. Those bright red perfectly circular spots of red I applied to my face made her laugh. I was terribly offended, as I thought I looked beautifully dolled up.  All these years later I still like how a little rouge can doll things up; this is never more the case than in a garden gone wintry.  Red twig dogwood and preserved and dyed eucalyptus can enliven a winter garden like nothing else does. I am not a fan of red tulips, or red dahlias; the red flowers and the green foliage is a little too much excitement for me. But the excitement generated by rouge red, in a garden gone grey, brown and black ,warms me up.  

Lobsinger (1)Dark red eucalyptus and red twig paired with the blue needled noble fir is a dramatic color combination. Very dark colors are best in small spaces viewed up close, or places backed up by a lighter color.   The lighter orange/brown brick of this entrance makes that dark red read loud and clear. The big round leaves of the eucalyptus are a great foil to any needled evergreen branches.

Nodel Holiday 2005 (6)Bright red is all the more electric paired with a light green element. As no plant in the landscape has this form or color right now, I have no problem adding in artificial stems. Sometimes people ask how I could stand anything in a pot that wasn’t natural or real; it’s easy.  Gardens make people feel good; if an artificial stem helps make an arrangement a little better and the winter a little more tolerable, I am all for it. This contemporary arrangement is all the more contemporary given the obviously faux detail.

Packer (5)I am a fan of many shrubs and trees that sport berries in the fall and winter. However, they have a short lifespan, cut and in a container. The berries of Ilex Verticillata, or what we call Michigan holly, are spectacular but fragile.  The berries in these urns will look great all winter, and can be removed the beginning of March.  The boxwood might need a little floral dye sprayed on it by then, but I like keeping the pots intact until April sometime. 

Taubman_0006This wired and windswept winter display was entirely inspired by the floral arrangements of Jeff Leatham.  His floral arrangements for the Four Seasons Hotel Paris, the George V often feature flowers set in vases at startling angles. This out of vertical placement attracts attention instantly.  Each one of these dogwood stems were wired individually so the form would be kept intact whatever the weather.

DSC_0014Cardinal redtwig is a relatively new cultivar that shines.  It stands out so beautifully in front of the drab woodland background. We are sure to elevate the pot off the terrace surface, so water does not collect and freeze around the base. 

2008 Mondry WINTER 11-18-08 (4)I have good success using fresh silver dollar eucalyptus outdoors. As it dries, the color does become more subtly taupe-blue, but the big leaves are an invaluable texture.  The littleleaf euc tends to dry much faster and not to good end; I am not sure why.  Eucalyptus pods dry blue, and hold their color well. 

DSC_0022This pair of pots welcomes anyone who comes to visit.  They make a very strong reference to my client’s love for their garden, from a long ways away.

2007 Barrett Holiday (23)Likewise, this redtwig massed in copper pots, framing the view to a beautiful beech.  Placed at least 75 feet from the road, they make a clear statement to passers by. 

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It is good to have something in place and ready for this day.  This is exactly how I like my snow and ice.