Merry Christmas, Luca Della Robbia style

delle-robbia-wreath.jpgAn Italian sculptor named Luca Della Robbia produced many charming works in glazed terra cotta from 1400-1475.  Many of his plaques featured frames depicting fruits and vegetables.  This style of decoration still persists centuries later, in a style of Christmas decorating known in this country as the Williamsburg style.  Someday I would like to go there at the holidays, and see all of the wreaths and architectural elements decorated with the fruits of the harvest and holiday season.  Though the Willamsburg decor is traditionally done with real fruits and vegetables, my interpretation of the style makes use of faux fruit.  The fruit in the above wreath is produced from a weighted core, and a rubbery, almost waxy outer layer.  The color and texture is incredibly realistic.  This magnolia della robbia wreath, with proper care thast protects the dry magnolia leaves, will last many years.

holiday lighting.jpgWhy am I thinking about the della robbia style?  Rob made me 2 sets of Christmas lights-one for my tree and one for my mantel.  The red, yellow and green lights have a remarkably jewel like glow.  They so remind me of the Christmas trees I remember from my childhood.  Those big glowing lights on on our Christmas tree were enchanting.  Seeing anything through a child’s eyes is a way of seeing like no other.  How would I decorate my tree to make the most of these extraordinary lights?  It seemed a natural choice to pair this color and texture with a mantel and tree decorated with ornament of a similar feeling.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy holiday tree does not have ornament with an intrinsic history.  No objects which provoke memories, in and of themselves.    I actually like it that way.  I like having the option to decide on a scheme or a theme that is quite different than the previous year. The challenge of creating a display that reflects the immediate sentiments, importance, and aura of the season is an activity I enjoy.  When the seasonal work for clients comes to a close, it is time to go home, and create a little holiday spirit of my own.

trimming-the-tree.jpgThe della robbia tree had a modest beginning.  A Christmas tree, an evergreen garland, plastic ornament balls in lime green, and lots of faux fruit.  Having been laid low by the worst cold in a decade, Steve saw to getting the tree and mantel garland up, and the ornaments on the tree.  Angie stuck the large fruits with floral picks; it is vastly easier to secure a stick than a heavy round slippery fruit. The rest would be up to me.  For the better part of a day, I worried I might not have the strength to decorate our tree.  Funny how once a project captures your interest, troubles fall away.   Early on it became apparent that the big fruits could not go on the tree.  They were much too heavy.  The big fruits would have to go on the mantel.

Christmas-tree.jpgThe mantel garland was secured around a thick bamboo pole, and secured to the weighty metal mantel lights with zip ties.  I managed to find spots in the evergreen garland that would grip the picks.  As for the tree, I had to change gears. A trip to English Gardens yielded 10 boxes of dark red glass ornament balls.  Miniature limes and green apples could easily be fastened to the tree-after Buck wired bag after bag of them for me.  40 red berry picks, when taken apart, yielded 480 individual berries.  Other bits included 6 boxes of shiny lime green mini berry clusters.

Christmas-tree.jpgI like a Christmas tree that still looks like a tree, even after it is decorated.  This involved wiring on many small bits.  Big bits can engulf a Christmas tree.  I favor lots and lots of just a few types of little things.

decorated-tree.jpgI attached the red berry balls to the tips of as many branches as I could.  At the time of this writing, I still have about fifty to go.

holiday-mantel.jpgThe tree and mantel only have 30 lights, but the bulbs are big, and make an impression.  How this feels to me is nostalgic and warm-just how I like to celebrate the season.

holioday-tree.jpgI owe the look to the inspiration provided by Rob’s lights.  May your holiday be just as warm and bright as mine has turned out to be.

In The Pink

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The dark days are here.  The needled foliage of the yews are not spring or summer green.  They are black green.  The colder the weather, the darker the color.  By contrast with the snow, the boxwood foliage is dark too.  I don’t mind it, really.  Not now.  But as the winter drags on and on, that brown, black green, black, gray and white can get to be tiresome.  Not that I envy gardeners in California.  I wouldn’t trade how one season gives way to the next for a warm and sunny winter.  Having grown up in the midwest, a warm and sunny winter would just seem wrong.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgBut I won’t have to worry about coping with a limited and severe color palette.  My winter garden in front of my house will be in the pink-dreary winter month after dreary winter month.  Does the pink in this pot seem implausible?  Not to my eye.  The curly copper willow looks great with the brick.  The gold sinamay has enough orange and enough mass to look like a party. The pink eucalyptus has a lavender cast, set against the cinnamon brown willow.  Pink is by no means a traditional holiday color, but why not?   How a color reads has everything to do with its relationship to neighboring colors.  Color also reads so differently in daylight, or night light. Suffice it to say, we will have an abundance of gray days the next few months.  I like the idea of unexpected winter color.

holiday-garland.jpgThe holiday garland features pink bits.  Funny how what seemed in the studio to be overwhelmingly pink looks so much more reserved outdoors.

evergreen-garland.jpgIt is hard to make out the individual elements from the street.  There is the dark green of the evergreen boughs, punctuated by a color and forms that attract the eye.  Pink may be out of season in the garden, but it is in season in my holiday garden.  Of course anyone who comes to the door gets a clearer view.  That is the point, of course.  My landscape has a street presentation-neat, simple and well kept-and not especially given to the personal details. Those details are reserved for people I know and expect.  For a guest that arrives at the front door, there is an element of surprise.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgI would call this a juicy look.  In contrast to the austere look of the overall winter landscape. I favor juicy, no matter the season.  As in hellebores in really early spring, tulips in the late spring, and roses in June, and the hibiscus in late summer. I like flowers in the landscape.  Clematis in bloom is quite unlike the color of any other green plant.  As much as I like boxwood, yews, hosta, lady’s mantle and Princeton Gold maples, I like colors other than green-no matter the season.

