The 2015 Winter/Holiday Preview Party, Part 2

IMG_6420When I wrote yesterday about how Detroit Garden Works only hosts one evening event a year, I had no idea of what was to come.  I had gone home after a long day of tuning up the shop to collect myself, and get dressed for our holiday open house.  It was no problem that I would be a little late.  I have a group I trust and respect who would make sure those opening moments would be perfect. The high winds and rain that were forecast appeared to be skirting us.  But at 5pm I got a call from David that the power had gone out. I was calm.  Maybe I was tired from the weeks long job of transforming the look of our shop. But  mostly I knew my group would figure out how to sort out trouble. We were the only building affected by the outage, so we hoped if we could alert DTE, they would give us a hand. By 5:20,  3 DTE trucks were on the scene.

holiday open house 2015 a (6)The shop is across the street from a DTE (as in Detroit Edison power company) substation.  As Rob was flagging down trucks coming in for the night on our street, and Monica was placing phone calls, our internet and phone sales manager Heather walked across the road, stood at the substation gate, and  pitched our problem to the first person who came to the gate..  We are a business with an evening event scheduled-could they get our power back on?

holiday open house 2015 a (8)Scott and David took to lighting candles. Sonny took the big lead in the dark that descended.  She was teaching guests that did not already know how to use their phones as a flashlight.  By time I got to the shop, there were phone flashlights flickering everywhere. There was shopping going on in the dark. I cannot explain or illustrate how that moment felt. Everyone making their way around in the dark by flashlight was hilarious. No one went home. No one complained. That opening half hour in the dark was a lot more nerve wracking for us than for any of our guests.

holiday open house 2015 a (2)A great friend who had come to our open house from Ann Arbor had much to say about that 30 minutes in the dark. He was convinced that we have gardening friends that value us as much as we value them. I barely had time to think about that before the lights came on. Once we had power, I could see we had a whole house full of people.

holiday open house 2015 a (5)I so enjoy the sight of the shop full of people. All of us work all year round to make the shop a destination. A place like no other. A place for anyone keen for the garden to meet, and experience what we try to represent as a gardener’s life. Nothing feels better than to see people responding to that.     holiday open house 2015 a (7)A gardener life s a big one.  Gardeners plant trees.  They shrub up an awkward spot. They plant containers. They rake the leaves. They plant bulbs.  They compost the leavings. They put flowers on the table. They make room for the dogs and the kids. They travel to other gardens.  They are a great group.

holiday open house 2015 a (10)Our thanks to everyone who made last Thursday evening such a pleasure for all of us.

holiday open house 2015 a (4)Our holiday/winter event runs through Sunday. Stop by if you have a chance.

The 2015 Holiday/Winter Preview Party

holiday open houseI have long been of the mind that the gardening season can thrive during the late fall and can not only endure, but robustly represent a gardener’s point of view throughout the winter months. The stakes are high.  The winters in my zone can be fierce. The skies are an unvarying shade of gray for months on end. We pile on the winter gear, and slog through the snow to work. Our winters are cold and dark. Winter gardening asks for a different idea, different tools, and an active imagination.  I may light a dormant shade garden with twinkle lights strewn on the ground, given that the chartreuse hostas have gone dormant.  The mixed fir evergreen garland wired up with pine cones and other natural materials that will go over my front door for the holiday season will please the gardener in me.  I most assuredly will stuff my containers with cut greens, fresh cut twigs, and anything else I might fancy, with the idea that they will recall the warmth and comfort of the garden over the winter.

holiday preview (18)Gardeners are working people.  Once the last of the spring flowering bulbs are planted, those hands are hard to keep still. I am not ready to cozy up to a stack of books. It was many years ago that Rob and I decided to make something more of the coming of the cold than resignation. We transform the shop into a destination for materials to enrich the holiday and winter season.  Most of the shopping was done this past January.  When our purchases begin to arrive in July, it is easy to spot why we liked them.  Invariably, there is a reference to nature and natural materials.

holiday preview (12)There are lots of bird ornaments. They may be feathered or felted, but no matter the material, they appeal to gardeners.

holiday preview (17)Every year we feature one sort of holiday tree or another.  This year, Rob has sourced tall and thin trees in a variety of species that share a certain look in common.  These trees have been deliberately pruned and grown to produce an old fashioned shape.  These sparse, short needled trees are grown Victorian style, meaning those big open spaces are friendly to hanging ornaments, birds on clips, and garland.

