How Long Will It Last?

 How long will it last?  This question is asked of me many times over the course of the gardening season.  The questions come in many forms.  The summer season is so short-can I plant my annuals the beginning of May?  How long will the annual plants bloom?  What perennials bloom all summer long?  What perennials bloom the longest?  Which varieties of tulips are perennial? How long will this magnolia bloom ?  What trees bloom all summer long?  How can I have color in my perennial garden every day?  How long will my Becky shasta daisies live?  How long do fiber pots last-can I keep them for more than one season?  How long will a fall planting last?  You get the idea.  Pictured above is the holiday wreath that I made for my front door-last year.  How long did it last?  



I put my holiday wreath in the basement in late February, as I am reluctant to let go of the holiday season.  I brought it to work, and and photographed it on my office door a week ago.  The best part of saving it was Rob’s reaction when he got to work.  He thought maybe I was making a critical statement about his dried weed arrangements.  That was not at all on my mind.  This picture just answers the question.  Many things in the garden are ephemeral.

Last year’s winter display in front of the shop took into consideration that I wanted it to last the winter.  The branches were fresh cut; I knew they would last.  The glass ornaments I prepared as best I could.  Each one had its metal cap glued on.  Enough glue was used such that the air holes in the caps were completely filled.  The day the shop decor was finished, every element looked fresh. 

Michigan winters dish out a lot in the way of stormy weather. Wind, snow and cold take their toll on everything in the landscape.  The burlap drapes and pot wraps shrugged off every insult.  But by late February, the ornaments were beginning to loose their shine. 

The ornaments began to fade; the ornament in the center of this picture has taken on a distinctly orange cast.  Did I mind this?  No.  The branches arranged to look like trees looked like they were loaded with berries.  In March we had red, orange, and silver berries-where the color coating had worn off all together.  How long did it last?  As long as it needed to.


Fresh magnolia leaves are a rich and shiny green on the top side, and a velvety chocolate brown on the obverse.  Magnolia wreaths are beautiful at the holidays; I love the big texture and great color. How long does magnolia stay fresh?  Magnolia kept cold, but not freezing, will stay fresh a long time.  What does a long time mean?  The length of the holiday season.  Subjected to very cold temperatures outside, the leaves will develop freeze spots, but we rarely have temperatures in the low 20’s during December.    

How long does magnolia last?  This wreath was a year old when I sold it.  It had never been hung outdoors.  Magnolia leaves dry beautifully to a pale platinum green.  The undersides if the leaves fade some in the drying process.  A magnolia wreath can be kept a long time, provided that great care is taken in the handling.  The leaves are very brittle when dry, and snap easily.  Storing them in tissue paper in a somewhat cool location will prolong their life.  Magnolia garland and wreaths outdoors will begin to look very tired the end of February.  If you have a covered porch, they might last well into March. 

I cut the elegant feather grass that grew in the roof window boxes all summer, and laid it out to dry.  Will it last?  I have no idea; this is an experiment.  The willingness to experiment can produce some startling results-we’ll see what happens with this.  But I know not to ask too much.  If it lasts until New Year’s, I will feel like it has given enough.

This boltonia is from my rose garden.  I am drying this, and my Japanese anemone as well.  What are my plans for this material?  I’ll take pictures. 

I made this arrangement for a client, using her metal basketweave wall hung container, and her collection of horns.  The arrangement is composed of faux rose hips, dried Queen Anne’s Lace, some unknown weeds, preserved and dried eucalyptus, and preserved bahia spears.  4 of her antlers are wired inside the container; the fifth was glued on to the surface of the container.  I like taking materials that belong to and mean something to a client, and creating something that makes beautiful use of them.  How long will this last?  Long enough for her to tire of it, and think about a new look.  No small part of the beauty of the garden, and the beauty of the season, is its ephemeral nature.  This is just cause for celebration.


I am always surprised when gardeners express reluctance to use glass in the garden.  It is after all a natural material-sand, melted.  Will it break?  All of the windows in my house survive all kinds of weather.  My Suburban has glass windows, and mirrors. I have installed mirrors in gardens on occasion.  Once you insure that no water will get trapped inside, glass is glorious outside.  It is better than glorious outside, in the winter. A few years ago I hung 900 glass drops from the branches of 6 crabapples in the pots in front of the shop.  I was a little worried that wind would wreak havoc with these natural chandeliers, but 9″ drops were all I could find.  They worked out just fine; all winter long they hung in the trees. Drops reflect every bit of available light.  Even on grey days, these glass drops sparkle.   


At night, the drops were jewel-like. The noble fir and fresh eucalyptus at the base of these pots provided a home for some strong up lighting at night.  We were able to hide the cords in the green nests. Those drops reflected that light source  in a very dramatic way. Glass transmits, and magnifies light.  Our dark winter days absorb light.  This makes glass a natural choice for winter garden decor.  Any light you are able to create in the winter landscape amounts to a big dose of sass at that season when we need it the most.  

These antique English aluminum traps looked like giant chandeliers-I could not wait to hang glass drops on them. A simple steel plant stand was the perfect thing to hold the trap in an upright position.  This display in the shop makes the idea very clear; glass sparkles during the day, and glows at night.   

    Faux snowball placecard holders get a little sparkle from their glass drop tripod legs.   

The holiday and winter season features lots of ornament made of glass.  Simple spherical glass ornament at the holidays has a long history.  Though glass ornament can be found in dozens of shapes now, a glass sphere is still my favorite.  Luckily they are available in lots of different sizes.  If I use these mini spheres outside, I glue the metal caps on.  This protects the ornament from wind, and prevents water from getting inside.  Water expands when it freezes.  Modern glass ornament is made from very thin glass-they are easy to break.     


