The Glamorous Bits

I had a comment some days ago from a reader named Carol.  She wondered if I could talk about some ideas for adding some glamorous bits to winter containers.  Ilex verticillata, or Michigan holly, is my first choice for a glamorous addition to a winter container or garland.  That said, I find the berries on the holly will wither and fall like crazy, unless they are treated with Vaporguard.  Vaporguard is an antidessicant, much stronger and more effective than Wiltpruf.  I have some first hand experience with this.  Holly we sprayed with vaporguard was effective on those berries through February of last year.   

Without an antidessicant spray, holly berries will drop, and drop early.  These orange holly berries are new to me; we sprayed them upon delivery.  Paired with red bud pussy willow, there is a lot going on here visually.  The color is beautiful.  If you live in Michigan, you know that our winter color palette is about grey, more grey, and a dry brown.  This color is juicy, and saturated.  Glamorous.  Crabapples can fruit heavily, but even the “fruit persistent” varieites will drop, or be raided by birds early in the winter.  I would recommend seeking a little glam from other sources.  


Rob collects materials, and takes them outside to look at them.  He may revise his choices 5 times, before he commits to anything.  The big idea here-hold all of your materials in your arms, and decide if you are crazy about what you see.  If a combination seems to fall flat, keep looking. 

Rob finally decided on the following-the orange berries and bleached leaves contrast dramatically. Breathtaking, this.  The tall bleached sticks strongly contrast in form with the grey branched hackberry stems.  The combination of colors and forms here is truly beautiful.  


 This combination of materials lit from within by a string of garland lights-garden evening wear.  Garland lights?  We stock strands of lights that have 300 bulbs set in a 17 foot length.  This makes for lots of fire power, and not so much cord.  This is my light string of choice for winter containers.   For the holiday or winter season, turn up the heat.  Make a plan to light up the night.  It may be your most glamorous gesture comes at night.  I encourage all of my clients to light their winter pots, and keep the lights on all winter.  Why not?  That light is cheery, hopeful- dramatic.      

I am having a milkweed seed pod year-that grey and honey brown coloration is beautiful; the shapes of the pods on the stems-even more beautiful.  Were I to glam up these dry stems, I might choose platinum branches.  These are birch branches, sprayed a subtle silvery grey.  These branches can add a little sparkle to a milkweed winter arrangement. 

Faux red berries-every gardener hates them.  Until they take them outdoors.  Nested into a centerpiece of branches, they are jewel-like.  No bird will make off with them.  No winter storm will destroy them.  Make no mistake-faux berry stems look their age at the end of the winter season.  They age, as the winter goes on.  This aging is a good look.  They look so much more natural, in that dulled-down state.  But over the holidays to come, they sparkle.  Bright red at the holiday-everyone notices.  

These faux white berries are spaced sparsely on the branches-they have a natural look.  From a distance, they are entirely believable.  Each stem is individually wired.  Move them around.  To insert a branched faux stem into an arrangement without putting your hand to arranging each arm is what makes them look fake, and out of place.  Arrange those faux stems.  

These white berry stems make no effort to copy any real berry stems-but I still like them.  They look great in contemporary arrangements.  They add scale to a more sparse berry stem.  Working several stems together that are the same color can be very effective.  Effective?  Any expression that brings a smile to your face, or warms your heart-effective.  Winter sustenance-decide how you plan to represent this. 

Faux berry stems with sparkling crystal bits can add considerable glamour to you winter arrangements.  The degree to which you want to dress up-this is up to you.  If what the garden leaves behind is enough, there are materials.  If materials suitable for a cocktail party is enough-there are other materials. If a floor length sequinned gown is your idea of celebrating the holiday and winter, there are materials out there.  The materials are out there, for you to choose.  Choose.

Sunday Opinion: Not One Minute To Spare

A landscape company in another state rang me up last week. They do a lot of commercial landscape design and installation.  They have a big maintenance division.  They do holiday decorating for commercial clients on a big scale.  They just purchased a 16,000 square foot building which will better enable them to handle this holiday business-that’s how big their business is.  This particular design principal was interested in developing a retail landscape division.  At this point, I still had no idea why he was calling me. 

He got around to that part.  He was interested in whether I would consult with his company.  More specifically, he was interested in the seasonal containers we do for clients.  He liked them.  Could he arrange for his designers to travel to Michigan, so I could make a presentation?  Could he arrange for me to conduct this consultation in each of the four seasons?  My internal reaction was immediate-could I teach about what I do every day?  Could I adequately teach about what I do during a time when I am so busy?  How could I make time for this?  What would I have to say that would matter?  Who are these people?  Would I have time in the course of a day to meet them, understand something about them, and make a contribution?  All the time these questions are swirling around in my head, I am looking at my calender for a date that might work.

There is nothing surprising about this.  I am a designer, but more importantly, I am a person who tries to facilitate the design process. No design goes on, in my opinion,  unless there is a relationship between a design professional, and a client. I routinely see the results of landscape design lacking that relationship.  Those installations may be impossible to maintain.  They may be incoherent.  They may put lots of effort towards an end the client has no interest in.  They may miss the mark.  When I see landscapes that miss the mark, I look to the designer.  Perhaps they have not taken the time to explain a plan thoroughly.  They may not take the time to disagree with a client.  They may not have taken the time to rethink their design, given the comments of a client.  My idea is to take more responsibility than a client-as well I should.  They come to me for help-do they not?  Relationships-this matters much to me.  This person and company from  another state-could I help him?  This colleague-I had the immediate and initial idea to accomodate him. 

