The architecture of this house is such that guests pull up to and walk past the garage on their way to the front door. I suspect this is a uniquely American phenomena-somewhat arising from our our long stand love affair with the automobile. An architect friend from New York waxed eloquent on the subject one night-but he does not own a car, nor does he drive long distances to work and the grocery like metro Detroiters. But this architect had the foresight and wit to design a bank of windows in the garage wall. What is a garage wall visually reads as the home. I placed a large Francesca del Re terra cotta pot at the corner, to further distract the eye from the garage doors around the corner. This pot and these window boxes provide a lot of visual welcome both summer and winter. The front door is a considerable distance past the window boxes to the right; they make the walk much more interesting.
Last year I sunk the complete skeletal wood of a Lollipop crabapple into this Francsca pot. That crabapple had a six foot diameter head-and was heavy. Buck made a steel shoe I could sink into the pot; that shoe keeps this crabapple wood aloft and vertical. That natural topiary form went back into this year’s winter pot. Dressed in glass drops and lights, it whisks any inclination to focus on the garage doors away. The clear drops reflect the predominate color of the Michigan winter season-white gone blue grey.
Fresh cut eucalyptus which is dried, preserved, and whitewashed takes on the color of whatever weather rules the day. On a grey winter day, it read blue-white. On a sunny day, it reads green, thinly washed with white. The large leaves make a big statement from a distance. That blue-white color gets reinforcement from the blue green of the noble fir-and from the greyed down orange of the brick. The relationship of this soft orange to the whitewashed eucalyptus? There is enough murmuring going on to create a hubbub. The white bricks-a little punctuation aided and abetted by the snow. I really like how this looks.
The centerpieces have elements that cannot be seen from afar-they are too subtle. I do not mind this. I like a ways away look that is surprisingly different than the up close look. I like everything about this. The blue green noble fir dusted in snow. The frosted euc. The wispy centerpieces you need to get much closer to. The reflections of the landscape, blued by the winter, in the glass. The windows dressed in their cooly taupe paint-I like everything that is going on here.
OK, we are up close now. Tall faux frosted branches are kept company by honesty picks, fluttering all around. Honesty, a common name for money plant, is not a plant you would want to put in your garden, unless you had miles and acres for it to run. But clear faux honesty provides sparkle to these winter containers without introducing any color. They reflect the color of the moment.
The Francesca pots flanking the front door get the same treatment. Repeating an idea gives that idea weight and substance. What do I love the best about these winter pots? They may have little to no color but for the light of the day. But they have sufficient mass.
This pot shines, in spite of the hand an early winter has dealt. I may tell you I am a designer, but in fact, I am a poker player. Some hands win, hands down. Some hands dead last in a field of 15. The nature factor-this keeps me coming back for more.
I have never posted any pictures in a Sunday opinion post before. I like the chance to just muse and type. But today it seems important to talk about my friends, and show pictures of what they have done for their holiday. It is unforgettably inspired. Buck and I had drinks last Thursday night with very good friends. You know that really good kind of friend. You can forget to show up on the right night (we did)-no harm, no foul. The second you are in the door, the conversation flies fast and furious. Should you have not seen them in a while, that physical interruption matters not one bit. The exchange is personal, direct, intense, and above all-accepting.
We have another connection; for many year’s I did work for my friend’s father-mostly at the holidays. She lost her Dad not so long ago. The loss of a parent-there is never a good time. It is agonizingly painful beyond all belief. There may be making peace with the loss, given enough time-but there is no getting by it. One could go blind from it. I know, having lost a Mom I so loved-it has been eight years. I can think about her often, and not cry-but for the holidays.
Buck and I went to the side door-friends do that. A lit tree outside the French doors welcomed us. Their good friend foyer is really a music room-I would call it a space into which I am ushered, and encouraged to shed the cares of the day. Having done so, I am drawn to the mantel; she explains. Her family is Swedish. There is a history there that is important-especially important, this holiday. The candelabra dates back to a great grandfather. The reindeer figures have been collected for generations. This mantel speaks to and celebrates that family history of hers. The loss of her father means a holiday of a different sort this year.
I decorate homes for the holidays both inside and out. That work seems to pale in comparison with my friend’s visual discussion of the holiday and family history sitting on this mantel-as well it should. Anyone who has lost someone they love deeply understands what it means to be set adrift in the dark without a map. The mantle so rich with history is flanked by a short and substantial Christmas tree-the crystal tree. My friend has been collecting, and given by friends, crystal holiday ornaments for many years. That glass spills over onto the piano. This is her tree, set in the context of her history. This room dressed for the holidays is so so very beautiful, for all that it means, for every question it asks. Lacking answers, the decoration for the holidays says hello. There is celebration in the truest sense of the word here. A family celebrating Christmas in a very personal way.
For many years, I stood a cut Christmas tree in a stout steel stand, dripping in all manner of lights, on the rear terrace of my client. I will say I only saw that tree in the shop-I never saw it in place, and ablaze with light. My friend tells me her father spent lots of time in his kitchen this past winter, with a view of that tree. She asked if I could take his lights, and recreate that tree in her garden; this we did. She wanted me to see that tree. I had no idea how badly I needed to see that tree-so many thanks, BW. I work very hard to make the holidays of others more festive and beautiful-but the moment I saw this tree I realized that sometimes I make a difference. Learning what this tree meant to him, and now seeing what it means to her, made my heart shine.
From upstairs, her father’s tree lights the landscape. His tree lights this night beautifully. I am thinking so much about those gestures gardeners manage to make for the better. There are things that irritate me, but this tree makes most of that seem irrelevant. I so like the hope and forward thinking energy a garden provides. My garden moves me. Most days, it encourages me to still my complaints, and go on. This tree glowing-I get the message. It is keeping someone I care about very much a certain kind of much needed company. The holidays provide a way for all of us to say thanks.
From BW’s bedroom, the landscape is illuminated in a very special way. I can tell she is not sleeping well. I cannot in any way help her with her grief. Though I long to help her, her grief is hers alone. That I was able to bring her father’s tree to her-all her idea and doing-not mine. Her vigil is a lonely one, but she took the time and effort to invite me to see it, and explain what a comfort it is to her. Thanks again, BW. Her landscape lighted so softly and beautifully for the winter-understand this. A landscape-no matter its configuration-a beautiful landscape makes for a better life.
BW took me to her daughter’s room to look out the window on her father’s tree. I was in no way prepared for what I saw. This may be the most beautiful holiday expression I have ever seen. BW tells me she decorated her daughter’s room for the holidays like this in celebration of her return from her first year quarter in college. And ever since. A truly heart felt expression of love like this-beautiful beyond words.