The Berries

Once it was decided to express a little holiday red, it seemed only natural to add berries to my Japanese maple branches.  It took an entire day to get them ready to hang.  With the temps in the teens, one hopes for an installation that is easy to manage with gloves on, and with dispatch.  Glass ornaments are fine outdoors-as long as no water gets inside, and freezes.  I had no interest in exploding berries.  So the caps were glued on all the way around, and the holes in the top around the hanger were sealed shut with glue. Then a florist’s wire was attached to each berry or berry cluster.  I would guess we glued and wired about 600 ornaments. 

Each tree had its own bucket of ornaments; I asked for the help of both the landscape crew and the shop people-so no one would have to be outdoors too long.  As it turned out, the south side of the building on a sunny day is not too bad.  It always seems like I have way too many ladders, until I have a project like this.  My only regret here-the need to disturb my snow blanket.  One sure sign of a gardener-that person who does not permit the mailman to trudge across the front yard through the snow.  “Please use the side walk sir.” I do like looking at my fresh and unsullied snow. 

Rob has no qualms about perching on a ladder listing to the east, as you can see.  He is also plenty tall enough to get some of the ornaments up high. Good design is not necessarily complicated-an edited and simple gesture can be just grand.  It just means that all of the effort it took to produce that gesture came ahead of the display, and is not visible.  I am not so good at editing at the holidays; I like to add, and then add a little more.  Getting the ornament to the tops of these trees is about making an effort. Sometimes a solid effort is sometimes all you need to bring a smile to someone’s face. 

The entire process went much faster than I thought. A holiday orchard was just about complete. 

Should I get to the office later than Steve in the morning, he will have turned on the lights. It is dark late into the morning now. The past few weeks I have been noticing all the bits and pieces I have placed in the windows.  I finally noticed all of that was apparent from the street.  I have 4 large scale factory windows with sills a foot deep.  These surfaces had accumulated all manner of unrelated objects that just needed to be put away.  In short, my window sills had that littered look.  With the remaining Japanese maple branches, Pam and I dressed a collection of vintage American jars with small holiday topiaries.  I glued on the berries; Pam did the bottoms.  We did 26 in all.

The three windows facing the front are now jammed with these jars.  The thicket of berried branches looks good on my side of the glass. 

From outside, the look is much improved.  Sometimes the smallest change can make a big impact.  Changing what I have become used to is the toughest change to make.  What is familiar has a way of hanging on with me. 

All of the big berries in the big trees, and the mini-berries in the little trees are out there-now what?

Winter White

If you live in Michigan, white figures prominently in your winter landscape. On sunny days, this is a blinding white; on gloomy days, a blue/grey white.  Chilly.  White in the spring or summer landscape can be fresh and crisp; this is a white of a different sort.  Our first snow fell fast and hard.  The temperatures were actually above freezing; that snow stuck to everything it touched.    

Driving was a challenge, but I am so glad I got to see these Himalayan white barked birch in a winter setting. I landscaped the common areas of this community a good many years ago.  The birch planted in irregular drifts are paired with scotch pine, placed in a similar fashion.  I like these two trees planted together.  The stout long needled evergreens are a beautiful foil for the wispy birch.  A green and white landscape.  This day, the white clearly had the upper hand. 

The birch are planted in a large square picture frame around the entrance building-three trees wide.  Planted on 12 foot centers, the lacy branches are beginning to meet overhead. My favorite part of the winter landscape is the ability to see the structure of woody plants.  Though I am unhappy to see burning bush and the like pruned into artificial shapes, the winter look of this style of pruning is interesting.  The overall shapes that many branches make can be be quite striking.     

These birch were planted in a loose grove, and left unpruned. The landscape is quietly beautiful on a snowy day. 

I use lots of birch branches in winter containers.  Their graceful and very twiggy appearance is in sharp contrast to the pole like stems of the willows. I am able to buy them from a farm in their natural state, and as lacquered natural branches.  That shine is useful in some places.  The branches are also available in a variety of colors-including white.  For the holidays, they are available in platinum, silver and gold.  This English antique oval wirework planter is 5 feet long, by about 30 inches wide-large.  A long and dense centerpiece of white birch branches and green eucalyptus was good with the length of the planter, but this composition needed much more in the way of height and scale.    

The long smooth branches-silver painted manzanita.  These thick and sculptural branches were individually set around and over the inner centerpiece.  Silver in a snowy setting such as this reads much like white.  A planter of this size benefits from a mix of greens.  Boxwood and noble fir contrast in color and texture.  This mix helps keep the surface of this container lively looking. 

Tall white birch branches and white frosted eucalyptus make a substantial statement in these square white wood boxes.  A layer of faux snowy white pine picks add another layer to the centerpiece.  A wide and low planter asks for some bulk around the middle.  

The faux branches have a windswept look that takes readily to a placement outdoors; they are convincing.  Low and layered evergreens in the same mix finish the composition.  Even on a very grey day like today these boxes have a festive winter look.

A small wire work planter gets a similar treatment, but in a wispy and scaled down way appropriate to the style and size of the planter. My client likes green and white, summer and winter.    

White will be the predominant color of the landscape here for months to come; this white wirework planter needs the green as much as it needs a large scale white element.  The white dining table overed in snow on this terrace- barely visible today.

