Next To The Last Look

I finally got back to check out and take pictures of the last of the holiday and winter work we did this season.  Some time and the dispassionate light of day can reveal a detail not quite right, but by and large I was happy with what I saw.  This contemporary version of the traditional red and green holiday is vividly colored.  The tall thin steel topiary forms are strung with chartreuse and white lights, and chartreuse glass ornaments.  I will have to go back at dusk to take more pictures.

Lots of red picks, and lots of oregonia makes for lots of pop.  Their collection of Italian pots from Francesca del Re is beautiful.   

A concrete pot at the corner of the garage features an elongated steel topiary form dressed in a swirl of similar lights and ornaments, a pair of red and chartreuse ornaments and chartreuse glitter picks.  Sassy, this. 

This creamy taupe house and front door gets quite a visual boost from these winter containers.  That vivid splash of color is a great chaser for the winter blues.

I landscaped this newly renovated house last year.  The window box centerpieces are a deliberate play on the form and color of the PJM rhododendrons below the box.  A little white pops the merlot colored eucalyptus. 

This closer look at a companion window box on the side tells the same tale.  Just simple and amply proportioned.

I posted some cell phone pictures of this project which were probably just fine.  But I especially liked the look here.  It is a substantial walk from the drivecourt to the front door; the “welcome to our home” is equally substantive.  The green sinamay affixed to the arch looks like pistachio meringue.  

The brick face of a garage is a narrow, but important spot.  This client drives out and up to this every day.  A combination of materials that will withstand the winter weather, and entertain the eye was the order of the day.  There are better than great odds that these pussy willow stems will bloom in the spring-willow has a very special will to live.  

A giant limestone wall and fireplace mantel is greatly warmed by a holiday expression.

 Winter is a dark time in my zone.  This picture was taken at 4:20 in the afternoon.  The douglas fir reads every bit as dark as the chocolate stained concrete pots. The tallest stems-flame willow.  The shorter stems-pussy willow.  The combination is is subtly celebratory.  If you have not filled your pots yet for winter, you are not too late to the party.  A celebration can be any time you choose.

An Addendum To That Celebration

This Christmas tree decorated with vintage ornaments, garland, and tinsel is stunning.  Their living room, a discussion between the austere and the abundant.  Treasured topiaries made an appearance for Christmas, set in the windows.

Their packages are wrapped as beautifully as their table is set.

They are simple, elegant, and lavish, all at the same time.

Their choice of holiday flowers –  green and white cabbage florets, and white hydrangeas.

I would have had no idea what I was looking at here, but for M’s explanation. Buche de Noel is a classic French dessert served at the holidays. This seemed a natural choice, given the French heritage of one side of this family. The cake is “prepared, presented and garnished to look like a log ready for the fire used in an ancient fire festival of the winter soltice”-this from Wikipedia,  Additionally, this from The Oxford Companion to Food:

“[In France] where the buche de Noel, a roll of light sponge cake, is covered in chocolate or coffee buttercream textured to resemble bark. The conceit is carried further by mounding the cream over small pieces of cake stuck to the main roll, to represent trimmed branches. The ends of the roll and the cut faces of the branches are finished with vanilla cream, imitating pale newly cut wood, and the whole is decorated with leaves made from icing, or meringue mushrooms.”
Oxford Companion to Food, Alan Davidson, [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 184)

I learned from my friends that the creation of this dessert occurred over a period of three days.  Is it not spectacular?   

I am sure every one of their Christmas Eve guests enjoyed themselves.   

To my friends: thanks again for inviting me to your holiday.

A Christmas Eve Celebration

You may recall a post I wrote just before Christmas entitled “Gifts That Gardeners Give”.  I pictured a wreath I had made as a gift for two very good friends.  They live on and love a big wild piece of property in what I call “the country”.  They were very enthusiastic about the gift-enough so to suggest they would make it an integral part of their traditional Christmas Eve dinner celebration.  Of course I asked for pictures.  I got more than that.  I got the story of the evening in pictures.   

The mercury glass candlesticks I had seen before.  Their 19th century stone house features generously deep window sills that are perfect for collections.  The simple wood bird sculptures I had not seen.  How elegant they are, each holding a sprig of holiday greens in their beaks.    

The candlesticks and birds dressed for the occasion ran the length of the holiday table.  I like that height that captures one’s attention and sets the mood upon entering the room.

They would do little to obstruct the seated views across the table.  I was delighted to see that the wreath was most definitely part of their holiday celebration. 

The table setting was exquisite. The silver and linens, quite formal.  The arrangement of all of the elements, rhythmic in a purely personal way.

