It’s December in the garden. Time to hang it up.
Constructing 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.
It 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.
Any 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.
I 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.
What 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.
I 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.
My 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.
A 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.
It 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.
Thank heavens that the garden has gone to sleep. What I have had to do this year to keep my perennials happy-lots of time and effort. I have old maples with girdling roots, and Princeton Gold maples, arborvitae, and boxwood that need yearly pruning. Big branches of my clematis succumbed to wilt. The roses-I have not looked at them in weeks. The fall anemones-so so. The taxus has trouble. My annual pots were the worst ever this summer. I wholly blame my choices, but the rainy and cold summer weather did not much help me out. The coming of the fall was welcome-who wants to spend more than five minutes looking at the results of a lost summer? Fall-I could not wait. My fall season was brief and unremarkable. Do I need to redesign?? Fall came abruptly to an end-many weeks ago.
Our recent work in anticipation of winter involved chopping frozen soil out of lots of pots. No matter how warmly I dressed, the bone chilling cold took my breath away. None of the pictures of the work tell the story of the cold. What a relief that I have been at this winter work long enough to have engineered a method by which most of the work gets done indoors. The ability to work indoors means the work gets done with dispatch. But no matter what we do in the shop, the installation happens outdoors. My crews are troupers to the last. They know how to break the ice, and warm up the winter gardening season.
Planting spring flowering bulbs was a challenge this fall. Nature saw fit to go to the cold very early. Planting bulbs involved chopping into fearsomely cold soil. I am not sorry that all of the bulbs are safely entrenched below ground. What is usually an easy exercise was this year a study in persistence. The fall color this year-not so swell. I only have one word to explain this phenomena-nature. Every year there is some unanticipated phenomena. That would be best described as nature, naturally. We have had 6 inches of snow today. Not that it wasn’t beautiful. But 6 inches in mid December?
I regularly read a blog from Kansas-oh yes. He doesn’t post so much, but what he does post is of great value. http://myeducationofagardener.wordpress.com/ I read every word, sometimes twice. He once said that nature bats last. No kidding. I am within 3 projects of being done for this season. Once we have closed out the landscape work for the season, I will decorate at home, for the holiday, and the winter. Today, I was too weary to do much of anything. But tomorrow I am sure I will be better rested. Nature is an ally, a foe, a mystery, a phenomena, a wonder, a treasure, a challenge, a friend, an exasperation, a respite – but above all, a way of life. More tomorrow, Deborah
Someday I will plant a giant circle of deciduous trees. Or a square. or a rectangle, or an irregularly shaped enclosure of trees. Most of the trunks will be too close together. There may be one entrance, which is also an exit. There may be an entrance and a separate exit. There may be one entrance, and several exits. There may be one entrance on axis, and other oblique entrances. No matter the shape, the canopies of the trees will create a tent. Inside the tent, there will be a bench, or a collection of benches. The garden on the outside of the tree tent will be inviting and friendly. The inside of the tree tent will be plain. Just grass, and a place to sit. I would visit the tree tent every day, every season, year round. Maybe very early, before work. Maybe late in the day, after work. Maybe more than twice a day. Why would I want such a garden? A daily garden? For the sake of rhythm.
Like most gardeners, I am tuned into my garden at specific times of the year. The first signs of spring. The spring trees blooming. The planting of the spring-and the summer pots. The roses coming on. The late summer garden. The fall, and finally the winter. These moments are an intense experience. The hellebores in full bloom make me feel dizzy, my focus is that intense. Other times, I barely notice what is in front of my eyes. I have this issue to attend to, or that. The delphiniums may be sending up a strong second flush that I barely acknowledge. Up and down-that would be me in the garden. Miss topsy-turvy. Would that I could be more consistent and less scattered.
On and off is not my favorite place to be. A lengthy “on period” means I can establish a rhythm. It is not so tough to imagine this. In simple terms, practice makes perfect. Those times when I am focused on the garden, day to day, my garden benefits. The 2 months I spend planting summer pots-I am quite sure the last of those pots are the best. Once I have gotten into a rhythm, there is flow. I stop thinking about what to do, and just do. Stating and stopping and starting up again in the garden shows. A design may appear disjointed, or fragmented. Or even worse, careless.
A regular rhythm is like a pulse, like a heart that beats regularly. Repetition sets the stage for a rhythmic expression. The big idea here-anything you attend to, or practice every day establishes a rhythm. Once you have a rhythm going on, a beautiful expression is not far behind.
As for my tree tent-I imagine it as a place to recapture that sense of rhythm. A place that can store momentum. Of course the tree tent is an idea that could exist only in my imagination. Maybe the real solution is to figure out how to keep the door to imagination propped open. Today I have a large Christmas tree to decorate. It is a project I have not done before. I have assembled a collection of materials-they will be looking at me. And my crew will be looking at me. I am sure I will be trying out different arrangements, stopping and starting, until that certain state of mind that I call rhythm gets switched on.
Deborah Silver is a landscape and garden designer whose firm, Deborah Silver and Co Inc, opened its doors in 1986. She opened Detroit Garden Works, a retail store devoted to fine and unusual garden ornament and specialty plants, in 1996. In 2004, she opened the Branch studio, a subsidiary of the landscape company which designs and manufactures garden ornament in a variety of media. Though her formal education is in English literature and biology, she worked as a fine artist in watercolor and pastel from 1972-1983. A job in a nursery, to help support herself as an artist in the early 80′s evolved into a career in landscape and garden design. Her landscape design and installation projects combine a thorough knowledge of horticulture with an artist’s eye for design. Her three companies provide a wide range of products and services to the serious gardener. She has been writing this journal style blog since April of 2009.