holiday preview (20)We will have plants. We have a great selection of amaryllis, available as bulbs, potted up, or growing in water in glass cylinders. There will be pots of berried wintergreen, and white variegated club moss.  And of course, some hellebores. But the majority of what we have available are garden ornaments that evoke the materials and spirit of the garden.

holiday preview (5)The grapevine deer sculptures are life size, and beautifully made. The frames are steel. The vines will last for many years, given a yearly application of sealer. These are the kind of deer one could welcome to a garden-especially a winter garden.

holiday preview (10)We will open our winter/ holiday season tonight from 5 to 9.  This party is in large part a thank you to the community of gardeners that frequent our doors. We always have new people, for whom this night is an introduction to our place. We will have something good to eat and drink, live music, and lively conversation. We invite everyone to preview our winter collection.

holiday preview (1)Dutch jingle bells in varying shades of blue and gray

holiday preview (11)reproductions of vintage holiday figures

holiday preview (2)fresh cut twigs are a winter staple for containers.  Also slated to arrive today, a truckload of cut greens from a wide range of evergreen species.

holiday preview (13)felted animal ornaments

holiday preview (4)weatherproof contemporary stars

holiday preview (8)wood deer with burlap coats

holiday preview (3)And finally, Rob’s lighting collection. We have some very exciting new options available this year. For those of you who are too far away to attend, I will post pictures of how the shop looks at night. Great lighting can transform a winter landscape.  You’ll see.


The Holiday Dinner, 2014

M and M holiday 2014 (1)For the past several years, I have posted pictures from a holiday dinner hosted every year by 2 very good friends. They both have careers in the arts and are keenly interested in design.  They have a collection of ornaments amassed over a period of many years.  They have strong ties to French art and design.  All of this shows, whether the subject at hand is their collection of boxwood in pots, their perennial gardens, or their French style potager. Their holiday is ordinarily a very subtle and understated affair.  This year’s table is a significant departure.

M and M holiday 2014 (2)This holiday featured an unexpected turn of events. The French blue flocked tree around which they had planned their holiday was not available.  By the time they ordered their tree, the color was sold out. With equal parts pique and nerve, they ordered a flocked tree in turquoise.  M sent me a picture of the tree-I could not imagine what they would do with it.  The color was very strong. Intensely turquoise. As they felt it was either a turquoise flocked tree, or a tree with no flock, they jumped in.

M and M holiday 2014 (3)Once the initial shock of the color had worn off, I could see them both accepting, and later enjoying the challenge. They kept me updated, as the decorating process unfolded. My part in all of this?  Being available to tell them I was sure what they did would be great. The design process always has those moments.  A tree that dies, and leaves an attending shade garden exposed to full sun is a design challenge, as it is based on a circumstance that cannot be altered.  The one boxwood or lavender that dies out mid-hedge, or an exceptionally cold winter that kills the roses back to the ground can present significant design challenges.  Every gardener experiences moments like this.

M and M holiday 2014 (4)But the glory of their holiday is in what companion colors and materials they chose to make that turquoise look beautiful and deliberate.  They harvested lots of weed seed heads, and hydrangeas from their garden.  Those cream colored stems are intertwined, and float over that startling blue.

M and M holiday 2014 (5)They used lots of red, as in pomegranate, and red amaryllis. I am not sure why red and turquoise is such a striking color combination, but here it is-with gold and cream as an intermediary. Big splashes of gold, and some silver added to the festivities. It was clear this design process was not drawn on paper, or completely imagined in advance.  It was a process for which they both had patience. Do enjoy their pictures.

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M and M holiday 2014 (12)red for the holiday

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M and M holiday 2014 (14)the holiday table

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M and M holiday 2014 (16)Sophia

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M and M holiday 2014 (23)I thought their holiday was incredibly beautiful. Their willingness to take on an unexpected circumstance with energy and verve is equally as stunning. Taking chances with design-how I admire this.

