Quiet, Please.

DSC06434Were someone to ask me to name my most favorite winter pots ever, no doubt this pair would immediately come to mind.  These varnished Belgian oak boxes put together with precisely spaced countersunk screws quietly remind me of a double breasted band uniform replete with brass buttons; dignified and all put together. The noble fir and douglas fir greens are generous and wide.  The pale bleached willow sticks have a collar of natural stick stacks that have absorbed moisture from the air, and arched over-naturally. These pots have the most fabulously artless hairdos. Bottlebrush snowflakes hang here and there. Just enough structure meets weathering natural material.  The good proportions of top to bottom please me.            

2007 Mondry Holiday 12-6-07 (5)Though I personally have a mind to fend off the winter vigorously, I am lucky to have clients who do not mind the stillness of the winter season. They tell me: quiet, please. Represent me softly-naturally.  Douglas fir and boxwood make such a great mix.  A few stems of acrylic pussy willow adds just a little sparkle to the red twig.  

Henderson Holiday 2005 (1)Intermittent snow in December dusts everything with white. This is beautiful winter weather-not the hit you over the head winter that is to come. The winter sculpture in this pair of pots demands nothing and expresses everything of a world gone silent. 

Kayes #1This client refurbished her front door in brushed stainless steel at my recommendation. This very contemporary Francesca del Re pot, and its winter dress, simply expresses the colors and shapes of her season. The color echoes what already exists in her hydrangeas and yews.

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Big window boxes can speak softly, despite their size. Brushy, with pale accents-this is a choice.  My recommendation?  Decide in advance the feeling you wish to convey, and choose the materials accordingly.  Accidents of nature are sometimes astonishingly good-other times, not so good.  If I can spot what has gone wrong, chances are it can be fixed.  Sometimes I have to see to know.

DSC05665This pair of English stoneware pots from the Hode Pottery are frostproof-no need to bring them in.  The simple trivet stands reveal the shape of the pots from top to bottom. A pot with a base larger than its opening benefits from a treatment like this.  Twigs, cones and boxwood make for a dressy, not noisy display.


Growing boxwood in pots is not easy. They need attention all year round.  They may need watering in a January thaw, and by March, regular water. The rootball of a well-grown boxwood is not much smaller than the top.  They will only prosper in pots large enough to give their roots room to grow.  Pots this size are much better filled with cut boxwood stuffed into a foam form.  All the beauty of boxwood without so much responsibility.   

Mondry Holiday 2005

I like everything about nature’s palette.  The blues and greys of the stone, steel and snow. Twig, stem and leaf brown, with a dash of evergreen. What I see here is just enough celebration to take the chill off.

Making Changes


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By now you should know some things about me.  Though I may be discussing a before and after landscape, an annual planting scheme or a garden renovation, what I am really talking about is change. The years change a landscape, a garden evolves, a collection of pots means an annual garden can have all the charm of a new dress with somewhere fine to go. Though the season has changed, I am still gardening.  No kidding yes, I believe what people devise to celebrate winter outdoors is gardening.  Much of my garden has gone to sleep, and needs me not to disturb it.  I have no interest in seed catalogues-yet. 

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In much the same way that I change the annuals in my pots every year, the winter season is a chance to do something different.  I like so many things, and I like even better second chances. Much in my own landscape has been in place for many years; my holiday garden is one place I can easily make changes.  This client is of like mind; she favors contemporary expressions, and she is receptive to new things.  Several years ago the red wood shaving balls and the twig squares got her attention. She has a beautiful collection of Francesca del Re Italian pots.  They are clean lined and beautifully colored.  The intensely red woodshaving balls atop those twig stands proved to be the foundation of her holiday display.  The same materials, in different configurations, a design discussion.

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Though this vintage faux bois planter is her odd element out, it takes to this contemporary holiday treatment just fine. It is such a strong piece visually, its stands alone.  I have few clients for whom I design and build terraces in the front yard.  She suggested a front entrance terrace would give space and feature her pots and garden furniture; she was right. 


Last year, we put the red under wraps.  Tall twig stick stacks in cream and green became the organizing element. The sparkling gold money plant picks made for a simple and strong foil for the nests of noble fir covering her pots.  Sinamay is a loosely woven plastic fabric shot through with metallic threads.  Absolutely weatherproof, this ribbon like material will keep its curvy shape whatever comes out of the sky. Individual sticks from a stack were placed in a decidedly sculptural way in the faux bois planter. 

