family far away
I got an email today from a reader who lives in Williamsburg about their special way of decorating for and celebrating the holiday season. She had no idea that pictures I saw 10 years ago of the wreaths, swags, garlands, and lighting at Williamsburg transformed my ideas about how to decorate for the holidays. I do so love the Williamsburg holiday style; I find it a great source of inspiration. To follow is her letter.
I happened upon your blog this morning while researching a bit for my holiday decorating. I found your submission about Magnolias, and I agree they are beautiful and are a part of our holiday decorating every year. I wanted you to know about the town where I live, because maybe one day I think you would truly appreciate a visit at the holidays, specifically at our Grand Illumination. I live in Williamsburg, Virginia and the first weekend in December is always a big event as the Colonial part of town (restored area and living history site) decorates in colonial fashion for the holidays. The fife and drum corps play and folks in costume walk around story telling, interacting, selling cider and ginger cakes etc. Here is a link. I hope you don’t find this too off the wall, but it is rare I find others who love to decorate naturally at the holidays, and therefore it is rare that I find folks who truly appreciate Williamsburg at Christmas. Either way, I hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful and good luck with the holidays! Julie E. Williamsburg, Va
She sent me several pictures of her home in Williamsburg, decorated for the holidays. Has she not done a beautiful job? I especially like the grass spikes that criss cross behind her wreath. The geometric arrangement of fruit I associate with the Williamsburg holiday-this is a beautiful interpretation of that idea.
Happy Thanksgiving to you too, Julie. Many thanks for taking the time and effort to write. Many more thanks to all of you who have taken the time to write-I truly appreciate it.
Yesterday was my first indoor holiday installation. A client with an event coming up the first week of December wanted the bones of her holiday decor in place before Thanksgiving. This pair of topiaries began with moss mat glued over foam cones. The spiral garlands of reindeer moss, accompanied by a delicate silver wire garland took some time and patience to glue up, but the result is festive and elegant. The formal dining room sideboard fresh decor can be added just before the event. Fresh materials at the holiday look and smell great, but I like adding them at the last minute. Holiday ornament like this-tall, thin, and taking up little space-can be used in lots of different places. Perhaps next year’s decor will call for them on a mantel.
The breakfast room has an entirely different feeling than the formal dining room. A garland studded with faux fruit is draped over the Welsh cupboard. We filled her wood trough with lots of the same fruit. This room is ready for the last minute addition of fresh greens, and candles.
This pair of mossed cubes were topped with coulter pine cones, and variegated English boxwood. Pinus coulteri is native to southern California and northern Mexico. It produces the largest cones of any pine. They can grow to a length of 16 inches, and weigh 10 pounds a piece. I thought this pair of sculptures would look appropriate in the library.
The moss mat was applied over dry floral foam, making it easy to glue the heavy cones in an upright position, and insert the springs of boxwood. They have a comfortably masculine look that is appropriate for the room.
We paid lots of holiday oriented attention to the foyer. The moment a guest arrives, what they see first creates a lasting impression. This is why I devote so much attention to the landscape of the driveway. The end of my drive is the foyer of my garden. I come home every day, and I want what I see first when I get there to be beautiful and inviting. Decorating the foyer mirror and sconces means there is plenty of room on the table for family pictures, a holiday hostess gift, or a tray of champagne. The oval magnolia wreath we made by gluing individual leaves over a foam form; the size and shape is friendly to the mirror. A small suction cup provides a hook; the wreath weighs very little. The sconces have glass ornament, silvery picks, silver fabric leaves, and magnolia wired to them.
We dressed the staircase in a long needled faux pine garland. We added glass holiday ornaments, glittered wire flower ornaments, and silvery pine picks for a soft and dressy look. The result is beautiful and elegant. The garland is affixed to the outside of the railing with black zip ties-this is friendly to the wood finish on the railing. In between each length of garland-a pine pick of the same style. This helps make a graceful transition from one garland swag to the next. Most faux garlands are 6 feet long-which may or may not work with the length of your staircase. The added picks helps to make the garland fit the space.
The living room fireplace mantel is short, with little depth. We attached overlapping bunches of preserved and whitewashed eucalyptus to a bamboo pole, cut to a length just shy of the width of this mantle. We dressed that eucalyptus with silver fir greens, sparkly picks, and just a pair of bleached cones. Those cones address in a subtle way the color of the brass fireplace fender.
The result is mindful of the elaborate carving on the mantel, and formal presentation of the fireplace. Not every mantel asks for holiday garland that goes to the floor. We will add a fresh and decorated wreath to the space above the fireplace, just before the event. That wreath will be concolor and noble fir; both of these greens keep indoors over the course of the holiday.
The fresh fir garland over the front door will stay fresh, given that the air temperature is cold. The glass ornaments have had their caps glued on, to keep moisture out. Not seen in this picture, a massive second story overhang supported by columns that will protect the glass from too much exposure to the weather. The pots at the front door-this we will do next week. This holiday project is well underway.
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.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80’s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.