At A Glance: The Holiday At Home

holiday lighting (2)My holiday at home came very late in December. I do not even think of decking out my own home for winter until all of my work is done. That only seems fair. Buck and I are both used to the last minute nature of our holiday. This December 23rd, I was so glad to see my crew driving up and unloading what would hold down my landscape for the winter. Fortunately, the weather was so mild that the installation went fast. They were working. I was breathing a big sigh of relief.

holiday lighting (3)The Branch Studio people made short work of constructing and hanging the garland. As I like the garland hung straight across the top, we attach that section to a bamboo pole. The pole gets attached to the wall via screws that are set in the mortar, and concrete wire looped around the pole.

holiday lighting (4)the finish at the front door

December 23, 2015 004one of the four cast iron pots original to the house that are visible from the street.

holiday lighting (5)I have a very formal landscape. The tenor of the seasonal display is in sharp contrast to that sober and spare landscape. The contrast here is in form. The pots and garland are loosely made, and not all that formal. Contrast is a very important element in design. Too much of the same can be monotonous at best, or overwhelming at worst. Contrast makes each element look better. There is a lot of green here, but the textures vary.

holiday lighting (6)The grapevine garland is wound with lights. This will help to keep my porch well lit over the winter months.

holiday lighting (7)at dusk

holiday lighting (10)night light

holiday lighting (9)My front porch is lighted as best I can. If I have company coming,I want the way to the front door to be brightly lit. If I have a winter ahead of me, I want some entertainment and pleasure from the dormant landscape.

holiday lighting (8)Pots that are full up for the winter, and warmly lit make the quiet and dark a little easier to bear.

Flipping The Switch

night lightThe beginning of the winter season is marked by the scarcity of daylight. By mid December, it seems like it is dark most of the time. Winter days are likely to be gray days. It is no wonder that outdoor lighting is a hallmark of the holidays. I have always thought that holiday lighting is a form of winter gardening. The lights may outline the roof of a house, or decorate a specimen tree or evergreen, or be draped over the shrubbery. No one but the most ruinously serious of us thinks their holiday lighting will be subject to a taste test. The materials are relatively inexpensive, and people express their dismay with the coming of the dark, and the celebration of the holidays with abandon. I like all of the light at this gloomy time of year.

DSC_3753I will confess that most landscape lighting does not interest me-except during the winter.  It is light late in the summer, and equally as light early in the morning.  The light from the sky is like no other.  But once the skies go dark, in tandem with the landscape going dormant, I am more interested in some night light.  Rob’s lit spheres have been a staple at Detroit Garden Works for a number of years.  We manufacture raw steel circles that we infill with brown corded lights in 2 styles. We make them so they can be hung from a low branch of a big tree.  We also make them with long prongs that can be pushed into the ground in a garden. These light rings are more about winter light, than holiday light.  What a relief. It is OK to run those rings all winter long.

DSC_3765Winter containers are the perfect vehicle for some temporary winter lighting. The greens do a great job of obscuring the cords. When the dark comes early, it is a pleasure to enjoy what is in those pots day or night. The advent of warm light LED light strings means that lighting the landscape in the winter is an inexpensive affair. They draw so little power-about 1/10th that of incandescent light strings. The color of that light has improved so much in recent years. When LED string lights first came out, that cold blue light had no grace or charm whatsoever.
DSC_3754Electric light in the winter landscape adds a little sparkle to a gloomy morning and afternoon. Company coming to my house for dinner at 7pm are walking up to the front door in the dark.  Landscape path lighting is utilitarian.  Lights in the pots dispel the gloom, and say welcome.

DSC_3755My landscape lighting skills are poor to middling.  There are lighting designers who do an incredible job of featuring the landscape at night. Should I have a client who is interested in landscape lighting, I refer them. I myself am not interested in lighting design. I am interested in a warm, friendly, and unstudied look.

DSC_3756There are those places and moments when night lighting is theater. That theater is not my forte. I like a blush over the landscape. In the very late afternoon, the light in pots is as soft as it is sparkly. This much light is enough.