DSC_0037The walk to the front door is kept company by an overscaled concrete planter of our manufacture.  The stick stack frames the house numbers on the wall.  A walk that does not immediately appear to lead anywhere needs a strong signal-come this way, please. How the weather works on these twig stacks is a hand over which I have no control. They gracefully open and bend with the weather in a way I  could not duplicate.  Two parts a client, two parts nature, and one part from me-looking good.

DSC_0047There is ample room on the terrace for this pair of Francesca squares.  Like all of the other pots, these squares are sparingly lit.  It is less than two weeks to the shortest day of our year.

DSC_0042Four Francesca flutes make for a striking holiday garden at the front door.  This Italian terra cotta is tough enough to withstand our vile winters; the ability to have terra cotta outside at this time of year is cause for celebration in and of itself.  Some contemporary expression is hard on the eyes, and lacking human softening; this can border on cold.  This is no time of year to add cold to the cold we already have.  I so like how she chose materials so soft in color, and so subtle in contrast-it was up to me to put them together in a contemporary way.  The interplay of contemporary and traditional elements is lively. 

What we have in store for this year; I’ll take pictures.

A Special Holiday Style

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If you read my essay this past summer entitled “Bringing the Garden Upstairs”, you might remember CB.  She has been a client and friend a good many years, but even more than that, a mentor.  Some clients you meet have a fire burning all their own that makes working for them pure joy.  Her love of garden, home and family is just as evident at the holidays as in the spring. Just as she writes me in early spring to say she has no intention of coming home from their winter home until I have the flowers planted, I can count on her to call in early October about the holiday.  I always ask what she is thinking, as she is always thinking.  Last year, she wanted a feeling “elegant and enchanting”, and by the way, could I look at the airspace? 

Audi _0005Her home has ceilings that soar.  The massive chandelier we hung with skeins 0f gold metal mesh in the manner of Spanish moss. Off white berry garlands were woven in and out of the wood trunk and arms of the chandelier.  The elegant black iron urns she filled solidly with a very tall creamy brown bamboo; this we secured with oversized medallions of bronze ornaments, cream reindeer moss, and cream frosted pine cones.  She had filled the fireplace with candles set on two levels, and dressed the plain terazzo fireplace with a sparkling necklace of delicate mirrored garland.  Tall bronze and silver candelabra each with their own holiday touch complete the look.

Audi _0009Her tree gleams with glass, silver and gold ornament she has collected over the years.  The staircase railings feature thick garlands stuffed with twigs, lights, and ribbon.  This gorgeous look is all of her doing, and ready when I get there.  After we do the outdoor pots and lights, we do just a few things inside.

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (42)Another year she planned to entertain both at Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday.  Given that she expected a lot of guests, she moved her big dining room table into the living room.  Though I have known her long enough that I should not be surprised by moves like this, I always am.  She has a gift for reinventing spaces, and decorating them just enough to make for visual magic. 

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (50)She managed to furnish a small corner of this room beautifully.  She gave this intimate space a chandelier all its own; the seating and prints are beautifully arranged. A wispy twig garland wound in mirrored garland speaks to the holiday without overwhelming any other element.   

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (9)The holiday in the airspace is evident in her kitchen too.  A garland over her kitchen window is dressed in that airy and graceful style that so reminds me of her.  Even the light fixtures over her island take on the air of the season.  The ribbon trees were made by members of her family; everywhere there are signs of family. Her red vase stuffed with candy canes made me look at candy canes as if I had never seen them before.

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (1)Her lower level is a cozy family oriented space; the bar we decorate with Patience Brewster holiday figures, chartreuse wire, and ornaments chosen especially to delight her grandchildren. 

2007 Audi 11-28-07 (38)I made this topiary holiday sculpture for her in the same vein.  Mossy and twiggy, for the gardener in her; the shape straight from the enchanted forest, for the grandkids.

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Everywhere there are signs of life.  I have such respect for her ability to design and create elegant spaces imbued with such strong feeling.  Working with her isn’t working, it’s a blessing.