 Glass ornament under a covered porch is easy.  Even the smallest glass ornaments on wires, clustered on a wreath, make a holiday expression dressy.  There are those gardeners that prefer natural materials only for their holiday decor, but what I admire the most is the person who makes the effort.  My neighborhood looks as good in December as it does in June.

Glass icicles enchant me in much the same way as the glass drops.  Should you garden in my zone, you know all about those icicles hanging long from the roof come late January.  Real ice is a regular and usually unwelcome companion to the winter garden.  But the glass icicles make a benignly beautiful reference to the winter garden.     

Glass icicles look great when they are wet.  They will accumulate frost.  Hung from the shop linden trees, they are good looking day and night.  Dark bare branches festooned with glass icicles-this is a really good look.   

These oak boxes set with branches look swell.  Adding the glass to the mix makes for a party. 

Glass and fire is a happy combination.  I would not leave a glass vase or hurricane outdoor for the winter, but for an event, vases with votive candles inside is warm and festive. 

The morning after-frosted glass. 

A garden bench with a necklace of glass lights would warm up any winter garden-not to mention this gardener’s heart.  


At A Glance: Holiday Open House






Many thanks to all of you who came by this weekend.

Light Up That Night

My garden is poised to take a three month sabbatical – Bon Voyage, dear garden.  This state of affairs is sad enough, but there is more.  Michigan has the dubious distinction of being one of the cloudiest, greyest, gloomiest and darkest states in the union.  We rank right up there on that list of most consecutive sunless days.  A sunny day in my winter is cause for celebration, but I had better be quick about enjoying it.  Daylight gets off to a slow start, and gives up early.  At 4pm, it will be dark.  It will still be dark at 7am. I have no plans to live on that schedule.  I do have plans to light up that night.  This garden bench in the shop greenhouse looks cheery and inviting draped with a light garland.  Light garland?  Multiple strings of holiday lights in various sizes and colors twisted and zip tied together makes for a brilliantly lit garland that can be swagged in a favorite tree, or over a door or arbor.       


For whatever reason, I love a flocked tree.  Years ago, there was a place down river from me that would flock any tree in any color, for 35.00. Apparently they still offer this service-you need to get a quote.  Courtesy of our client and friend Brandon, the Harry Pinter Greenhouse at 6830 Rawsonville Road in Belleville still offers this service, on real or artificial trees.  1-734-482-2776.   A client who was expecting a baby girl December 23 one got a pink flocked tree, loaded with pink glass ornament from us.  It was loads of fun-truly.   I like how the holiday season has the potential to value expression over good taste and design.  I think thats’s fine.  There are beautifully constructed artificial trees that come loaded with the flock.  At night, the tree lights play off of and compound those white branches beautifully.  This tree is decorated in small chickadee shaped birds with sparkling white feathers, white moire glass and clear glass ornaments.  In the daytime, a flock of long sleek partridges in their typical black, brown and grey feathers take a bigger visual role.  

By this time, I am sure it is clear that I enjoy the holiday season. Why wouldn’t I?  It is a great antidote for that big dark.  The greenhouse at night, lit with holiday lighting, is a completely different visual experience than the daytime look. No other season, indoors or out, looks quite like this.      

Candlelight is always a romantic and warm accompaniement to an event.  Candles, that civilized version of burning logs in a galvanized bucket, can create a friendly and congenial atmosphere.  It is amazing how a collection of votive candles can banish the dark.  Be generous with the numbers-everyone will appreciate that.

 We have little artificial lighting in the greenhouse, as most of the year we get light at no charge from the sky.  The sun is no longer directly overhead, so that space can be surprisingly dark on a cloudy day.  In the evening, it can be difficult to navigate.  For an evening event, we are lavish with the light.  Votive candles deliver a lot of light; their small space makes it easy to mass them, or tuck them in smaller spaces.  Candle light makes everyone look good-that is a happy byproduct of this kindly light.

The landscape gets the same attention to lighting as the indoors, only on a bigger scale.  Every year Rob creates lighting for the winter landscape that is simple to install, and dramatic in its impact.  I for one will not be climbing in my trees, to string holiday lights on the branches.  I value something that is simple to install, and beautiful to look at.  This year, per Rob’s design,  we fabricated channeled steel rings in three sizes, and filled the channels with brown corded holiday lights.  Hung in a tree or window, from a pergola or arbor, these rings of light are beautiful.  The largest of the rings makes a very dramatic statement. 

He took that circle of light idea, and took it a step further for the pots on the shop pillars.  Simple rod steel spheres were wound in the round with a combination of garland lights, ands pearl lights.  Garland lights have bulbs spaced very close together-the effect is more light, with less wire.  Pearl lights are just how they sound-these small spheres look just like pearls.

The tour de force of his winter lighting creations has to be this arrangement in an antique cast iron trough we have situated at the entrance to the shop.  Rob covered the soil surface with translucent C-9 and C-7 white light strings.  He then set a few stems of cut “tree of heaven” branches, and filled in between the wires with the dry remains of some unknown dried weed from a neighboring field.  

For all the world, Rob’s pot looks like it is on fire.  The most modest of materials are dressed to the nines for the winter season. 

The 6 pots out front-they have a beginning.  Single sterms of red bud pussy willow have been zip-tied tightly, and all around a plant climber that holds up my asparagus in the summer.  A single globe of light sits at ground level inside.  The globe by the way, is a lightbulb frequently used in bathroom light fixtures-of course Rob dreamed up this part.  That globe of light illuminates those branches.

What will I do now?  I am not sure.  I have the finishing on the pots, the windowboxes, the windows, and the front door to consider.  It is good to have a holiday/winter project underway.