Holiday Red

Everyone reacts strongly to color-I am no exception.  I am not crazy about red in the landscape.  I design with red foliaged trees and shrubs on rare occasions.  Something or someone has to nudge me in this direction.   I am a card carrying advocate of green.  All kinds, shades, and manner of green.  In summer container gardens, red can be ruthlessly overbearing.  Too bright and cheery.  But I will try anything-won’t you?  The year I featured red in my containers was a good year, but not my favorite.  Red in the spring-that color after a long winter is so welcome.  Red tulips underplanted with lavender pansies-scrumptious.  Red at the holidays is a blessing.  The skies, the ground, the trees- most everything in the landscape goes drab. Trees with persistent red winter fruit, and red-stemmed shrubs are prized by northern gardeners, for good reason. I decorated this Christmas tree some years ago; I still love this celebration arranged around red.  My clients had just moved in.  Moving boxes were everywhere.  This red ornamented tree, and its red sinamay tree skirt stood out-a reminder that the color red celebrates every warm gesture people make at the holidays.  Instantly this newly restored house felt much more like home.  

I have a client that orders up a pair of holiday wreaths.  One for her front door, and one for the library.  I concentrate on whatever natural materials are available to me.  Pine cones, anise balls, red preserved eucalyptus, reindeer moss, platys seed pods, dry tallowberries, fresh magnolia leaves pack this mixed green wreath with a variety of colors and textures.    

The red berry picks energize all of the other elements.  No real red berries exist in my garden  like these, but I have no problem with these shiny faux red berry picks.  It’s the red that represents the spirit of the holidays.       

I decorated this house for the holidays 6 years ago. I have published a few of my pictures from this project before; I still like it.  The red light covers look like glass ornaments during the day.  They glow red at night. The lit vertical stems are intertwined with a few very long red berry stems.  That red reads from a distance both day and night.  In early evening, the landscape is muted and somber.  This red in the wood boxes is a visual version of happy holidays, friends and family-welcome to this home. 



Holiday red can take a lot of forms.  Red ribbon, berry stems, preserved eucalyptus,  pomagranites, apples, red twig dogwood, glass ornaments-in this case, a red felt tree skirt with a felt pointsettia petal border.        

Red can be very dressy. 

Red can also be simple and striking. The client who gets this wreath has a collection of nutcrackers that sit on her porch for the holidays.  The colors of those figures are bright, and accented with lots of white.  In this case, the white ornaments and white based velvet ribbon help pop that red all the more. 

The cardinal on this wreath is the last of the 256 of them we had in the shop.  Gardening people appreciate the birds; cardinal red is the name of one of the cultivars of red twig dogwood whose branches we stock at the holidays.       


This wreath made of giant wood curls, and its wood rose have been dyed the most intense shade of red.  Though red may be a very traditional holiday color, it never fails to catch my eye.  Should your holiday decorating plans seem a little anemic, try a little red.  


Ruching The Sinamay

Ruching the sinamay-what does this mean?  An explanation is to follow.  I am convinced that there are those select and gifted people who can make beautiful bows, swags, and riffs, graceful gestures with fabric and ribbon, and then there is the rest of us who are all thumbs.  As I know I belong to the all thumbs group, I am interested in materials that make me look good.  Sinamay-do you know this material?  I did not either, until a few years ago.  Sinamay is a fabric made from the acaba tree.  It produces a wiry thread that makes for great woven hats that filter the sun, and great ribbon that has lots of natural body.  Natural sinamay is usually bleached and left that natural cream color,  or dyed a color.      

The faux sinamay I use is made from very springy polyester fibers.  I may be making this up.  Faux sinamay may be plastic fibers, that are woven.  I buy this by the roll, for the holiday and winter season. Holiday sinamay is an open weave fabric, some 18 inches wide, sometimes shot through with gold fibers. This material  is impervious to any winter weather.  The best gesture available from the sinamay-volume.  Lots of volume without a lot of effort. Even after a drenching rain, or an entire winter season, this material is as poufy as it is day you put it up.      

