All Natural

holiday installation (2)A client whose exuberant husband was campaigning for more in the way of holiday decorations outdoors had only one request.  All natural materials, please.  Garlands comprised of fresh fir, grapevine, tallow berries, pine cones and magnolia are as natural as could be, and fit right into an existing landscape. All of the materials came originally from the landscape.  The textures, colors and forms are easy on the eye, meaning is just about impossible to over do a natural look.  I was not worried that my client would feel overwhelmed.  I was sure it would just feel warm.

holiday installation (3)Properly judging the volume and scale needed can make a world of difference in the result.  For an entrance garland, big sugar cones have much more impact from the ground than white pine cones.  Magnolia leaves read well from a distance, as they are large. White tallow berries stand out, as everything white in the garden does. Rolls of grapevine come spring loaded with volume.  What might look over scaled on the ground will look just right, hung high on the wall of a building. To be sure we would have enough volume, we had 2 25 foot lengths ready to hang.

holiday installation 9The first garland was attached from the right top corner of the front porch.  The first 11 feet would be attached at frequent intervals across the width of the existing fascia board, to the left. The last 14 feet would drape down the left side of the porch.

holiday installation (4)Making sure a garland is firmly attached is a must.  I have no idea how much this garland weighs, but the last thing you want is garland sagging in the wind and snow.

holiday installation (5)Having multiple points to attach the garland means you have the ability to place it exactly as you wish.  For this porch, hanging the garland straight across and parallel to the ground would leave the view of the stone arch on the wall intact. Multiple points of attachment means the weight is spread out. Outwitting gravity just takes a little more time and care. It is easier to swag a big garland. The weight and gravity will see that your loops look graceful.  But some architecture calls for a clean and simple look.  A swag here would run counter to the lines established by the architecture.

holiday installation (6)Garland 2 was attached at the top left corner, and hung from the left all the way to the right side.  This means there is a double thickness of garland above the door, and a single thickness down each side.  A porch of this size calls for a substantial garland, hung outside the coach lights. The garland is a frame for the porch, and will not interfere with any coming and going.

holiday installation (8)We did run brown corded lights all along the grapevine.  This will help to illuminate it at night.  All you can see of the lighting in this picture are the light bulbs.  The brown cords up high blend invisibly into the grapevine. The overall look of the garland is appropriate to the size of the porch, and looks very warm and inviting to my eye.  The containers are simple. A roughly spherical shape of boxwood in the center is surrounded by silver fir.  The topiary forms are strung with lights that describes their shape.  There are garland lights tucked into the greens.

holiday installation (7)A pair of large windows in the front are faced down with steel boxes from Branch.  The boxes were made wider than the window, and have a subtle bow front.  The centerpiece from the fall planting was augmented with 2 additional pieces of the same material.  These were added to the left and the right of the original centerpiece.  The front 2/3rds box is stuffed with a mix of silver fir and boxwood.  The rear 1/3rd is all boxwood.  The boxes have lights near the centerpiece assembly, and in the greens.

holiday installation (1)Every year we hang one of Rob’s light rings in the window, with a plain magnolia wreath in the center.  We wire the wreath to the ring in four places, so it stays put even on windy days. This year we added a garland over the top. A single garland is centered over the window, and hung high enough so the stone arch is still visible.  The garland stops 16″ above the box, so as not to interfere with the shape established in the container. This is a warm winter look, with a splash of holiday.

Day And Night

DA holiday 2014Day and night get equal play in our zone this time of year. There is no need to convince you.  The dark and the cold is obvious to any gardener within range of my zone.  Winter and holiday containers can help mitigate the down and dormant garden.  Whatever you create in the way of winter pots has to have a little evening wear waiting in the wings. These pots positioned at the end of a driveway have silver eucalyptus and matte surfaced holiday balls-these materials are naturally reflective. White in the landscape comes to the foreground visually.  Dark colors recede.  The night light in this pot-wound around the topiary form.  This form in a summer setting could provide structure for a vine.  Unadorned, it is a sculptural element hovering over a planting.  In the winter, it is an armature for a source of light.

DA holiday 2014  2The night light provided by the topiary forms is strong and lacy. Even the glass balls have a subtle glow. My client calls these the onion heads- with great affection, I might add.  The look at night is welcoming. There is a practical aspect.  The way to the garage is marked loud and clear.

DSC_6801We plant a pair of tall Belgian wood boxes for a client, every year, for all four seasons. We removed the fall planting yesterday-I was pleased that it still looked good.  But for some wilt in the kale after a string of nights around 12 degrees, the fall planting was entirely presentable.  But now is the time to move beyond the fall to the winter season.  The winter arrangements need to be large, as the pots are big. They also need lighting, as the front of the house is not especially well lit. A string of garland lights, which has 300 bulbs on a 35 foot strand, has been wound around the base of the centerpiece.  This will provide a first tier round of lighting at night.