The Engineering

engineering the flowers (14)Don’t ask me for the particulars, but I do recall seeing a spot on television recently featuring lots of young people studying engineering.  Engineering?  It never seemed to me that a career in engineering was anything but sleepy-just one short step up from accounting.  But these young people had solving the problems of the world on their mind. Their projects were as diverse as they were complicated.  An artificial limb powered by nerve impulses, salt water desalinated for drinking. Housing simple enough to put up in just a few hours. I was impressed-enough to rethink my casual disdain.  In fact, every project requires some engineering.  A landscape design may require a grading plan, a drainage plan, a footing or a wall.  It may require sleeves under a driveway, or lighting.  It may require a flat plane of ground, or a slope that descends on a certain angle.  Projects with the most modest of goals have than engineering phase.  Cut flowers for an event of a certain scale and feel proved to need some careful engineering.

engineering the flowers (15)Any cut flower arrangement 6 feet tall and as wide asks for some engineering in advance-yes. Add to this call the fact that the flowers in question were calla lilies.  Arranging callas in a small vase is a challenge.  Consider their requirements.  Their thick fleshy stems resent water that is too deep.  They are not a good choice for a long term arrangement.  The juicy stems split, give way and go down long before the flowers.  Heavy, long stemmed flowers have a mind of their own.  What was my idea to arrange armloads of callas in the top of a glass vase sitting 48 inches off the floor?  The opening of the vase was big – 18″ in diameter.

engineering the flowers (19)I have Sunne to thank for this engineering idea.  The long time manager and special events coordinator for Mary’s Enchanted Garden in downtown Detroit, she brought years of experience in the floral industry with her when she came our way.  A clear plastic saucer of just the right diameter was placed into the vase full of water, and wedged level and tight.  This sounds simple, but it took a number of tries before Rob got it right.  The calla lilies would have the shallow water they prefer.

engineering the flowers (21)What came next was more about construction than arranging.  Each stem was placed with the idea of creating a structure that would be stable and self supporting.  After all, this event was not to take place in my office.  This would need to be transported, and transported without a hitch.  Callas have a naturally curving stem.  The early stems were placed with the natural curve down, so the faces of the callas were turned up.  Calla stems can be straightened with repeated pulling all along the length of the stem, but that takes a very skilled pair of hands that exerts just the right amount of pressure.

engineering the flowers (16)Other arrangements included white phalaenopsis,  green cymbidiums and white dendrobiums.  All of these flowers are orchids.  The flowers of the white moth orchids are exceptionally delicate, and come packed in white shredded tissue. Each curving stem may have 6 or 8 flowers. These stems were supported by a series of birch twigs, placed inside and outside the vases.

engineering the flowers (1)The twigs provided structure and support to the orchid stems.  Their dark vertical shapes are in stark contrast to the curves of the flowers.  Bark covered twine and moss completed the look. Next up, engineering the transport.

engineering the flowers (3)A platform dolly is a huge amount of help, but in the end, there is no substitute for the human hand.  We had stuffed the box that held the calla vase with bubble wrap, but there would be a lot more to do before this arrangement would be road ready.  The weight of the water in the vase was considerable, but the weight of the callas made the entire affair extremely top heavy.  There were a lot of skilled hands on deck for this part.

engineering the flowers (5)As I expected, water sloshed out of the top of the vase getting it from my office to the lift gate of the truck, but it wasn’t much. Much to my relief, the callas looked serenely indifferent to all of the bumps getting through the shop to the truck. Phase 2 of the engineering was about to get started.

engineering the flowers (10)The time it took to remove the box from the vase, screw 2 by 4’s over the blanket-wrapped foot of the vase, wrap the upper portion of the vase in bubble wrap, and secure the arrangement to the walls of the truck with straps was a considerable amount of time.

engineering the flowers (11)The juncture of the vase to the foot was very small, and vulnerable.  Great care was taken to protect it. Fine textured bubble wrap insulated the flowers from the straps.  All the engineering here was geared towards making sure the arrangement would not move in the truck.

engineering the flowers (13)The big vase  was finally ready to transport. I was sure the vase would ride up and down in tandem with the truck.  That said, I was glad it would not be me driving.

engineering the flowers (8)All of the smaller arrangements would ride on a two tiered padded cart. Just before loading, every empty crevice was stuffed with bubble wrap.  The cart would be strapped to the wall of the truck. It should be clear that the engineering involved in this project was the most important element.

engineering the flowers (9)I am happy to report that all the flowers got to their destination safely.

engineering the flowers (18)The time and thought that goes into the engineering of any project is time well spent.