Winter’s Icy Grip

icy-day.jpgA week ago, both my garden and I were laid low by nature’s icy grip. Steady rains over several days and declining temperatures resulted in a rare late December ice storm.  My garden was spared the worst of the storm, which mostly laid waste to landscapes north of us.  I was not so fortunate.  I woke up a week ago Monday with a miserably bad cold.  How could something so ordinary be so utterly debilitating?

ice-storm.jpgFrozen is a word that routinely characterizes the winter landscape.  But ice that accumulates on plants in the landscape can result in terrible damage to life and limb.  Water is very heavy.  Water that is glued fast to small branches can break them.  Ice on evergreens can bring their boughs down to the ground.  An ice storm last March broke a major branch on one of my dogwoods.  That branch, with only a little wood and the bark on the bottom side still intact, bloomed normally, and had a full compliment of leaves all summer.  It is loaded with flower buds for the spring.  Every few hours I would check out the window to see if the weight of the ice would break that branch off altogether.  Obviously the will to live is a strong one; the branch survived the ice.

ice-storm.jpgAll that night and into the next morning, I could hear the sounds of branches crashing to the ground. I only hoped that none of them were in my yard.  I do prune my trees and shrubs regularly, in the hopes that they will successfully weather wind, snow and ice.  But our street trees are not kept up by the city forestry department.  All of the pruning to the trees is done, on an irregular basis -  and in a very messy way – by a stormy weather event.  Dead, diseased or damaged branches weighted by ice did break loose from the trees.  Nature can be benign, beautiful, and violently destructive.  If you are a gardener, you have seem all of the aforementioned.

iced-over.jpgThe ice glittered, even though the day was entirely overcast.  Fascinating and frightening accurately describes nature’s icy grip.

winter-container.jpgThe winter pots in the driveway were all the better for the ice.  The curly ting and white leptospermum bowed their branchy heads in a most graceful way.

winter-container.jpgOnly the icy weather could create this swooping shape from materials known for their stiff and inflexible habit.  Bowing to the force of nature creates all kinds of unexpected shapes in the landscape.  Trees whose mature shapes are dictated by a windswept or otherwise hostile environment are a marvel to behold.  The marvel of the common cold is that the day finally comes when that virus loosens its grip, and you feel you might be able to breathe, eat and sleep again.

winter container.jpgI am happy to report that the ice is melting.

 

In The Pink

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The dark days are here.  The needled foliage of the yews are not spring or summer green.  They are black green.  The colder the weather, the darker the color.  By contrast with the snow, the boxwood foliage is dark too.  I don’t mind it, really.  Not now.  But as the winter drags on and on, that brown, black green, black, gray and white can get to be tiresome.  Not that I envy gardeners in California.  I wouldn’t trade how one season gives way to the next for a warm and sunny winter.  Having grown up in the midwest, a warm and sunny winter would just seem wrong.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgBut I won’t have to worry about coping with a limited and severe color palette.  My winter garden in front of my house will be in the pink-dreary winter month after dreary winter month.  Does the pink in this pot seem implausible?  Not to my eye.  The curly copper willow looks great with the brick.  The gold sinamay has enough orange and enough mass to look like a party. The pink eucalyptus has a lavender cast, set against the cinnamon brown willow.  Pink is by no means a traditional holiday color, but why not?   How a color reads has everything to do with its relationship to neighboring colors.  Color also reads so differently in daylight, or night light. Suffice it to say, we will have an abundance of gray days the next few months.  I like the idea of unexpected winter color.

holiday-garland.jpgThe holiday garland features pink bits.  Funny how what seemed in the studio to be overwhelmingly pink looks so much more reserved outdoors.

evergreen-garland.jpgIt is hard to make out the individual elements from the street.  There is the dark green of the evergreen boughs, punctuated by a color and forms that attract the eye.  Pink may be out of season in the garden, but it is in season in my holiday garden.  Of course anyone who comes to the door gets a clearer view.  That is the point, of course.  My landscape has a street presentation-neat, simple and well kept-and not especially given to the personal details. Those details are reserved for people I know and expect.  For a guest that arrives at the front door, there is an element of surprise.

pink-eucalyptus.jpgI would call this a juicy look.  In contrast to the austere look of the overall winter landscape. I favor juicy, no matter the season.  As in hellebores in really early spring, tulips in the late spring, and roses in June, and the hibiscus in late summer. I like flowers in the landscape.  Clematis in bloom is quite unlike the color of any other green plant.  As much as I like boxwood, yews, hosta, lady’s mantle and Princeton Gold maples, I like colors other than green-no matter the season.

winter-pot.jpgWhite in the winter is a regular feature.  Snow is snow.  In this picture, the orange and pink looks companionable to the remains of my hydrangeas.  The color scheme fits right in.  The snow makes its own demands visually.  Everything snow touches turns their color close to black.  Snow that falls on temperature darkened ever greens is all about the contrast between black and white.

tree-in-the-side-yard.jpgMy pot in the side garden has a cut Christmas tree in it, strung with 7 strands of mini lights. At night, the glow is visible from the street, and from the south side of my house.  I find that warm light comforting.  Appropriate to the season.  The lights add another color to the winter landscape-a warm color.

parrotia-in-winter.jpgLest you think there is no pink in the Michigan landscape in the third week of December, I invite you to give a look at my Parrotia.  It is the very last tree in my yard to change color.  The leaves are a brilliant yellow in late fall.  This tree has yet to give up its leaves.  They might stay stuck the entire winter.  The dry leaves are pink – granted a muddy subtle brownish pink.  But pink,  nonetheless.

