Home For The Holidays

I finished the last of this season’s landscape work, and the holiday decorating today.  This feels really good.  Tomorrow and Wednesday my crew will sort out a few minor glitches (this has mostly to do with errant timers, and a centerpiece that needs extra special reinforcement against a windy location) and put the shop yard to sleep.  All of the stone and concrete pieces outdoors will be put up on pallets.  The stone cisterns will spend the winter on pallets, upside down.  A pair of old boxwoods in terra cotta pots will come into the garage, as will the few small espaliers left over from the summer.  We still have warm weather in which to work-this has been the longest and mildest fall and early winter that I can remember. The work is winding down.


I can think about my own home for the holidays now.  The pots and lighting outside were finished a week ago.  My four iron pots out front have flame willow, fresh magnolia, and mixed greens.  The centerpieces are lit with garland lights.  These old iron pots came with the house.  Yes, they were very much a part of the decision to buy and move here.   


My crew installs fresh magnolia garland all across the entry and down the sides.  The magnolia has garland lights spiralled through it.  The two men who owned this house before me made a specialty of their holiday lighting.  There are hooks and screws placed in a very orderly fashion everywhere.  I could outline the entire house with lights, should that idea ever strike my fancy. 

This makes any holiday display easy.  For those of you who are afraid to put a brass screw in a wood front door for a wreath, I promise you will not undermine the integrity of that door, nor will you notice it the other 10 months of the year it is not in use. If you take the time to make it easy to decorate, you will decorate. 



 The architecture of my house is a hybrid betweeen Mediteranean style, and arts and crafts style.  I love every detail.  That architecture makes certain demands-from the landscape, the choice of plant material, color and mass.  I am fine with that.  Whomever designed this house, and the piazza style driveway, I respect. 


Richard’s blowmold figures would not work here.  The yellow brick and iron detail does not like white anything.   I would have a hard time making a contemporary holiday display work with a house of this age.  I have no problem with that.  I like a holiday display that is warm and traditional.  I like the smell of history better than any other smell in the world.

I have a pair of resin cherubs that I adore-Rob rolls his eyes every time I talk about them.  I have had them over the mantle, framing a mirror.  I have moved them all over the house.  I look at them all year long.  This is the first year I took them outside. 

My landscape crew and I figured out how to do the lights such that these cherubs have a hand in holding up the light garlands.  I am happy about how this looks.  It makes me happy to be coming home.

 I do much and many different things for lots of other people.  My pleasure is in creating and delivering a look that feels like home to them. What I choose for my own home I choose with the same care that I choose for others. It is important to me that my garden, my landscape, my walkways, my terrace, my hellebores, my evergreens, and my holiday decor look like home. 

Home for the holidays is a good place to be, indeed. I have a few more days to get ready.

Sunday Opinion: Great Gifts For Gardeners

Though I own a shop devoted to everything garden, I would not advise a gift for the garden tended by that passionate gardener on your list. Though you may already be rolling your eyes skyward,  I have ample evidence and experience in this regard-on both sides of the aisle.  Just yesterday an older gentleman came in the shop looking for a stand for his 14 inch stainless steel gazing globe/sphere.  He felt my first suggestion was too small.  My second suggestion would not be sturdy enough to withstand the wind off the lake.  My third suggestion would rust, and might impact the surface of the steel.  My fourth suggestion, a round hollow limestone pillar, was not tall enough.  A tall stoneware column was not a good color with stainless steel.  By no means did I give up after  number five.  We looked at many possibilities, none of which were quite right.  He finally decided he should come back, his sphere in tow.  Can you imagine if his wife, or children attempted to make a Christmas gift of a stand they thought would be perfectly lovely? 

I carry Pollina garden gloves, and Ball and Burgeon garden tools.  Passionate gardeners are especially particular about their tools.  There are those gardeners that make no moves without gloves, and those gardeners who have no use for them.  If you have a big love for a passionately committed glove type gardener, what size would you buy?  Would you choose short gloves, or long sleeved gloves good for dealing with roses? The Pollina gloves I stock are mint green leather.  What if your beloved gardener dislikes leather?  What if there is only one kind of leather they like? What if your gardener prefers olive green?  Or chartreuse?  Or black?  What if their ancient leather gloves are their favorite tool?  What if they have no use for gloves at all?  You see the problem.