Sunday Opinion: The Search For Solutions

For the better part of a year I have been searching my memory for the title of a book my scientist Mom gave to me when I was in my thirties.  Why is this forgotten book on my mind?  I am an old and fairly good gardener; I barely blink over new plant introductions, gardening trends, or horticulture portayed as fashion. I like to wait and see what shakes out once new things are exposed to the force of nature. However, the global controversy over “climate change” has gotten my attention.   I wrote a Sunday opinion essay late this past July entitled “Righteous Food”.  Though no scientific evidence exists to suggest eating organically grown food makes people measureably healthier, organic food is fashionable food.  I have no real objection to this; people are entitled to think and live how they choose.  I only object to a point of view that passes over the achievements of American farmers who feed the many, at reasonable prices. Equally impressive is how lots of that food gets quickly distributed; good food is first and foremost fresh food. At my local farmers market on any given Saturday morning, 150 vendors with small farms bring their produce to market in 150 individual trucks-many coming from great distances. I have no idea how many people purchase food here on a given day, and how much gets trucked home unsold. What would the data suggest? It is one thing to detail the advantages of buying locally grown food-it is quite another to conclude this way of growing and distributing fresh food makes for a better planet. 

I finally did remember the name of the book.  ”The Seach for Solutions” was written by Horace Freeland Judson, and published in 1980.  The book is about how the human mind organizes to solve problems via a discussion of some of the most important scientific discoveries of the past 400 years (This I have paraphrased from the dust jacket).  What I remember vividly from the book had everything to do with what my Mom wanted me to remember.  In the foreward, Lewis Thomas states that “the most wrenching of all the transformations that science has imposed on human consciousness…(is that) we have learned that we really do not understand nature at all, and the more information we receive, the more strange and mystifying is the picture before us…Science is itself a kind of reassurance that we have the capacity to mature.”.  And finally, “Science then is a model system for collective human behavior, and has value because of this for all of us…”  In reading Judson’s description and analysis of the process of scientific discovery,  I learned that a hypothesis needs to be subjected to rigorous testing via experiments designed to account for all the variables.  The data collected has to independently and clearly support the idea. Scientists make models from the theories the information supports. Proven theories might be useful in predicting the future.  I recently read somewhere (I cannot remember where-sorry) that the accuracy of our collective models dealing with whether our climate is changing , the source of that change, and any resultant predictions about the future of our planet have little scientific impact.  The big impact of all this research is economic.  Should we as a planet invest untold trillions of dollars and unprecedented internationally cooperative efforts to mitigate the harm humans do to the environment, the science suggesting such an effort be made needs to be compellingly solid.  Any statement that the planet is on track to self distruct as a result of human activity that could be changed-the good science that needs to come ahead of such a claim is staggering.

Whatever opinions I might have about climate change are irrelevant.  Though I have as much access to the opinions of others as anyone else, I am skeptical that what information we do have points in any definitive direction.  Understanding the climate of a planet which existed billions of years before any technology existed to measure it suggests to me that current climate models might wait many lifetimes before the data could be collected to prove or disprove any theory. I like to think that as a gardener, my committment to making things grow also implies my good stewardship of my environment.  I would go on to say that all my years of gardening has only pointed me towards an apppreciation of the miracle of nature-and not so much to an understanding of nature that would allow me to draw conclusions.  I have always been interested in the fact that in all my years of gardening I have seen many methods of growing roses that work admirably, and no overall model which successfully accounts for this, and goes on to definitively suggest guidelines to which gardeners planet wide should subscribe.   A theory of climate change seems astronomically more complicated than this, and surely the purvue of formidably educated and stubbornly passionate scientists. Judson interviewed the experimental siesmologist Karen McNally, and I quote: “Predicting an earthquake in somebody else’s country…is something you do with great trepidation.” . 

I see lots of climactic conclusions lacking trepidation.  I do not find this particularly discouraging-after all we are all people first-whether we engage in science or horticulture, journalism, art or politics.  All of our pursuits are sociably noisy and equally imperfect-this goes without saying.  However I do find the distruction of original climate data collected by the Climate Research Unit in Britain disturbing.  I learned about the value and the necessity of primary source material in 10th grade.  So how is it that an internationally funded and respected climate study agency chose to destroy original data in favor of their “adjusted” data? What other scientist could take their data, repeat their experiments, and corroborate their findings? The only opinion I would stand behind-we all need to keep digging.