The Michigan skies go dark during our winter months. We have few sunny days; the winter solstice date, this year December 21st, is the shortest day of the entire year. The dark comes at 4pm, and is still around at 7am. The cold and the snow don’t bother me nearly as much as those gloomy skies. Should you not light your landscape, their will be precious little to see. Formally lighting the landscape is a topic all its own. I am interested today in how people garden with light. These scotch pine on standard in Belgian oak barrels outside my office window-a strong defense against the dark.
Those clear white lights available everywhere seem to ask for some dressing up; the big bulbs are a refreshing change. The mix of big and little bulb strands, attached to each other with little snippets of yellow raffia, engage my attention like a good tune. These light garlands gracefully swagged through the branches of my big lindens are a cheery contrast to the winter blues.
My native winter landscape is notable for its cold, its interminable length, and its relentless snow. The light garland over my door is a combination of white, amber, and yellow lights; the centerpieces in the pots wound round with gold frosted lights. The pots are stuffed with giant nests of raw hemp fiber. The effect is warm and cozy. I am all for turning the lights on.
Light strings need not be confined to rooflines and Christmas trees. Urethane topiary forms densely wound with light strings cast their warm light in every direction. The biggest requirement for this project-the patience to wind and pin the wires with fern pins. A landscape focal point comes to life in a very different way, thus lighted.
These wood boxes have what we call light bars as centerpieces. Galvanized pipe from the hardware store is wound with lights; the bottom foot of the bare pipe is sunk into the soil. The curly willow branches add a natural element that looks good during the day. The light bars help keep the willow visible during the extended dark hours. Large bulb chartreuse light strings were part of the Martha Stewart holiday lighting collection for KMart some years ago; how I like the big soft glow they add to the greens and snow. I have no idea to quit gardening when the ground freezes-I just garden in a different way.
Rob invented these light bars. Wrapped closely around a galvanized pipe, and installed in the ground over steel rebar sunk in the ground, they shed light in every direction. They are beautifully sculptural in a contemporary setting. Many many light strings were needed to describe the shape of this old oak in lights. The structure of this tree is never more apparent than it is this time of year.
I photographed the front of the shop this year at dawn’s light. The snow and the ice greatly magnify the twinkle of the twinkle lights on these skyrocket junipers. A wire tree basket serves as a form creating the overall shape of this fantail willow and dogwood. The white pine at the base droops gracefully in the opposite direction. I like having something in the winter landscape that gives me as much pleasure as my summer garden.
The big idea here has everything to do with personal and individual expression. The materials are readily available, the risk of doing too much is slight. The effect is immediate and gratifying. Whether you run your seasonal lighting only through the end of the year, or on into March, lighting the winter garden like this is temporary-no big long term committment required. I know I am not the only person who drives the neighborhoods during the winter holiday to see what others have done to light the night; this might be the best part of December in Michigan.