DSC_3804Once the skies go dark, those lighted pots glow. This brick wall is bathed in a warm subtle light.

DSC_3802This client has a covered porch, with no ceiling light fixture. One string of our 1000 light LED strings illuminate the perimeter of the ceiling, and each side of the front door. Another 750 count LED light string strewn on the floor of the porch around a grouping of pots makes this porch glow.  A winter with a glow in the landscape is a winter that has a landscape that is lively.

DSC_3797My advice this 6th day of January? Stay warm.  Plug something in.

New Year’s

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (3)Christmas came and went, without the shop being fully dressed for winter. We had an incredibly busy season – that work has to come first. No one knows that better than I. But I have a love and a mission for making sure that our shop delights the eye of any gardener face to face with the winter season. The Branch crew constructed and hung the garland that is draped across the top of the roof boxes and all the way down to the ground on a Saturday in mid December. They added greens to the leading edge of the boxes behind the garland, for an especially lush look on the roof. That was a huge undertaking. It took 5 people just to haul it up an extension ladder to the roof. That was all we had going on for at least another week. The next Saturday all of the window boxes were filled with greens, and the 2 pots out front had twigs and greens. Christmas day afternoon, I constructed and set all of the centerpieces in the window boxes, and added small scale vine garlands to the greens, and pine cones to drape. Yes, Christmas afternoon.  Buck was rolling his eyes.  New Year’s Eve day, I had help from a sympathetic crew.  David found lights for the window boxes elsewhere, as we were out, and installed them.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (14)I wanted something tree like at the front door. Dan and his landscape crew cut down a Siberian elm that was growing up through the gas meter at Branch, and set them into steel shoes in the bottom of a pair of fiber pots. Once the fiber pots were filled with gravel, these tall branches were stable. As I had a pine cone fest already going on, I decided to hang pine cones on these trees. Marzela and David did all of the work of it. Dan, my landscape super, named these trees Pinus Ulmus.  We all found this incredibly amusing. The fun of hanging pine cones on a deciduous tree aside, I wanted to bring some of the warm orangy brown of the cones and grapevine garland onto these pale gray branches.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (4)The centerpieces in the window boxes are largely comprised of bunches of short branches that Rob had for sale in the shop. I can’t say what they are, I was looking at the height, color, and texture, and not the species.  The white tallow berry picks are artificial. They and the bleached pine cones add punch and punctuation to the mix. The roof garland features our new pin point LED lights. All of the light garlands are attached to the grapevine.

DSC_3726The two little leaf lindens outside the shop fence got a winter coat of natural curly willow. David got all of the bunches up against the trunk with the help of some bungee cords. Once he had every stem arranged to his satisfaction, he wired them on with concrete wire.  He and I covered that wire with two pine cone garlands wound around and secured to each tree. This is a warm look for winter.  Rob’s wire baskets with lights in the bottom, and a mass of twigs, got placed on either side of a birch faux bois bench.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (5)We were looking like we were ready for the winter. This made me happy.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (9)We have a very gray and dark season ahead of us. It is a tough time for anyone who gardens in a northern climate. The dark comes on in late afternoon, and does not abate until 8 am.  The cold has finally caught up with us. Michigan is renowned on the gray skies list-it ranks right up there. Having the shop with a display for winter will make the winter easier to bear. Every day when I walk to my office door, I will be glad for the warm blanket.  It is as simple as that.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (10)I took this picture at 4:40 this afternoon. The yews and boxwood have gone to their winter black green. The dusting of snow looks chilly.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (12)One of my most favorite items we sold in the shop for the winter are these strings of lights with giant bulbs. I have Rob to thank for these. The linden closest to the road will have this string lighted all winter long.  I come to work in the dark, and I park my car here in the winter.  The light these bulbs provide is adding lots of visual vitamin D to my daily life.

Detroit Garden Works winter 2015 (1)Happy New Year.