Deer In The Garden


The idea of sculpture in a garden greatly appeals to me.  Not that I mind museums.  I was taken regularly as a child. If you pushed me, I could describe certain rooms, paintings and sculptures at the Detroit Art Institute fairly accurately.  The medieval sculptures of the saints-my Mom could never figure out why I always wanted to go there first.   As an adult, in my top ten list of most memorable experiences include the Carravagio exhibition at the Met in NYC in 1985, and the Lucien Freud exhibition at the Met in 2000.  Unforgettable.  These  exhibitions were worth driving to New York to see. 

But given my choice, I would prefer to be standing in a meadow over a museum.  In a gully over a gallery.  An art object that keeps me company outdoors-this I really like. I have seen Henry Moore sculptures outdoors in both private and public collections.  In the mid 80′s I lived in New York  just one block from a Richard Serra sculpture-not that it moved me particularly.  But there it was, in the landscape. The lion sculptures outside Tiger stadium delight both the kids and adults that see them. 

This is all by way of saying that I have had exposure to fine art in museums, galleries, private homes, and parks.  I happen to believe that fine art is all around me, outdoors. Lots of that-courtesy of nature.  Shopping for a client recently, I parked my car near a row of mature Bradford pears wreathed in nut brown fruit. I had never really looked at that fruit before.  If you are the person that was waving me out of the road that day-I can only say those trees laden with fruit stopped me in my tracks.

A Henry Moore sculpture is not in my future-no matter.  Sculptures made from grapevine would fit right into my garden.  These life size grapevine deer are made in California-woven over steel armatures.  The standing Buck, the grazing Buck, the doe and the fawn-what garden does not have room for one, or a group of them?  Some may say they are craft-and they are finely crafted.  But I don’t find the need to make that distinction. 

Some sculpture might never be at ease in a garden.  But these grapevine deer seem to make themselves right at home.  I suppose that is as much about the material as it is about the subject matter.  Grapevine is a wiry and sturdily independent material.  How this California company manages to make sculpture from rigid welded steel forms and wild vines-astonishing.  Grapes grow independent of your issues, or mine.  Constructing sculpture from  such a willfully uncooperative material cannot be that easy.  No grapevine grows parallel to its neighbor.  These deer sculptures may not be within shouting distance of a Henry Moore sculpture, but they please me. 

Sculptures such as these easily accomodate a little holiday decoration.  Each figure is hand made, and assembled by one artist from start to finish.  The grapevine is thoroughly sealed to prevent the vine from deteriorating.  This needs be be repeated once a year. 

If I had to have a deer in my garden, this would be my species of choice.

In Progress


It is great fun for me to outfit the front of the shop for the winter.  I can do the work in bits and pieces.  I can change my mind, or change direction. I do it up as little or as much as I want.  I spend lots of hours at work, so I have time to look at it and think.  It is still dark when I get to work, so I see what it looks like at night.  Though I hate like heck repeating myself, I did drape the windows with burlap again this year-that’s how much I liked the look. Those went up weeks ago, before the winter work rush. 

 Jenny and Pam wrapped the trunks of the linden trees.  Given the recent temperatures of 7 and 8 degrees, this not only looks plausible, it looks like a good idea.

Steve and his crew hung the drapes, and made the light garlands.  What started out as white orange green and gold lights are now white, gold and red.  I seem to be in the mood for red.  Part of that inclination comes from an unexpected source.  A client who purchased a new home was not so thrilled with the 17 trees jammed into a small urban lot. A number of them were Japanese maples, impossible to transplant.  Though I am not a big fan of Acer palmatum, it was hard enough to chop them down, much less pitch them out.  So those tall branches have a home in my 6 pots out front. Red-leaved Japanese maples branches-what can I do to honor them?

This picture should make obvious that any gesture in the landscape needs to be a substantial one.  This looks for all the world like I just barely got going-which is true.  I am thinking a little red would do this scene a world of good.  Red in the landscape tends to read in a very subtle way-so I am also thinking that whatever red I plan to put here needs to be a lot.       

Everything in sight has that bronzy brown hue; even my boxwood goes orangy brown with cold weather. It is beautiful, in a very austere way.  There are months ahead where austere will rule-I am not ready for that yet.    

The lighting adds a lot of color and sparkle, but I did not have a good idea about how to introduce daytime color until a few days ago.  Rob and I have had discussions on and off this season about the problem of berries.  Berries in a winter landscape sound great-but the choices are not so great.  Good looking artificial berries tend to be paper wrapped. This means they are intended for interior use.  All plastic berry stems are not so great looking-unless you are a considerable distance away.  Spraying the winterberry with a strong antidessicant has worked so far for me, but they make a modest red gesture-not a big one. So maybe some berries for all these branches.

These snow covered branches look great, illuminated by the lights on the drapes. I so wish I had gotten some berries on these branches before the snow, but I am sure there is snow to come.  I cannot remember the last time we had snow and very cold temperatures like this so early in December.  It was too cold to work outside yesterday-7 degrees, and very windy.  Temps in the 20′s today will seem like a heatwave.

Nature has done her part to frost all of the basic elements of the landscape with a beautiful and thick layer of snow.  Hopefully I will be able to finish this up today.  

This looked just fine early this morning; I am hoping for better later in the day.