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.

Day And Night


 The shop this time of year is one of my favorite seasons-but that did not happen by accident.  For years I would watch the good gardening days winnow away, and dread the coming of the dark.  My late fall activites would center around cleaning up, putting away, cutting back, protecting-preparations for the desolation to come.  I still do this.  But there are ways to take the garden with you, when winter calls. 

The shop makes no bones about it-all of our materials and ornament relate in some way to the garden.  Mossed topiary cones can cover a favorite pot brought into the foyer for winter.  Lots of kinds of pine cones can find their way into winter garlands and pots; a plain oval pine cone wreath with a burlap box says gardener in residence.  Rob’s steel rings wrapped with brown corded lights can be hung from a tree branch in a dark corner of the garden. 

An amaryllis growing on a window sill is not only a comfort, they bloom spectacularly and triumphantly in the winter months.  We like them beautifully packaged in a growing kit for gift giving. 

I wish we could be open day and night, at this time of year.  Some materials look so beautiful on a sunny day, but we are fast approaching the time when our sunny days will be at a premium.  What looks good on a gloomy day, or a day that goes dark at 4pm in afternoon?  Faux white berry stems, anything red,  whitewashed eucalyptus, and glass look great outdoors on a grey day.   

This English made pot brush makes specific reference to the garden.  It is a sturdily made handcrafted object that needs to do nothing more than sit there, and be admired.  It reminds me of a place I very much like to be-that is enough.  It would be a great centerpiece for a kitchen table-dressed up with a bow for the holidays.    

Dried natural materials, subtly colored in greys, creams and browns, can be dramatic in winter arrangments, provided they are used in big enough numbers, or dramatically lit. 

Rob walks Larry every day in fields nearby.  It took numerous trips to collect enough milkweed pods to create this stunning arrangement which he then lit dramatically in the shop.  A single milkweed pod in a glass bottle can be just as interesting.  If you collect the pods as the seeds are emerging, they need to be lightly sprayed with Dri-Seal-a sealer specifically made for natural materials.  Otherwise, you will have milkweed seeds floating in the air-everywhere.   

I took these pictures of all of the rooms in the shop last night.  I like to have a record of what we do; this does look like the garden to me.  Rob set giant natural bleached branches into big pots filled with white play sand.  The sand holds the branches exactly where he wants them.  They are hung with paper, wire, and felt snowflakes, felt mushrooms, and stars, felt owls and birch bark balls.  Our pots are full of twine ball picks, berries, and assorted natural materials.        


I know there are people who read here that cannot stop by.  I hope these pictures of the spaces give a sense of the look of the shop now..  It is to my mind and hands, a big space-almost 10,000 square feet.  The work of creating a holiday or winter display, whether in a shop or in a home, involves lots of small objects and lots of time.  I only have so much time in a day.  I would rather devote more time to creating something from the season, as this leaves less time for for mourning the passing of the garden. My butterburr garden is flat to the gound, and mulched for the winter.  It is a big brown blob of a space; there is nothing to be done for it.  But nothing on earth is more forlorn than empty pots in the winter, as there is a season to celebrate on its way.  There is no need for pots to sit idle all winter.   

 I have said before that holiday and winter lighting is a form of landscaping-I stand by this.  I am not so concerned about the lighting in my summer garden, as the sun takes care of that until very late in the day.  But my winter landscape needs light.  How I choose to do that is part an alternate form of gardening. 

The shop greenhouse space goes quite dark in the late fall, given how low the sun is in the sky.  Rob takes special pains to light the  at space beautifully.  There is light directed from the top down.  There is light on the walls.  There are light garlands on the floor.  We have holiday trees that are lit from within.Every material can be transformed by the quality and intensity of the light put to it. 

We are better ready for winter than we were a month ago, and looking forward to our winter gardening.

Warm And Woolly


 Clients are calling about their winter pots, and holiday decor-that season is coming up fast. How to express all of that is a big topic of discussion.  Having installed winter pots and decorated inside and out for the holidays for the better part of 25 years, I can attest to the fact that there are endless possibilities.  My best advice-in addition to every other job you have as a professional, a parent, or a gardener, take on the job of design editor in chief. Great design is about a clear underlying idea about what is important to you.  And subsequently, what beautifully expresses that idea.

