What’s Good About This?



These pots are a bit of a bedraggled mess, but there are some good things about them.  It is proof positive that we have 4 seasons, each of which lasts about three months.  I planted them the end of September- that makes this planting just shy of three months old.  This client got a full season’s worth.  I did have a client who did not plant fall pots this year.  By October 15 she was wondering when the winter pots could be done.

Twigs and greens become available in the early part of the winter season.  The twigs arrive after all of the leaves have dropped; in a good year, this is November 15.  The winter cut greens are not far behind. She emailed me threee times-that fall season with empty pots proved to be a long one for her.  This fall pot is finally beginning to succumb to the effects of relentless fall rains, and cold.  The kale are still amazingly fresh looking and colorful.

 The mess of a deteriorating situation reminds me of the look of my perennial garden in early winter.  The grasses bend, go over, break off, and blow down the street.  The kales are still their inflexible and massive selves.  Brown is beginning to seem like the dominant color. Clearly my client has not touched these pots up in any way.  All of the dead leaves are still there.  Not one thing has been snipped off, propped up, or fluffed out.  What I am looking at is the end of the fall season, plain and simple. 

I don’t mind the look of plants going dormant, or succumbing to the cold.  There is a certain stark beauty in that.  I had to chop back all of the perennials in my rose garden early this fall, as I repainted all of the trim and windows on the house. I am already missing seeing that garden in its early winter incarnation. 

This spike will eventually dry to a pale cream color.  The wiry stems firmly resist decomposition.  Would that my hosta leaves would dry, rather than collapsing into mountains of yellow mush.  Hosta leaves are mostly water; a good frost finishes them off for good.  Have you ever tried to rip a spike leaf in half?  The entire plant would come out of the ground first.  If you have a plan to leave your dead plants in your pots over the winter, spikes and grasses will brave the winter weather better than most.

Certain plants represent robustly-all fall long.  The cabbages and kales far outlast the pansies, and the creeping jenny.  The seed heads of grasses far outlast their foliage.  Vinca maculatum is the most amazingly cold resistant plant.  It is as green as green can be, in December. 

There are those bridge plants-plants that can thrive for more than one season.  The succulent trailer known as angelina is green all year round for me.  Persian Queen geraniums are great in the summer, and good very late into the fall.  The fairly new perennial geranium Rozanne is still throwing flowers in December.   Some pansy cultivars planted in the fall are right back the following spring. I probably will redo this container for winter, but I do not really need to do so anytime soon.

Happy Anniversary, Delphine

I read Paradis Express regularly.  Delphine Gitterman writes this blog-she truly loves anything and everything relating to the garden.  She doesn’t write so much.  She publishes lots of pictures.  We have become fast friends, via an internet that permitted us to talk, and get to know one another.  She lives some 40 miles north of Paris; I live in Michigan.  She is an art director; her partner Lucien is a garden designer.  

This past fall Rob shopped for Detroit Garden Works in France.  One night of that trip involved a dinner-Rob visited Delphine and Lucien.  Via skype, Delphine called me.  I got to be part of that dinner.  Via skype, she was exactly whom I thought she would be.  Energetic.  Committed.  Thoughtful, and passionate.  Compassionate.  She wore me out.  Thank God she has made time for me.  The images she assembles for her blog are always striking and provocative.

She has a passion and enthusiam for the garden few others could match.  Her interests are wide ranging.  How she circles the globe, and reports on gardens and artists amazes me.  Her blog is five years old. Her pictures sass me.  They energize my thinking.  They enchant me.  Do you read Paradis Express?  If not, you might take a look.

This photograph published on her anniversary post says everything about Delphine.  A tiny truck, hauling an enormous Christmas tree accurately describes her.  She would willingly move a mountain of ideas with a spoon. She is one single person beaming to all of us about the miracle that is nature.  Her take-decidedly unconventional. 

She has a voice that I greatly admire.  Happy anniversary, Delphine.

