All Mixed Up

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Gardeners routinely mix plants and design elements up in the landscape.  They favor this soil mix over that one.  They mix all kinds of fertilizer from manure tea to fish emulsion.  Hybrid plants suggest a mix of that gene pool with another.  A mixer suggests a party attended by people from very different points of view.  This guarantees that a mixer will be lively and entertaining.  Mixed reviews on a film suggests there are ups and downs-will you take a chance, and go watch it for yourself?  A mix can suggest a special brew, an individual take on a theme.  A mix of perennials in a garden can help keep that garden interesting throughout the season.

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A mix of evergreen trees on the lot line is less formal, more natural, than a mass planting of a single species.  A mix of bird seed will attract more than one species of bird to your feeder.  The process of mixing up a scheme is a creative process.  Mixing colors results in a visual display that has depth.  Mixing a plant with big texture with another plant of a smaller texture can be striking. Adding another or an unexpected element to the mix-glorious.

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Oil and water do not mix without enormous effort.  A color mix from opposing sides of the color wheel can catch the eye.  Side by side color mixes are harmonious.  Certain mixes are bound to produce conflict.  Thus the art of a seating arrangement at a dinner party or wedding.  It is astonishing to think that every color imaginable comes from a mix of the three primary colors.  Primary colors mixed together may make for mud.  Colors mixed together in other proportions can produce colors of astonishing beauty.

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Mix a violin with a voice-revel in the result.  Mix a black eyed Susan with a liatris-glaring this.   Mix a Sum and Substance hosta with Russian sage-this is horticultural discord for all to see.  Creating a successful mix of anything is an art.   By this I mean that no college offers courses in how to mix one material with another.  Were I to follow a recipe for a cake to the letter, it still might look and taste bad.

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For certain clients, we elect to fill their pots with mixed greens.  The airy and contrasting textures seem appropriate, for whatever reason.  A mix of evergreen boughs can produce lots of volume  But just like imagining a mix of greens in the landscape, mixing greens in a winter container takes great skill.  The mix involves cuttings from evergreen shrubs  that have very different growth habits.  How to make those cuttings work together to form a strong and cohesive statement-beyond me.  My landscape crews have a hand.  What do I mean by this?  They have so many years behind them-planting.  They have a feel for the natural shape of a bough, and they know how to work with it.  Even more amazing is their ability to make evergreens of all types work together in a container arrangement.

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No natural evergreen in the landscape has a mix of different types of branches, unless it is a grafted form from the Jean Iseli Nursery.  Each evergreen has an identity all its own.  Mixing the cut branches to harmonious effect, and a beautiful overall shape, is not so easy.

mixed-greens.jpgMost cut evergreens have a signature swoop.  White pine and incense have very flexible stems.  This means they can be flattened by a snow storm.  We either support the weak stemmed evergreens with a neighbor that has a stiff and stout habit, or we stick the branch so they curve up.  Gravity will have its say soon enough.  Fresh branches have plenty of spring, but as they dry, they will droop. If you are a fan of weeping branches, then perhaps this is the route to take.

window-box-for-winter.jpgIf your idea of celebratory is more along the lines of upswept, then stick arrange your branches so they all appear to curve up towards the sky.  Before I hang a mixed evergreen garland, I cut in in half, and rotate one side, and reattach it.  I hang the garland so the branches face up.  As the branches succumb to gravity, the garland looks full. Garlands hung with the branches down look skimpy .  Garlands hung with the branches facing up on one side, and facing down on the other will always look lopsided.

cut-evergreen-branches.jpgSticking greens both up and down can be a lively choice.  These pots are in a very protected location, meaning they will be shielded from bad winter weather. It takes a good eye and a better hand to spot how much liveliness is just enough, and not visually confusing and chaotic.  But do not be discouraged in any way.  It takes lots of practice to get good at anything.  I have no idea how many winter and holiday arrangements we have done in the past 20 years, but a lot is a reasonable number.

mixed-greens.jpg There’s plenty of satisfaction to be had from learning how to do.

 

At A Glance: Late Fall

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maples shedding

mid-November.jpgbleached maples leaves

maple-fall-color.jpgmaple leaves

Japanese-maple-in-the-fall.jpgJapanese maple in late November

gingko-and-hydrangea-in-the-fall.jpgGingko and hydrangea

parrotia.jpgparrotias

pear-tree-in-fall.jpgpear tree

pear-espalier.jpgpear espalier

Venus-dogwood-fall-color.jpgVenus dogwood

oak-tree.jpgold oak

snow-today.jpgsnow today

Stick Week

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The lion’s share of what we offer gardeners for winter and holiday pots and decor are fresh cut natural materials.  The fall harvest includes any natural material which is a celebration of the garden, and a feast for admiring eyes.  Just today we took delivery of this load of fresh cut birch poles in three sizes.  A tree farmer far north of us waded into thigh high water to cut these birch poles for us-they have had a lot of rain this season. I greatly appreciate his effort. How thrilled I am with this picture.  Big numbers of hefty birch branches are stable and striking, represented in four hefty steel boxes from our company Branch.  This is a picture which tells our tale.  Want to be comfortable with nature?  Be exposed, learn-and understand.  Looking for beauty that goes beyond any human construct-study nature.

