Four weeks of non stop work installing the bulk of our outdoor winter and holiday decor came to a close this afternoon. Friday’s installation schedule left no time to write until this morning. Seasonal work can be grueling; there is a limit to the time you have-never mind if you don’t feel good, or don’t have any ideas worth pursuing, or if the weather is uncooperative. I should finish the outdoor work by Wednesday of next week. It has been 14 degrees here, with high winds, for three days-this is the most compelling reason to finish the outdoor work.
Someone asked me yesterday how I manage to avoid churning out work, but produce creative and varied work, under pressure, and fast. I don’t know. I do know I dream about work every night in the heat of the spring and early winter season. I wake up in the middle of the night, in the middle of a discussion about a project. Its easier for me to talk about the mechanics-those things that make it possible for me to take an idea and translate it into a visual form.
My heated workspace, undisturbed, ranks number one. My tools rank a close second. My crews know to never borrow a tool without returning it. Rob on the other hand-if you are reading this Rob, can you return my pruners? Frustration is a bucket of cold water that will unpleasantly drench any project you might have a mind to take on. A well lit, warm space, surfaces at the right height, good tools, and I am half way there.
Detroit Garden Works is a source of materials for me, as well as the garden, or the field next door. The farmer’s market is a logical choice. I hear tell that Target is selling pearl lights this year. The materials that are everywhere around me make their own suggestions. I try to listen.
Fragments of materials can find a home at the holidays, so I save the bits that have promise. Having tools and materials at hand set the stage; inspiration can come from a lot of places. This wreath of wood shavings dyed red is a dramatic dose of holiday cheer all by itself. The red wood shaving rose brooch came from another source all together.
The forest floor is a perennial source of inspiration. Wiring and gluing it all together is pretty good fun. This year’s wreath list is down to the last 6, and then there will be some time to think about one of my own. After Christmas, we make an evening of a travelling dinner with friends; we share our homes dressed for the holidays. Most of the pleasure of decorating for the holidays is sharing it. My neighbors put their lights up in big numbers this year, as November was mild.
Some gifted person invented a machine that stuffs magnolia into a steel frame in a dense and orderly fashion. They are zip-tied to the floor of a large box for shipping; they arrive with every leaf perfect. As it will be displayed indoors on a very large stone fireplace, I glued in two more rounds of leaves on the outside edge to give it more presence.
My favorite part of this wreath-what would you guess? The individual ends of the jute string bow have unravelled slightly after our first rainy snowfall. Though the bow is frozen solid, it has a gracefully natural look not one bit my doing.
It is 17 degrees this morning. This is all the reason I need to start moving towards decorating indoors.
I have been planting magnolias in landscapes for over twenty years; I am a fan. They are chunky, open growing, large leaved trees that satisfy the gardener in me in every regard. Old trees have a gorgeous shape; the flowers, and later, the leaves are breathtaking. There are a number of magnolias that prosper in my cold climate; Wada’s Memory, Yellow Butterflies, Galaxy-my love list is long. As I have tried to grow the Magnolia Grandiflora hybrid “Brown Bracken”, reputedly the hardiest of the grandiflora hybrids, without success, southern magnolia only graces my gardening life at the holidays.
I cannot imagine ever tiring of these large, shiny, ovate leaves. What leaf do you know that is shiny green on one side, and felted cinnamon brown on the reverse? As much as I admire this mix of color revealed in a mature tree, I value the trimmings in wreaths and garlands at the holidays.
My supplier farms these trees; his November prunings and clippings are sent all over the country at the holiday. All green leaved wreaths, mixed green and brown wreaths, garlands, bunches of 16″ long clippings-even 4′ and 6′ tall branches-glorious. Broad leaved evergreens are prized by gardeners in northern climates; I am never so happy to have them as right now.
Holly does poorly as a cut green-even outdoors. Freezing temperatures can spoil the foliage overnight. Though popular for interior holiday arrangements, its shelf life is fleeting at best. Magnolia holds up our entire season. As it dries, the leaves curl. This makes for places to stuff fresh needled greens, berries, ornament-and lights.
A southern magnolia wreath kept indoors, and carefully stored, will last many years. The dark green leaves will turn a pale platinum green. The felted backs of the leaves do not change in color or texture. Very old magnolia leaves are brittle, but stable. With good care, a treasured magnolia wreath is a keepsake. Outdoors, the leaves will turn an olive brown when dry, but this takes a long time. Depending on the sun expsoure, it is well into January before the leaves fade.
Magnolia garlands open to reveal deep spaces; they take well to being lighted with no visual trace of a cord. Fresh needled evergreen garlands go dry, stiff, and off color fast. Magnolia garland is hefty; It will keep its shape outdoors in spite of stormy weather.
The cut stems shine in winter pots. Their lush appearance is so unlike the prevailing landscape. A single bunch of cut stems yields enough individual leaves to dress up several evergreen wreaths, a mantle garland, or a package. After the holidays we make table top topiary sculptures from any bunches we have left. None of the magnolia need go to waste.
In February my garland still looks fine; it will look just about like this when I take it down in March. I have had clients store their garlands, lights and all, and use them again the following season. Why not?
This garland stuffed with twigs, moss, noble fir, and acorns is lovely. A gift of the season, from the garden.
Were 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.
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.
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.
This 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.
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.
This 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.
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.
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.