DSC_6803Barely visible here is a second strand of 100 count mini lights on brown cords.  This lights have been tucked between the eucalyptus and the red twig dogwood.  During the day, those lights strings are all but invisible. At night, they will glow. A number of tall gold picks will pick up the twinkle light in the evening hours, and provides a little holiday sparkle.  These branches can be taken out after New Year’s.  The red twig and eucalyptus will look great for the remainder of the winter.

DSC_6800This is the basic structure and shape of an arrangement that will last all winter.  I would bet it will still look serviceable in March. Cut noble fir wears like iron over the winter.  The branches and the needles are very strong, and will handle any bad weather a winter has to dish out.  The preserved eucalyptus will survive the winter without a blemish. No container arrangement delivers so well and for so long as a winter arrangement.  No watering.  No deadheading, or fertilizing.  All there is to do is look, and be pleased about what you see.

SD holiday 2014The final details come after the basic structure is in place.  Bringing the holiday expression, and the red of the holiday down into the lower portion of the arrangement makes for an execution which is all put together, and ready for company – top to bottom.  A third layer of lights is added to the greens.  Could there be too many lights?

SD holiday 2014  5During the day, these winter pots keep the front door company in a formal way.  A holiday way. A winter way.  The color compliments the stone on the house. These boxes are dressed for the winter season.  The lighting contained within these pots will illuminate the entrance to the front door at night, over the course of our long winter. These clients are serious about the garden and the landscape. They rue the coming of the cold as much as you do. These pots express that interest in the landscape every day of the dormant winter season.

IMG_7980These boxes provide lots of light at the front door, after dark. Any light says welcome.  Lots of light creates a glow that would warm the heart of any visitor.

IMG_3443I so value a beautiful expression of light for the winter season.  Our darkness is long, and even the days are cloudy and gloomy – for month to come.  A fresh snow will glow in this light. These lights will burn off a heavy blanket of snow.  My advice?  Turn the lights on.

 

Lighting Winter Containers

winter-containers.jpg
The most obvious sign that winter has arrived is the coming of the dark.  By 5pm, our natural light is waning.  If I leave work at 6pm, it is dark outside.  If I leave home at 6am, it is dark.  The dark and the cold can weigh heavily on one’s spirits. No wonder that many people express and celebrate the holiday season with lighting in some form or another.  I have long thought that seasonal lighting is a form of gardening.  I am not in my garden much now, nor will I be for the next 3 months.  The winter garden is not a place to be, it is a place to view passing by, or view from in doors. The winter season has a beauty all its own.  The bare trees and shrubs in the garden have a starkly sculptural appeal. The dried flower heads of hydrangeas are a warm brown-in a mass, dormant hydrangeas are beautiful.  Provided that one can see them. Beautiful lighting in the landscape is an important aspect of good design.  It consoles the spirit of the gardener who has been forced indoors for the duration.

RY winter pots 2014  2If you have ever been to Detroit Garden Works, you know who Rob is.  He does all of the buying for the shop, and is a very talented designer who has helped countless gardeners select ornament, furniture and containers for their garden. At this time of year, he helps people to design their winter and holiday containers. He also creates winter arrangements for clients.  He has an abiding interest in lighting.  He takes great care to redo the lighting in the shop every season.  He has designed lighting sculptures that make a visual statement with a minimum of effort.  One of his steel light rings hung from a tree in the winter is beautiful in the most simple way. Hang it up, and plug it in, and enjoy both its form, and its illumination.  A second series of light rings have a stand comprised of 4 steel rods that can be driven into the ground.  Strategically placed in a garden bed, or in the grass, that ring will light whatever is within range. Over the years, his lighted sculptures have been created from topiary forms and found objects. Invariably, the containers he creates for clients have some form of lighting as a key component.

RY winter pots 2014  5Given that we have just as much night time as day time, planning a seasonal container that has a presence in the dark only makes sense.  We carry brown corded holiday lighting in a number of different lengths.  The brown cords are much less noticeable during the day than the usual green corded mini lights. For these pots, he cut the tops off of a pair of rusted steel cone shaped plant climbers.  This provides an armature for the light string that is floating above the greens.  The steel top ring has been covered in grapevine- the light cords blend right in.  A strand of lights encircles the pussy willow centerpiece.  This light from the bottom helps to make the centerpiece read well at night.

RY winter pots  3I have no idea where these containers will be placed, but wherever that is, they will help light the way. I have a large container which I will light for the winter next to the stairs that go from my deck into the yard.  Should I take the dogs out after dark, I can see my way down those stairs. I do have down lights in my trees, so I can enjoy the landscape at night and from inside.  The additional light from that container puts a little light closer to ground level.  These winter pots will have the same effect.

