It’s December in the garden. Time to hang it up.
It’s December in the garden. Time to hang it up.
Constructing 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.
It 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.
Any 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.
I 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.
What 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.
I 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.
My 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.
A 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.
It 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.
Every gardener’s circumstances are different, but our December is notable for the coming of the cold. No matter what year it is, my plan for the holiday and winter garden at the shop has to include an element that is warm. The lighting is warm. Sparkly or reflective materials can be warm. The sentiment of the season can be warm. Rob says the shop garden this year is cozy. As in yard after yard of thick fir garland. Concolor fir, noble, silver, Douglas, balsam-fir is a very sturdy and long lasting green outdoors. The garland was loosely wrapped with grapevine garland. The contrast of the bare vines and the lush garland The window boxes have fir blankets. The windows have fir hats. It was 14 degrees this morning when I took this picture, but the garden looks warm.
The window boxes are stuffed with mixed greens. As the mixed greens are long and lax, we do a few rows of noble fir at the bottom of the greens to support the entire arrangement. Noble fir is very stiff and strong. Winter weather can be fierce. Snow, wind, ice and various mayhem from the sky can take a toll on a container garden one would want to last until March. Making an arrangement sturdy and strong is more than half of the work of it.
The centerpieces are composed of red bud pussy willow, ochre eucalyptus, a few springs of metallic gold eucalyptus, and a ruff of gold sinamay. For good measure, a dollop of sugar pine cones completes the look. Given that the building is large, and the garden is mostly viewed from the street, or from a car, the materials are over scaled. A smaller pine cone would not have much impact given the scale of the building.
Over the summer, these Belgian blue stone plinths supported Italian terra cotta pots with boxwood spheres. Winter arrangements in my zone ask for pots that are frost proof. Though boxwood is generally hardy in pots, I would be uneasy about an extended period of low temperatures. We have had an uncharacteristically cold late fall-12 degrees overnight is much more like late January than early December. This garden would have a very bleak look, but for its winter dress.
Winter gardens are for viewing from a distance. It is unlikely anyone will be lingering here for long. Big, warm, and simple gestures go a long way towards banishing the winter blues. A design which gives the illusion of warmth is appreciated when the weather is so dreary. Decorating the garden has its benefits. It feels good to have something to do that at least approximates gardening. And it is nice to have something good to look at while the garden is dormant. This garden is just about ready for the snow.
The fir hats over the windows are composed of garlands that are attached to bamboo poles. Garden has a natural tendency to fall, swoop and swag. If you want a straight and orderly appearance, a bamboo pole will keep all of the clippings in line. The poles are then wired to the pediment. I like this construction technique for mantels too.
My favorite part of this winter garden are the garlands and grapevines on the tree trunks. Deciduous trees have a very spare and sculptural look during the winter. These over sized scarves that puddle on the ground make the trees look protected and warm.
There are those places yet to finish. These urns need something. The pots need some lighting. A favorite part of this winter project is the ability to work on it as time and inspiration permits. Last January I had the basic idea for the garden. I ordered boxes of grapevine garland, for the building, and the trees, and for Rob’s steel hanging spheres. Taking the time to let a garden space speak back is my idea of luxury, and part of the great pleasure of the doing. I may still be tinkering with this 2 weeks from now. There’s no rush. Winter will be with us for a long time.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.