winter-pot.jpgWhite in the winter is a regular feature.  Snow is snow.  In this picture, the orange and pink looks companionable to the remains of my hydrangeas.  The color scheme fits right in.  The snow makes its own demands visually.  Everything snow touches turns their color close to black.  Snow that falls on temperature darkened ever greens is all about the contrast between black and white.

tree-in-the-side-yard.jpgMy pot in the side garden has a cut Christmas tree in it, strung with 7 strands of mini lights. At night, the glow is visible from the street, and from the south side of my house.  I find that warm light comforting.  Appropriate to the season.  The lights add another color to the winter landscape-a warm color.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgLest you think there is no pink in the Michigan landscape in the third week of December, I invite you to give a look at my Parrotia.  It is the very last tree in my yard to change color.  The leaves are a brilliant yellow in late fall.  This tree has yet to give up its leaves.  They might stay stuck the entire winter.  The dry leaves are pink – granted a muddy subtle brownish pink.  But pink,  nonetheless.

 

At A Glance: More Holiday Garlands

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It’s December in the garden.  Time to hang it up.

 

The Holiday Garland

floral-picks.jpgConstructing evergreen garlands is not a job I would tackle.  I buy them already made from Dan Prielipp at my local farmer’s market.  He makes them up thick for me from a number of species of fir boughs. A 50 foot length is incredibly heavy.  So much wood in those boughs, and so much water.  I can put evergreen boughs together to decorate a mantel, but garland construction I leave to the professionals.  I am, however, able to decorate a garland. To tell the truth, that decoration is my favorite part.  I take the additions of decor to a garland seriously.  My crew will be hanging a very heavy and very long object from a home or commercial building. Anything I add to that should be strong and firmly attached.  The wired floral picks pictured above are an essential element of the construction.  My additions to the garland will require wood of its own.

garland-materials.jpgIt took most of today to decorate the garland I will hang at home.  I designed from the materials that were still available.  Detroit Garden Works has sold thousands of fresh cut branches, several hundred cases of fresh cut evergreens – and closing in on a thousand bunches of preserved eucalyptus.  As much as I love the eucalyptus, I had only 2 color choices left.  Pink, or black.  The winter season is black enough for this gardener.  Black at my front door-not a chance.  Too gloomy.  Pink it was.  Designing a garland for the holidays with pink-I rather liked the challenge.

decorating-the-garland.jpgAny element I add to a holiday garland gets put together ahead of time.  Under no circumstances would I set up a ladder next to a garland that has already been hung, and proceed to work.  First of all, it was 17 degrees today.  Secondly, any construction project asks for a work surface at elbow height, a full compliment of materials, and a better than full compliment of tools.  This garland will be decorated with magnolia stems, pine cones, and pink eucalyptus.  I put a bouquet together with a zip tie.  Once every element is arranged as it should be, I tighten the tie, and clip off the tail.

glued-and-wired.jpgI shorten all of the stems of the materials, insert a floral pick, wire the pick to the stems, and soak the entire affair with hot melt glue.  I want but one stem to go into the garland.  Many stems are not very cooperative with one another.  The garland is composed of boughs that are quite tightly wired together.  There are not so many spaces to insert other material.  One pick, to which all of the other elements are attached, goes into the garland.

garland-materials.jpgWhat next?  This is a design question that had much to do with color.  How would I make that pink flavored eucalyptus look like my first choice for a holiday garland? Luckily, fresh green looks good with just about any color. Nothing struck my eye, until I saw these small faux orange fruits.  I have no idea what fruit they intend to represent.  Mini persimmons?  Orange cherry tomatoes?  I wasn’t going to quibble about the thought behind these little fruits.  I needed to make that pink look good.

garland-decoration.jpgI made 18 of these small bouquets-all of them road and weather ready.  The orange and pink combination was starting to interest me. The pine cones seem so essential to any holiday garland.  There are so many different types and sizes.  We stock tropical as well as native cones; they all speak to the holidays and the winter season.  These magnolia branches are from a supplier that specializes in naturally grown, unpruned, and small leaved bunches. The large dark green leaf is a beautiful foil to the evergreen needles.  The brown felted obverse of the leaves is a gorgeous texture and color.

garland-decoration.jpgMy pink eucalyptus was beginning to look very festive.  I wasn’t all that worried.  Any materials can be put together in an interesting way. The holiday garland is an expression of warmth and celebration.  That expression can be realized in lots of ways.  In no end of color schemes.  No rules.  That simple moment when materials say hello to the imagination is pure pleasure.

assembling-the-garland.jpgA good many feet of this garland has been strapped to a stout bamboo pole. I like my garland straight.  Given that evergreen garland wants in the worst way to drape, I attach this particular garland to a pole.  A garland which is wired to a pole only needs a few points of attachment.  A pair or 3 screws, into the mortar joints. Holiday garland not only needs to be beautiful, it needs to be ready and friendly to hang.  My crew never complains about anything, ever.  They are unfailingly good natured.  This makes me determined to make an installation as smooth as I can.

garland-decoration.jpgIt took most of today to get this garland decorated, and ready to hang.  I glued and wired every bouquet to the horizontal part of the garland.  The garland that hangs down the sides of the front porch-who knows where the evergreen chips may fall.  A garland is guaranteed to twist until it comes to rest.  The additional decorations are glued and wired such that they could be easily attached to the sides after the garland is hung.

holiday-decor.jpgAs for my pots-pink eucalyptus, and curly copper willow.  I may add some coppery brown sinamay shot through with gold threads to the mix. My holiday at home is taking shape.