cut-branches.jpgThe arrival of the fresh cut twigs is a sure sign of the winter season.  We deal with a number of twig farmers.  There are those who grow oranges, tomatoes and avocados, but we do business with farmers that grow twigs.  The art of growing twiggy shrubs with the idea of harvesting the current year’s growth at the end of the season is a practice known as coppicing.  Coppice wood has a long and varied history, in both gardening and agriculture.  Twiggy and woody stems have been harvested for fencing for livestock and vegetable gardens.  Branched twigs provided the first plant stakes for lax growing perennials.  Woven twigs make great vine supports.

fresh-cut-branches.jpgThe nursery industry world wide is responsible for the breeding of shrub cultivars whose twigs have great and enduring color.  Spring Meadow Nursery, in our country, is both proactive and successful in breeding shrubs of note in stem, leaf, and flower.   In the late fall, I am happy to be able to offer fresh cut twigs that are enchanting in color and form.  Stick week-a favorite week of my gardening year.

curly-copper-willow.jpgCurly copper willow might be my personal favorite.  The glossy stems are cinnamon brown.  Just a bunch or two can endow a winter display with a volume, texture, and motion that delights the eye.  The striking color will persist in completely exposed locations throughout the toughest winter.

grapevine-deer.jpgLet’s talk about grapes.  A few vines some 15 years old cover the steel pergola at the shop.  The sinewy vines have been trained to wind round the poles of that pergola.  Grapes need a very strong structure on which to grow.  The leaves cover the pergola roof during the heat of the summer.  The clusters of grapes-beautiful in the early fall.  Those vines, once harvested, are the basis for these deer sculptures.  Our supplier owns a vineyard.  She makes sculptures from the trimmings of the grape vines by forming them over handmade steel armatures.

grapevine.jpgThe cuttings of the vines can provide a material focal point for a winter gesture.  Detroit Garden Works is stocking for this winter season rolls of muscadine grape vine-twigs in the round. These long rolls of twigs in a curled form is the focus of this year’s winter decor.  We interfere with the natural curves of these rolled vines as little as possible.  They have a life all their own, which we mean to feature.  The most beautiful celebrations of the winter season are about letting the natural materials shine.

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When we dressed our linden trees with the grape vines, we following the vine lead.  Once the vines were round the linden tree trunks, we added rusted steel lead garlands.  This look to me is a good partnership.

red-bud-pussy-willow.jpgThe red bud pussy willow in the fall is strikingly beautiful.  I use it over and over again in winter and holiday containers.  More often than not, these cut twigs survive the winter, bloom, and leaf out.  Miraculous, this level of giving.

fresh-cut-twigs.jpgIt is stick week.  What sticks and twigs do you have in your garden that might provide a foundation for your winter garden expression? Looking to winter, those woody plants which have grown and matured might enlighten your winter garden.

At A Glance: Landscape Materials

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A multi-story building downtown at 1001 Woodward had an entry plaza that I would call chilly and uninviting.  Bedrock Realty, the new owner, has an idea to warm things up.  Kelly Deines of Rossetti Architects asked if I could put together a landscape that would include 2 pair of our espaliered arbors.  We were happy to oblige.  The livestock tanks-courtesy of our local farm store.  The steel arbors-courtesy of Buck and his group at Branch.

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Espaliered pear arbor

espaliered-pear-arbor.jpgOwen was one of a crew of 7 that helped plant those trees.

artificial-turf.jpgArtificial turf

arbors-and-stock-tanks.jpgSteel forms for the espaliers

planting.jpgcosmos and pennisetum under planting the espaliers

1001 Woodward 2013 (43)finished planting

planted.jpgartificial turf bands on the stock tanks

turf-band.jpgartificial turf secured with hot pink zip ties

trimming-the-turf.jpgtrimming the turf square and true

furniture.jpgurethane furniture specified and installed by Rossetti Architects

downtown.jpgpeople in the space

landscape-materials.jpgThe linden trees in a granite planter box were underplanted with creeping jenny.  Espaliered trees, artificial turf, pink zip ties, galvanized metal livestock watering tanks, cosmos, little bunny pennisetum, molded urethane French style arm chairs and creeping jenny and a plaza typical of a vintage urban skyscraper-landscape materials that came together to create a place for people to congregate outdoors.