My favorite tools are most likely inexplicable to anyone but me.  I love my Mom’s Smith and Hawkins garden trowel, even though my small digging tool of choice is my hands.  I love the memories that come with that tool.  I do not use it-I look at it.  It has dirt on it from her garden-I would not dream of disturbing that.  My second favorite tool is a Niwashi right handed weeder from New Zealand.  I will admit it was a gift from a good friend-a gift that miraculously hit the mark.  My Felco pruners at work have my initials on them-and a “do not touch these” warning.  At home, I have a pair of Arno pruners from France, with leather handles.  I do not need a pair-I like having the pair.  My scissors at work say “not DGW” on the handles.  Anyone who borrows a tool, and does not return it, clean, is pushing it.  My stainless steel spade and fork bought years ago from Smith and Hawkens, are just the right size for me.  The polypropylene handles never splinter, and are easy to keep clean.  A recycled drywall bucket is perfect for weeds; turned up side down, I can stand or sit on it.  A pair of Niwaki loppers with magnolia wood handles have never been used.  They are a sculpture I never tire of looking at.  My collection of tools is eccentric-like every other gardener’s tools. A passionate gardener is opinionated about every aspect of their gardening.  Be sure you want to wade into that.  We stock singing shears for topiary and boxwood at the shop that I think are great.  I would think a gardener will need to decide about them for themselves.

I am a collector, like most people.  My collection of garden books is fairly extensive.  I read my books over and over again.  I have a fairly decent idea of what volumes are there-unlike most everyone else.  It would be very hard to select a garden book as a gift for me. There are few plants that I do not like, but the plants that I would collect are not so many.  I have a dear friend that buys me succulents every year.  I don’t really like them.  I pot them up, put them on my window sill at work, and never water them.  I spent a winter painting auricula primroses; Steve bought me a collection of them for Valentine’s Day.  It was so irritating that I could not get the culture down.  They looked terrible from the day he gave them to me, until the day they died.  This was not a good gift.  I love peonies, roses, and hellebores.  But I want to choose which I would plant in my own garden.  Another person’s idea of a great collection of peonies is another person’s idea.  Don’t pick plants.  Don’t pick a gardening coat, a hat, or muck boots.  Don’t pick a collection of dahlia tubers, or a collection of African violets.  Stay away from trying to gift a passionate gardener in the area of their expertise, or passion.  Gardeners take everything about the garden very personally.  This is not to say you should opt for a vacuum cleaner or mixer-do not do this either.         

So what would be a great gift for a passionate gardener?   Number one on my list-cut flowers.  A bouquet of flowers that a gardener does not have to plant, stake, feed, and fuss over is a beautiful gift. A simple and gorgeous glass, or vintage McCoy vase to hold those flowers is taking that gift of flowers to a loving conclusion.  Any gardener would be grateful for a hand cream that really works-I favor herbacin Kamille with glycerine-Amazon stocks it for 6.95 a tube.  This is a treasure for garden weary hands.  For those gardeners whose fingers split, a pair of thick cotton gloves, and a jar of petroleum jelly is a treatment of choice-warm that petroleum jelly in the microwave, slather it on each hand, put on the gloves, and go to bed.  Those gardening hands will be remarkably better, the next morning.  A 

The video of Audrey Hepburn’s “Gardens of the World” is delightful-16.95 from Amazon.  A subscription to a garden or design magazine is a good choice.  Most gardeners are card carrying fans of the natural world.  What gardener would not want to settle in, rest and read  Fine Gardening, Horticulture, Garden Design, the British Country Living, Southern Living, or  National Geographic?  A magazine that comes every month, with its invitation to sit someplace comfortable a read a little something, is welcome.  A gift completely unrelated to gardening would be great too-it never hurts to remind a gardener that there are other things in this world to do besides dig holes.

Best of all-a gift certificate.  For a tree, or a book.  To a nursery.  To Sneeboer or Niwaki tools.  We do lots of gift certificates this time of year.  How so?  A passionate gardener is a a person with a mission that means a lot to them.  Choose to gently encourage them, or go for broke, distracting them.  We gardeners-we are a bloody nuisance to buy for.