RY winter pots 2014Even indoors in the garage, the halo light in these containers has a strong visual presence. If the person who ordered these containers is anything like me, they will run the lights all winter, until the days begin to get longer. A lighted winter landscape is a pleasure indeed.

RY winter pots  2014  4early evening

RY winter pots  2014  6mid evening

RY winter pots 2014  6the light at night

The Holiday Outdoors

holiday (1)As much as I like representing the holiday season in the garden, I like getting ready for it in the garage. Our garage space is large; we can set up a pop up fabrication shop that even Buck would like.  The approach to the work comes first. It is key to doing a job efficiently, and successfully.  We had a garland to make for a holiday installation.  Dan Prielipp from Prielipp Greenhouses, a long time supplier at the Oakland County Farmer’s market, custom makes our mixed fir garland. We find that concolor, noble and douglas fir holds up the best and the longest of all the possible garland greens.  We stretch out the garland on a series of cardboard boxes we save especially for this purpose.  This brings the garland up to a height that is comfortable to work on.  We split the garland in half, and reattach the pieces such that the vertical parts of the garland both left and right side have branches that face up. Branches up one side, and down the other offends my sense of symmetry.  Upfacing branches will eventually respond to gravity, and open up. Open branches are more volumetric.  Branches hung down will close as they loose their moisture.

holiday (2)We add noble fir where we think the garland needs more presence-these new boughs are attached with zip ties.  We loosely wire and attach groups of pine cones to the garland.  This is not a job to do on a ladder.  All we will do on the ladder is wire the finished garland in place.  Working on a flat surface helps to establish the front face of the garland. Once the groups of cones are attached, we wrap the garland with grapevine.  Rob makes sure we have loads of these 35 foot long rolls in stock for the winter season.  The grapevine was cut and rolled when fresh.  When dry, these branches are wiry, and keep their circular shape no matter the weather.

holiday (3)The grapevine, rolled generously over the surface of the garland, is beautiful in its own right.  But it also provides an armature upon which lots of other elements of the garland can be attached. I like garland that has is airy, and has a sculptural shape.  The faux berries and glass ornaments of this garland were attached to nthe grapevine, not the garland.  More importantly, we attached brown corded 100 count light strands to the grapevine.  This placement will illuminate the garland at night.  Lights wound around the greens are too close to assembly to properly illuminate it.  I like to get the lights out there, over and above the garland.

holiday (4)Any materials that go outdoors have to be prepared to deal with freeze, and thaw.  Every glass ornament we attached to the greens in the containers needed to be sealed with glue.  Any water that would get inside and freeze would wreak havoc.  The big idea here?  Any element going in the garden for the holidays needs to be water tight, and securely attached.  Take the time.  The time it takes me to stake up a flopping Annabelle hydrangea or delphinium in bloom is 7 times the time it takes to put the plant supports in early on.  Why this concern about the time it takes?  Every gardener needs some free time to enjoy the results of the work they have done.   holiday (5)

The garland got wired up in no time.  For those of you who are afraid to put a screw into an exterior wall, I would suggest that the potential damage to the integrity of the wall from such a slight act is minimal.  Hanging screws make hanging a garland simple.  The peace of mind knowing that garland will stay put is well worth those little holes.  My advice?  Don’t fret over some holes in the wall 1/8 inch in diameter. Give your attention to the bigger picture.

holiday (7)A holiday expression in the garden takes some effort.  Minimize the effort with a construction plan.  Good planning can make the effort well worth the reward.  This weekend promises milder temperatures. Get out there.  Your family, friends, and community will appreciate it. Driving home tonight, I see so many houses in my neighborhood with holiday lighting ablaze. Love that.  The installation of this project took only 2 hours.  The centerpieces and greens were arranged ahead.  The garland was road ready on delivery. There is no need to stand outside in cold weather longer than necessary.

holiday (8)This client likes red at the holidays.  Integrifolia dyed red is perfect for her pots.  The red glass dots enliven the greens.  The garland lights will make the container glow, after hours.  Red in December shines.

DSC_6742My crew spent a lot of time getting this project ready for installation. It was better than a day’s work.  There was a lot of talk between them about the look of the finish.  This I like. They review everything we do, and talk to me about it.  The review from my crew-I treasure that moment. Work is one thing, but reflection and appreciation is better.  Make, furiously. Reflect.  Remake, or stand pat.  Wade into the process.  Enjoy every step of the way. Do more than you thought to do.  Be generous. This is how I would describe garden making.

holiday (9)Brown corded lights attached to grapevine

holiday (6)red integrifolia centerpieces

holiday (10)A holiday landscape is a landscape for a moment.  The winter celebration-delightful.