Arranged around the bases of the birds and candlesticks, an assortment of fruits, ornaments, and bits from the garden. The nest in the wreath was handmade by some unknown bird with various grasses, twigs, and other natural detritus. I added a lining of milkweed seeds still attached to their fluff.  The surface of the table was similarly decorated with an assortment of like-spirited objects of their own choosing. 

I think their table was breathtaking.  The rickrack over the mercury glass calls to mind the string that could easily be part of a bird’s nest.  Fruits, nuts, and ornaments in various colors and shapes are the unexpected underplanting to the silver, white and glass dinner service.

The photographs are as beautifully composed as the table. 






Many thanks to my friends for permitting me to share the photographs of their Christmas Eve dinner table.  It is gorgeous, is it not?

Holiday At Home

The Christmas holiday at our house is a low key affair-we like it that way. I worked Christmas Eve in the shop until 3 with Jenny.  I wrapped a few last packages in the laundry room. I was more or less ready for our celebration by 7.  A very leisurely evening was capped by homemade soup and bread. 

The sheer excitement of spending an entire evening in the living room with us proved to be exhausting for Howard.  He was out for the count about 8:30.  I like a quiet Christmas.  Gifts of books meant that Christmas Day could be spent reading-divine. 

I actually did no reading Christmas Day.  I spent the late morning with MCat at the shop-he deserves his Christmas too.  While he was enjoying his treats, I had coffee with half and half (a holiday luxury) and played ball with the corgis.  Buck brought left over soup for lunch.  Early in the afternoon, I knew I needed to go home, and finish decorating the Christmas tree.  Finish the tree?  The brown needled white flocked artificial tree constructed in the style of a Victorian feather tree enchanted me when I first saw them-I bought 4 of them for the shop in January of 2011.

Well, 3 for the shop, and one for me.  I had never had an artificial tree, but were I ever to have one, this would be it.  I thought it was great looking. It made no pretense of being a real tree. The short stiff needles were an olive brown; the white flocking was similarly unnatural.  The branches were sparse, making it ideal for decorating.  I took it home December 15, where it sat unattended; I had not one clue in the world about how to decorate it.  The days were flying by, with no scheme in mind.       

I finally went shopping for Christmas ornaments.  Not one thing in my shop was right for my version of that tree.  I am very keen for everything in my own shop, but this was my Christmas.  Luckily, English Gardens, on M-59 and Garfield Road, still had lots of holiday ornament-and some of the right sort.  I think I took 5 carts worth to the check out.     

Their giant glass ornaments in copper, chocolate and green were a perfect start for this tree.  I like the glow provided by matte glass ornaments.  This feather tree has lots of empty spaces that asks for a big gesture.  In a pinch, these would do. Next I studded the tree with lots of large dark pine cones.  The stiff branches captured them in whatever position I wanted.  Small glass ornaments in antique gold and cream from the shop described almost every branch. A few mercury glass acorns provided a little more ornate interest.  To finish, 180 feet of platinum bead garland.    

I learned the following things about decorating an artificial Christmas tree.  Once it comes out of the box, every single branch needs to be striaghtened out, and positioned properly.  Fluffing that tree before you take ornament one out of the box will make the decorating part vastly easier.  An artificial tree is perfectly symmetrical.  Arrange every branch such that each tier radiates in a perfect circle.  Not interested in this level of artifice?  No doubt there is nothing quite like the beauty of a natural tree.  But as I subscribe to the idea that just about anything can be done in a gorgeous way, I was interested in the challenge.  The beaded garland hung in almost symmetrical sweeps and swoops was the crowning glory of this tree.  I say almost, as I did not spend the time fluffing and arranging every branch that I needed to.  Once I had ornaments on this tree, it was too late to rearrange.  Next year I will be better prepared for what this tree can do best. 

The second chaallenge from this tree-the lights.  It had vastly more lights than I would string on a real tree.  That light was so strong that the view of the ornament almost disappeared.  But I did love how it illuminated this room with its dark chocolate walls.  All in all, my rookie tree looked just fine.  It was kept company by other treasured ornaments.  

 The companion artificial garland to the tree I draped over the mantel.  I accented it with clusters of bronze bells my family sent me for Christmas. 

A beloved charcoal by Joseph Piccolo is specially lit with warm holiday light. 

My dining room is not much decorated for the holidays beyond a topiary I made in an antique French pot.  Flanking the topiary, a pair of Italian paper mache goats.  Most certainly these were used in scenes of the nativity.  That said, the topiary and goats reside on this sideboard all year long. 

Tine, my sister-in-law, sent me an ornament of the Eiffel Tower last Christmas.  This year, a second  Eiffel Tower, and a tiny star ornament arrived just in time for Christmas.  This is my family tree – a Christmas tree not so much about how it looks, but much about what it means.