This client has an iron arch over her staircase to the front door.  We wired that arch with 2 strings of garland lights.  Once the lights were up, Pam would attach green sinamay over top.  We cut lengths from the roll that were 4 times longer than the length of each section of iron.  Pam attached the sinamay at each end, and then bunched the fabric and zip tied from the center to each end.   This is a laborious explanation of what is simply called ruching.  Ruching fabric is a method of evenly gathering a length of fabric to create ruffles.   

These stone pillars are robust and hefty.  The sinamay will provide a lot of volume to the arch, which is much more delicate in scale.  This will help to bring the arch into a scale better suited to the size of the pillars.  I could not sew a ruffle on a garment if my life depended on it, but I can bunch and zip tie.  We order the narrowest zip ties available, in a medium or long length.  This size passed through the open weave of the sinamay easily.  On a very cold day, even nimble fingers slow down and miss.  How this fabric presents reveals nary a miss.  Curly, energetic and sparkly-what could be better for the holidays?     


Ease of installation is really important for outdoor projects.  It was barely above freezing the day we installed this project.  The greens and willow stems in the pot were constucted in the garage.  It isn’t exactly a warm space, but it is warm enough to work without gloves.  After setting both the top and bottom in the pot securely, all that was left to do was to hide the light cords.



Holiday lighting comes with the most glaringly artificial green wires. It is not an issue at night, but during the day, I cannot stand looking at those wires.  Garland light strands are short-17 feet.  There is less in the way of cords to hide.  We tuck those wires back into the greens, and pull the light bulbs forward.  All you see here during the day are the greens.  The sinamay is both springy and soft in appearance.  At night, the lights will reflect off the gold threads.  This adds a little night time sparkle. This box has a holiday tutu-I like the entire idea that a solid and seriously square zinc box has a holiday outfit. 


 It was quite a few years ago that I designed and installed the landscape here.  The full drivecourt is actually 60 by 60 feet.  A holiday display in a space this large needs to have a lot of volume.  The willow tied over the topiary forms makes a substantial statement in the zinc boxes.  The sinamay is cloudlike, frothy. In the dark that is the winter, the iron arch would be all but invisible.  The sinamay makes a feature of it. 


 Ruching sinamay is very simple.  I fold the sinamay in half width wise, so my ruffles are about 9″ long.  They I pierce the fabric in and out-as in a running stitch- with 22 gauge paddle wire.  Paddle comes wound on a flat spool, and is very strong.  Though I may use florist’s wire that comes cut to length for attaching materials to a wreath, some projects call for a long run of wire.  Think of the paddle wire as a beefy thread.

The wire runs right along the fold in the fabric. For these pots, I probably used 10′ of the sinamay, and bunched it up on 2′ of wire.  If your in and out stitches are fairly uniform, your ruching will be uniform.  I do not measure the stitch length-I just do the best I can, by eye.   

These pots have a centerpiece of gold twigs.  The wire is would around the base of the twigs, pulled very tight, and twisted enough times to make sure the ruffle will not come loose.  Then we move around and arrange the ruffles so they look graceful.  It is very obligingly ruffly, even if your skills with fabric are not the best.  The key to a good result-use more than enough, and then some. 

Once the ruching was finished, we added some off white berry stems.  The topiary forms are wound round with lights; the centerpieces will shine at night.  Even from this distance, the ruched sinamay provides a soft and curvy transition between the vertical centerpiece, and the horizontally composed greens. That this very graceful material is so easy to use and so predictably good looking, makes it a staple material in my holiday decorating.

The Right Scale

Few things are harder than working at a proper scale.  Constructing anything at the right scale-whether it be a landscape, a garden, a swath of groundcover, or a holiday window box, getting the project scaled properly is directly related to the level of confidence one feels taking on the project.  What do I mean by this?  A lack of confidence in one’s idea dimished the result.  Confidence makes for properly scaled expressions. The size of a project needs to be properly proportioned to the size of a space.   

What appears to be a giant size under construction in the garage gets visually downsized once it goes outdoors.  They do not call it the great outdoors for nothing.  Even my tiny urban property is bigger than any space or room I have inside my house.  Add the sky to that property-outdoor spaces are big spaces.  Groups of 1 or 3 tulips in a perennial garden is a tentative gesture.  Planted in 9′s and 11′s, there may be a significant spring statement in the works. 