The Holiday Tree

The history of the Christmas tree is long, and well documented.  How amazing-people from very different backgrounds and points of view bring a tree indoors, for the holidays.  As a landscape designer, this process not only interest me-it enthralls me.   A decorated Christmas tree is one of the most iconic holiday expressions imaginable.  My late season landscaping makes the transition to the expressions of the holiday season without much fuss-I am still installing trees in December.  Farmers who grow Christmas trees, I admire them in the same way that I admire farmers who grow brussel sprouts, or tomatoes.  Do I see holiday decorating as a form of gardening-oh yes.    

These holiday trees dressed in glass ornaments and wired gold bows are simple clusters of branches fixed to a second floor railing.  They are a personal and individual interpretation of a Christmas tree.  This expression suits the taste of my client, and looks great in her house.  I have other clients with fairly modern tastes that still want a very traditional holiday tree.  Sometimes there are children and family involved in that decision.  But this is a matter of choice, not necessity.  All that alternative tree takes is an alternative point of view.   

Rob’s constructions of branches and lights recasts the tree as a burning bush.  It would look great inside or out.  With ornaments, or without.  Once a decision is made to take another direction, an idea can evolve.   

This past winter, I sunk a cut Christmas tree into the pot in my side garden.  8 strands of gold lights got wound around that tree.   This was my garden Christmas tree.  I so delighted in the light that drenched the south side of the house.  I will confess I lit this tree until the end of February.  If it haqdn’t been visible from the sidewalk, I probably would have kept it lit through March.     


I put up and decorate this tree for a client with small children every year.   This tree revolves around ornaments created and chosen by their children.  Other ornaments symbolize their family history.  Every year, the Christmas tree is laden with the evidence of their family history.  You would be surprised at how many adult children do not want there parents to change anything about the family tree.  Those kids are clearly kids who have good memories of their childhood holiday.  

Rob’s latest idea of a holiday tree-astonishing.   He arranged a number of poplar branches in a glass vase.  He went on to hang wood bird ornaments, and cream colored pompom garlands  on those branches.  Spare, architectural, and dramatic, it features the gnarled branches and elongated buds of the poplar.   

A Christmas tree taken to the minimum- this diminuitive steel wire interpretation of an evergreen holiday tree looks great, hung with pewter colored glass ornaments.       

I myself change up, and reinterpret the Christmas tree, every year.  I like to try new things at the holidays, as much as I like to plant my containers differently every year.  I stuffed tall cut magnolia branches into a foam form set in a concrete footed urn.  The classic Italian style of the pot looks good in my 1930’s vintage house.  Boxwood and lights at the bottom completed the look.        

This artificial tree is incredibly good looking to my eye.  It makes no pretense of copying the look of a live tree-this I like.  It is a sculptural interpretation of a tree.  The brown/olive color of the branches reminds me of a dead hemlock.  The branches are sparse, making it easy to hang lots of ornaments, or none at all.  It reminds me of the Victorian feather trees so popular in the late 19th century. 

These metal Christmas trees are tall, and have but a few branches.  They look great with just a few ornaments.  The size makes it possible to have a tree in a small space.  The shelf where these trees sit is but 12 inches wide.  The flexible metal branches make it possible to have all of the bulk of the tree in the front, and none in the back.      



kThis client likes having a Christmas tree in his study.  The glass ornaments are simple, and jewel colored.  The dark olive green, burgundy, brown gold is an alternative color scheme. 

This little tree is comprised of small scale branches set in a vintage bucket.  Small berries were glued to the stems.  Short stems of eucalyptus were stuffed into the base.  A collection of red felt bells topped in holly is the only other decoration.  It doesn’t seem to need anything else.  Just to its left, a cardboard cone covered in dried lichens.  I like this tree too.

What will I do at home this year?  Last years holiday tree was in fact a holiday buck.  I put a sheet of plastic on the floor, and puddled 50 feet of evergreen roping around the Buck.  Several sizes of lights are kept company by a few lichen balls.  A collar of oversized sphere lights completed the look.  Deciding what to do this year-that is much more than half the fun of it.

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.