 

 

Nearer To The Last

winter container arrangementsMy entire crew was in today, after a 4 day Christmas break.We had a few late request winter container projects to do. They dove into the work, like they always do. We were down to the very last bits of the hundreds of cases of greens we had delivered in November. The day they arrived, I could not imagine that we would use them all.  Today we took a Korean fir Christmas tree that Rob had placed in the shop, and chopped it up for branches, so we would have enough. This client would get some very special greens. These two centerpieces with pussy willow and blue gray eucalyptus were already installed in my pots at home. They came back to the shop, to be integrated into a new scheme. My driveway pots will need another treatment. I am not the least bit concerned about having to redo them. There are always other choices that work.

December 30, 2015 013This client has a contemporary version of Nantucket style home.  She has a considerable interest in contemporary expression.  For a client like this, we work with materials in a different way.  A more sculptural way. The twigs in the center are artificial, and look like they have ice on them.  If we ever get some winter weather, they will be believable.

December 30, 2015 015No matter the aesthetic point of view governing a winter container design and construction, generosity is an important element.  Our winters are incredibly long, gray, and spare.  All the trees in their leafless state is a study in spare.  This means I like lots of whatever elements I choose to include in a winter container.  I greatly admire the lean chilly look, but what I really like is a warm and toasty response to winter. We shopped the field at Branch for these branches-we bundled lots of them up with steel wire. 4 bunches of a yellow green eucalyptus complete the look. This client has a fairly contemporary mindset as well.

December 30, 2015 017Winter color is the subject of no end of articles about the winter landscape. That color does not need to be rooted in the ground.  Willow and dogwood twigs, in their cut state, will endow a landscape stuffed in to a pot with great color the entire winter. I do not have room to grow yellow twig dogwood or copper flame willow on my small property.  But their cut twigs can energize a landscape gone over to the dark side. The appearance of the color inside the garage under fluorescent lights is a little jarring. Outdoors, on a cloudy day, that color will tone down considerably.

IMG_7765How I decide to dress a client’s containers for the winter-I cannot really explain that process even to my own satisfaction. I favor a subtle expression on this porch, as the architecture is so strong. Some yellow undertones are good with the warm color of the cedar shakes, and the wood pots.

IMG_7766These wood boxes are greatly over scaled for this front door. This was not my choice, but I have come around to like them. I like how much they make me think, before I do. Were these pots placed in a more open location, I would do them much larger. The space on this porch is restricted. How to make the arrangements large enough without them looking overbearing or obstructive is always a challenge, no matter the season. On occasion my client protests that the winter pots cannot be seen from the road. I don’t mind how much they blend into their surroundings. To my eye, the star of this porch is that dark blue lacquered door.

IMG_7772A rear porch has a pair of very large white boxes just outside the doors. Some years I try to match all of that white. As they are viewed from the porch windows that are close by, dark colors read equally as well.

IMG_7771Proper proportion is a design element that drives all of my design.  These greens are very low and very wide. Appropriate for these massive and simple containers. The dark blue eucalyptus has a cube of white eucalyptus underneath it.  This adds visual mass to that dark blue, while helping to bring out the blue color.

IMG_7769I do want to speak to the beauty I see in mixed greens for winter containers. We have so many conifers that grace our zone. Conifers that grow in the Pacific northwest are represented in our mix as well. Many conifers that would suffer in our extreme winters thrive there. I suspect the long and fairly mild growing season out there means that conifers can bounce back and regrow quickly when they are pruned for cut branches. Our mountain hemlock comes from very high elevations, and are only available for a very short time in early November.  Once the snows come to the mountains, the trees are impossible to reach. Silver fir was in very short supply this fall, for the same reason. On any given winter day in Michigan, the evergreens greatly endow the landscape.

IMG_7782The driveway pots we plant up for all four seasons.  Spring, summer, fall and winter. No pot needs to go empty over the winter.

IMG_7784The color of the yellow twig is indeed more subdued when it is placed outdoors.  Even so, it is visually lively, in a landscape that has gone neutral in color.

IMG_7775
Flame willow is aptly named.

IMG_7779The 10 containers we fill for winter here add a lot of look to the winter landscape.

IMG_7785We are wrapping things up.