Accomodating a client or colleague-why wouldn’t I?  Their issues are my issues.  A client or colleague- should they have notions that I think warrant intervention, a different point of view,  I will voice that.  My point of view, melded with their point of view-this endows any design project with potential. Residential landscape design, well done, respects the individual, the family, the land, the circumstances-so many things influence design.  As for consulting with another firm, would I have anything to offer? 

A few days ago, a woman came into the shop at 3 minutes to close, who had never been here.  She lives in the immediate neighborhood.  For fifteen years, she has driven by the shop, and never stopped.  Who knows what she thought we were!  The holiday lighting outside encouraged her to park, and come through the doors.  I could tell she was having a perfect moment.  We turned up the music-Handel.  We left her alone.  For 40 minutes, she looked, and studied.  I knew from the look on her face that she was experiencing a perfect moment.  We did not disturb her.  She thanked us for keeping the shop open.

Why am I telling this story?  I knew watching this person see the shop for the first time, that I cannot in good faith consult with other companies.  I have no rules, or recipes to offer. This visit from a new client was not anything I can really explain, or quantify, but her visit meant everything about how and why I do what I do.  From my side, my business is about the people who conduct it-their point of view, their creativity, their passion for the garden, their work.  This cannot be transferred to another time, place, or person.  How Rob shops for the store makes the fifteen years he has spent doing so obvious.  Everything he has seen and done for 15 years informs his choices and opinions.  His eye cannot be transferred elsewhere.  There is no one else like him.  Our clients understand and value this in him.  He treasures their interest, and spends the time it takes to respond in kind.  Any client, old or new- we both like the idea of engagement.      

The upshot of the previous discussion-I realize I really do not have one minute to spare, nor the inclination to consult with another company.  I doubt I could help them, beyond suggesting that they focus on representing their own point of view in the best possible way they can.  There is plenty of room for lots of good design.  Good design needs to come from what is within.  I have people and projects that need my attention.  This what I want to do-pay attention to, and interact with, the people who approach me.  What Rob and I do is very personal.  It is about our place.  It revolves around our singular point of view.  We have clients who like this.  This makes for a life.  The group of us, interacting, describes our day. 

 Rob and I have been here every day, for fifteen years.  We have made it a life’s work to make that experience exceptional.  We cannot imagine what it would be like, to walk into the shop for the first time.  Or the fiftieth time.  But we have pinned all of our hopes and dreams on creating that special experience, for anyone who walks through our doors.   This is our story.




At A Glance: Woodland Style
















Good Ingredients


 I am not a cook.  I am not especially fussy about what I eat.  I like grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  I am happy with a tunafish sandwich, or a burger.  I like whatever Buck fixes.  Milo and Howard have eaten the same brand of kibble every day for 7 years-I am just about there.  I do on occasion long for some liver and onions, or Chinese food for a local and great restaurant, but day to day, I am a food bore.  Feed me please-I need to get that meal over with, and get going. I eat to live, not to be entertained.    

 But I really like fresh vegetables-why?  I grew up with that.  My Dad shopped for fresh vegetables and fruits-we always had them.   At least three, every meal.  A sample vegetable menu-home grown potatoes, spinach, and salad.  Or broccoli, corn, and tomatoes.  I like salad, every day.  On those days when Buck is too tired to fix one, I am happy with a wedge of iceberg lettuce-as long as it is fresh.  At this time of year, Buck and I eat good greens every day.  Swiss chard-a favorite. Turnip or beet greens-a close second.  Bok Choy, brussel sprouts, kale, beet greens, spinach, okra-we chow down all of the fresh greens.    

Buck really likes to cook.  He watches cooking programs on cable.  I and happy to join him.  This is the least I can do, considering that he shops weekly, and goes on to feed me every day.  Every program we watch emphasizes the importance of cooking with great materials. Fresh greens. Locally grown produce.  Every program he watches has a common thread-the importance of good ingredients.      

What I cook up in the landscape no one can eat, but anyone can see.  It is  tough to make a beautiful landscape with poorly grown shrubs, or park grade trees. Well grown perennials take hold quickly, and thrive.  Beautiful fresh flowers are easy to arrange.  Preserved eucalpytus has this going for it-the preservation part enables an arrangement that lasts a long time.      

I have lined many a wire container with florist’s moss.  This raw material comes in varying thicknesses, and highly variable dimensions.  Moss rolls- his new product transforms the bits and pieces that I recognize as florist’s moss into sheets that are easy to work with.  How I love this good ingredient!  I could wallpaper a room with it.  

The good ingredients for holiday and winter pots are many.  A wide range of choices in materials means a wide range of expression is possible.   

Cut noble fir is a really great ingredient.  Versatile and very long lasting. 

These double ball topiary sculptures-I made them for a client in 2005.  What you see here-a new, and fresh layer of dried moss.  Good materials are visually fresh.  This moss looks good enough to eat.  


Our first shipment of magnolia came today.  Magnolia makes great wreaths and garlands.  The cut branches are mouthwatering good in winter containers.   

You are halfway home in any holiday decor project, assembling some good materials.  

Should you take the time to represent the season, use good ingredients.  There are lots of places to find them, including your own yard, a field down the street, the farmers market, your local nursery, a local fruit market, the grocery store,   I shop for good ingredients in all of these places-not just my own.