 

At A Glance: More Holiday Garlands

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It’s December in the garden.  Time to hang it up.

 

The Holiday Garland

floral-picks.jpgConstructing evergreen garlands is not a job I would tackle.  I buy them already made from Dan Prielipp at my local farmer’s market.  He makes them up thick for me from a number of species of fir boughs. A 50 foot length is incredibly heavy.  So much wood in those boughs, and so much water.  I can put evergreen boughs together to decorate a mantel, but garland construction I leave to the professionals.  I am, however, able to decorate a garland. To tell the truth, that decoration is my favorite part.  I take the additions of decor to a garland seriously.  My crew will be hanging a very heavy and very long object from a home or commercial building. Anything I add to that should be strong and firmly attached.  The wired floral picks pictured above are an essential element of the construction.  My additions to the garland will require wood of its own.

garland-materials.jpgIt took most of today to decorate the garland I will hang at home.  I designed from the materials that were still available.  Detroit Garden Works has sold thousands of fresh cut branches, several hundred cases of fresh cut evergreens – and closing in on a thousand bunches of preserved eucalyptus.  As much as I love the eucalyptus, I had only 2 color choices left.  Pink, or black.  The winter season is black enough for this gardener.  Black at my front door-not a chance.  Too gloomy.  Pink it was.  Designing a garland for the holidays with pink-I rather liked the challenge.

decorating-the-garland.jpgAny element I add to a holiday garland gets put together ahead of time.  Under no circumstances would I set up a ladder next to a garland that has already been hung, and proceed to work.  First of all, it was 17 degrees today.  Secondly, any construction project asks for a work surface at elbow height, a full compliment of materials, and a better than full compliment of tools.  This garland will be decorated with magnolia stems, pine cones, and pink eucalyptus.  I put a bouquet together with a zip tie.  Once every element is arranged as it should be, I tighten the tie, and clip off the tail.

glued-and-wired.jpgI shorten all of the stems of the materials, insert a floral pick, wire the pick to the stems, and soak the entire affair with hot melt glue.  I want but one stem to go into the garland.  Many stems are not very cooperative with one another.  The garland is composed of boughs that are quite tightly wired together.  There are not so many spaces to insert other material.  One pick, to which all of the other elements are attached, goes into the garland.

garland-materials.jpgWhat next?  This is a design question that had much to do with color.  How would I make that pink flavored eucalyptus look like my first choice for a holiday garland? Luckily, fresh green looks good with just about any color. Nothing struck my eye, until I saw these small faux orange fruits.  I have no idea what fruit they intend to represent.  Mini persimmons?  Orange cherry tomatoes?  I wasn’t going to quibble about the thought behind these little fruits.  I needed to make that pink look good.

garland-decoration.jpgI made 18 of these small bouquets-all of them road and weather ready.  The orange and pink combination was starting to interest me. The pine cones seem so essential to any holiday garland.  There are so many different types and sizes.  We stock tropical as well as native cones; they all speak to the holidays and the winter season.  These magnolia branches are from a supplier that specializes in naturally grown, unpruned, and small leaved bunches. The large dark green leaf is a beautiful foil to the evergreen needles.  The brown felted obverse of the leaves is a gorgeous texture and color.

garland-decoration.jpgMy pink eucalyptus was beginning to look very festive.  I wasn’t all that worried.  Any materials can be put together in an interesting way. The holiday garland is an expression of warmth and celebration.  That expression can be realized in lots of ways.  In no end of color schemes.  No rules.  That simple moment when materials say hello to the imagination is pure pleasure.

assembling-the-garland.jpgA good many feet of this garland has been strapped to a stout bamboo pole. I like my garland straight.  Given that evergreen garland wants in the worst way to drape, I attach this particular garland to a pole.  A garland which is wired to a pole only needs a few points of attachment.  A pair or 3 screws, into the mortar joints. Holiday garland not only needs to be beautiful, it needs to be ready and friendly to hang.  My crew never complains about anything, ever.  They are unfailingly good natured.  This makes me determined to make an installation as smooth as I can.

garland-decoration.jpgIt took most of today to get this garland decorated, and ready to hang.  I glued and wired every bouquet to the horizontal part of the garland.  The garland that hangs down the sides of the front porch-who knows where the evergreen chips may fall.  A garland is guaranteed to twist until it comes to rest.  The additional decorations are glued and wired such that they could be easily attached to the sides after the garland is hung.

holiday-decor.jpgAs for my pots-pink eucalyptus, and curly copper willow.  I may add some coppery brown sinamay shot through with gold threads to the mix. My holiday at home is taking shape.