At A Glance: Wrapping Paper

vintage Hallmark holiday wrapping paper

 holiday wrapping paper

copy paper, paper wrapped wire, paper coaster, and branch rounds

manila envelope, red jute twine, recycled holiday bits

handmade pastel paper, paper roses

grocery bag, jute twine, wired florist’s picks, red beaded wire bit

copy paper, scraps of watercolor paper and chartreuse copy paper, dry cedar foliage

grocery bag, florist’s tape, berried bit

landscape plan

The Holiday Landscape: Design Details



Any design – whether it be landscape, garden or holiday design – pertinent to the front door involves much more than the door.  A front door comes with a house, that has a certain shape and size.  That door comes with a stoop or porch.  There is a walkway that gets you to that door.  There is a landscape that accompanies  that walk to the door.  Some doors have a portico, or a roof, or no shelter from the sky whatsoever. Some front doors are on the side of the house. Consideration of all these factors plays a big part in successful holiday design.  This is a house of considerable stature.  The drive court, walkway, and portico are all of a massive scale.  The house is a long way from the street.  Big and bright helps to make a holiday statement in proportion to all of the other existing elements.

The portico is massive, and supported by massive columns.  The door is somewhat dwarfed by the structure over head.  A garland, and integral wreath over the door visually lowers the ceiling.  The is a friendly gesture aimed at creating a more human scale.

The rectangular pots are large, and were designed to fit in between those columns.  A thicket of Cardinal red twig dogwood and berried Michigan holly stems makes a holiday statement that is visible from a long way away. There are but a four elements in these boxes, but there is a generous amount of each. These boxes also make that porch a more private space.   

This pair of front doors are painted a very dark grey.  The porch is wide, and very simple, as is the brick walk.  A pair of Belgian oak boxes are kept company by a pair of antique English chimney pots, and a single concrete French poodle.  The double ball moss topiaries with their twig top knots and vine swirls are 7 years old-they look great with that poodle.  This fall I added a new layer of moss to the old.  As the boxes are so large, I had no worry that the moss balls would be too big, given a new moss layer.  We stuffed mixed greens into the big boxes, and borth green and variegated English boxwood into the chimney pots.  A smaller scale green is a good choice for a smaller container. 

The dark doors asked for a detail that was light, or sparkly, or both.  I glued a pair of vintage gilded angel wings together via a wood plant label.  Short screws through both layers insured the wings would stay together.  A square of foam core board glued to the back was a base for a few layers of magnolia leaves.  A gold metallic bow in the middle speaks to the season.  This detail can be changed after New Years, as the pots will look welcoming all winter long. This detail endows the front door with the greetings of the season.

An asymmetrical placement of a front door asks for an asymmetrical treatment.  A low concrete planter with magnolia and red twig dogwood provides a compact landscape for a trio of nutcrackers.  The magnolia wreath on the front door-a third element providing holiday interest. 

These clients requested a winter theme for their containers.  The pussy willow centerpieces repeat the dark chocolate stain color of the concrete pots.  The curly willow provides a little loosely described volume without interfering to the access to the door.  The decor is very simple and understated, just like the door.  

This front door is part of a large porch which extends across the full width of the house.  The pots on either side of the door are always in shadow, given the roof of the porch.  A pair of pots integrated into the landscape provides an opportunity for winter interest at the half-way point from the sidewalk to the door.  These pots also provide a frame for a stately antique English sundial. This front yard brick terrace is a room of its own.  The stairs are a transition from that public space, to the more private porch space.  The central design issue here was all about making a drastic change of grade from the front yard to the front door seem graceful.

These containers are generously sized, and for good reason.

The house is tall, and a considerable distance from the street. The walkway to the front door originates at the driveway, and is laid parallel and close to the front of the house.  There is a vast amount of lawn between the street, and the front door.  These large pots with large winter arrangements provide a winter outfit for the entire house.

This front door has a small and intimate portico; the holiday garland makes much of this.  A holiday wreath on the glass storm door completes the look.

From the street, an entirely different feeling is at work.  A massive portico covers the front door, and its personal portico.  A pair of Christmas trees set in black ceramic pots make that door seem more important.  The firewood stacked outside and to the left of the front door adds visual interest, and balance, to the treatment of the doorway.  It is important to make much of the front door.  It is the friendliest gesture you might make to your guests.

This recessed front porch features a pair of wreaths hung from the iron fretwork of the pair of front doors.  The white glass ornaments in the wreaths echoes the white light covers on the tuteurs in the boxes.  A trio of coach lights makes this front door, and all that goes with it, seem all of a piece.

This big and rangy contemporary house features a very geometric and formally clipped landscape.  A pair of galvanized pots stuffed with Rob’s signature branches and weeds is a surprising effective foil for all this architecture.  The big idea here?  Study what you have.  Make no plans to cope.  Plan to shine.