A client ordered up a winter display in her second story window boxes.  The iron boxes with their coir liners are enormous.  Quite properly proportioned, or scaled, to the building.  The boxes have liners that are but a tenth the size of the visible iron work.  This is not a good proportion.  I protested that I could not do make the winter displays large enough for the iron work, in 4 liners that were 8″ by 8″ by 6 inches deep.  She asked me to try.    

The four liners are not even visible here.  We stuffed the four liners it took to fill one box with dry floral foam.  Then we stuffed those liners with as much material as we could.

This picture shows the size of liner number 3, versus the overall size of the window box.  What appeared so massive indoors got a visual dressing down at the installation.  Inside these hayrack style window boxes-a plywood platform on which these small liners would sit. 

A fall planting of cabbages and pansies is barely visible from the ground.  Any display on the second floor, to be viewed from the ground, needs to be overscaled by 3 or 5 times.  Our winter display to the right is barely big enough.   

I was happy with the finished scale.  Not that it could not have been bigger.  This is my first try with these boxes.  They read from the ground, but they could read better.  Would that the greens could be thicker, and lower.  The platinum twigs-are they too subtle?  We installed these boxes this past Saturday-it was warm, and windless.  A miraculously benign late November day.   

The window boxes are a major architectural feature of this new house.  I like the shape and the size.  I was worried that I would underscale the winter display-as well I should have been.  It is clear I could up size that display considerably, and be in no danger of overstating.  It is hard to find just the right size and scale.  Just think what it takes to find jeans and boots that fit right, and look right. The same applies to selecting the tree whose mature size will be the right scale for the space.  Or the right number of Russian sage that will create visual excitement.  Underscaled-this might make you sleepy.  Somewhat overscaled-bold.  Way overscaled-silliness.  The right scale takes skill, nerve, and lots of patience.

The Woolly Birds

I have a client that sends a number of my holiday wreaths as gifts every year.  The wreaths themselves are handmade by a local nursery.  I decorate the lot of them.  Monica orders all of the boxes, JP drops off the cards, Jenny prints out all of the UPS labels; Pam and Salvadore wire the wreaths into the boxes (UPS states very clearly that a box has to withstand a drop of 3 feet)-after I make them.  Lots of people are involved in making this event happen.  My favorite moment?  The UPS man hauling away all of those boxes.  They are on their way.

This years group of wreaths revolve around 2 elements.  Pam made all of the bows out of red jute twine that came from England. The knitted birds-who could resist them?  Bows and birds-so simple.  Those black bead eyes make eye contact.  Making eye contact-elemental, and powerful.  Look me in the eye-anyone would respond to this!  My little knitted birds have an emotional impact that far outweighs their simple construction and small shape.   

The other elements may vary-I want every wreath to be different.  Handmade-and one of a kind.  I would have a hard time making 16 wreaths all the same-so I am happy that I have free reign, provided the wreaths emphasize natural materials and forms. 

The knitted birds with felt tails and feathers caught my eye last January-when I was shopping for the holidays. Rope covered spheres, eucalyptus, pine cones, dried white canola berries and reindeer moss-festive. Natural.  This brown knitted bird perched on a red jute bow-my idea of holiday cheer.


I have to confess, my berries are faux berries. My cherries are faux cherries.  The red color?  That red is very real, very bright, very holiday. 

These wreaths are not your machine made variety.  They are handmade-thanks Dan.  They are less than perfectly circular.  Some wreaths I had to prune; some sections I have to wire back, or add to.  But for a wreath predicated on a love for natural materials,  I like these wild and wooly green wreaths as a base for this group of wreaths.

This knitted bird has a companion on his jute bow perch.  A knitted mushroom.  I have no idea which person on the gift list will get this wreath-but I hope they are pleased.  I did only one wreath with this detail.   

Making these wreaths has gone on long enough to become a holiday tradition for me.  Many thanks for this, BL. 

Did I photograph every wreath?  Yes, I did.  I send the pictures of every wreath to my client.  She cares much for every person to whom she sends a wreath.  I care much that she feels that I have represented that feeling of hers appropriately.  There are lots of pictures.

All of them have a look that says happy holidays.

The best of the holidays is about personal expression.