We have a strong holiday materials thread going on at the shop that I call warm and woolly.  Our winters are fierce, and relentlessly cold.  The garden is silent, and we alternate between short grey days and long black nights.  This state of being brings plenty of ideas to mind.  Let’s address just one. I like to keep it simple, at this stage.  How can my idea to celebrate the holiday and winter season best block out the cold and dark?  I go right from the idea to the materials.   I never design without specific materials in mind.  If I want to stay warm, be warm, host my friends and family warmly, I choose my materials accordingly.

A winter pot ringed with a heavy blanket of greens looks warm.  A tree wrapped in burlap looks warmer.  A holiday tree decorated in pine cones and ornament from natural materials is warm.  The color red is warm; a garland draped over a door is a warm gesture.  The brown felted backs of magnolia leaves look warm.

Felt in any form speaks to warm.  This tree skirt was handmade from from the thickest felt I have ever seen.  It is a natural for our warm for the holidays collection.  Wool is a natural material that wards off the cold.  Felting is a process prized by individual artists-much like the woman who designed and created these handmade tree skirts.  This skirt inspires all kinds of ideas about ornament and decor made from warm fabrics.

Jenny works in the shop.  Her collection of winter headgear is astonishing, and geared to warm.  Her winter hats-there’s an essay of its own there.  These felted birds remind us of someone we know and like. The Jenny birds-we have a good feeling about them, from the fake fur trimmed hats to the scarves to the felt beaks.  They are good humored, sturdy little birds.

These spools of thick red twine look great.  Individual strands would provide a cheery and homespun look to a package, or garland. I could see a big red bow made from multiple strands.  I could see a plant climber wrapped with lights-and the cords covered with this twine.    Materials empower any design idea.  I shop the fields, and the hardware store.  I look around for homegrown inspiration.  Once I assemble a group of materials that represent the feeling I am strying to create, I tinker with putting them together in some coherent way. You can do the same.  This red bud pussy willow looks great with the orange ilex berries.  These materials are a sure bet to warm up a winter pot.

This knitted bird is very appealing.  A customer yesterday put that into words.  It looks like a child created it, she said.  Well said.  Should children figure in your holiday decorating, materials like this might work. 

 Perched on a jute bow in a twig wreath-simply charming.   

 These paper mache owls have an entirely different feeling to them. I think they look like a group of people-each one with its own sophisticated and complicated personality. They represent a grown up kind of warm.  

The dark and cold days are just about here. This steel hoop strung with brown corded lights-this is what I see first when I get to work.  Very warm, this. 


Monday Opinion: Daylight Crazy Time

Steve walked in at 7:17 this morning, and asked how long I had been up.  Since four am-just like him.  Turning the clock back one hour seems simple enough.  What I once did at 10 am I can just as a easily do at 9-right?  Not exactly.  Getting up at 5 am is routine for me; getting up at 4 am is nuts.  Having lunch at noon seems perfectly ordinary; lunch at 11 am-not so appetizing.  Milo and Howard have dinner at 3:30 every day.  I explained to Milo that the new 3:30 comes an hour later now.  From the look on his face, I am sure he doesn’t get it.  A cocktail at 6pm sounds good; a cocktail at 5 pm-is that pushing it?  Going home from work at 6pm seems fine-going home at 7 seems late.  What time is it, really?  My Circadian clock-biological clock-is not happy with the change-even one hour’s worth of change.  I feel robbed- like I am having to live 24 hours in a 23 hour period.  

I may be sounding like a very fussy baby here, but an hour makes a difference.  If I wake up an hour late, I never catch up all day.  If I wake up an hour early, I peter out more than an hour early.  If I am not on time for an appointment with you, I am not coming.  I have either forgotten, or written the appointment down on the wrong day.  For me, part of being good is being on time.  I do not like going to the movies-they require too many hours in one spot.  I like reading-I can pick the the time and duration.   

Day length can make a big difference- just ask any plant.  They have photoreceptor proteins that make it possible for them to respond to day length.  Some plants like pointsettias need long nights and short days to initiate flowering.  Even a small interruption to their dark sleep can result in a failure to bloom.  Amaryllis have a similar temperament.  The long day short night plants are just as specific in their light requirements-as in dianthus, and campanula.  Day neutral plants-like roses and tomatoes-initiate flowering without regard to day or night length.  Photoperiodism not only influences flowering, but it also affects the growth of stems and roots, and the loss of leaves. Any living organism is specific about what it needs to prosper.  I am sure my biological clock will adjust to the time change eventually, but I will not be blooming any time soon.