Our entire method of sturdily constructing an arrangement for a winter pot is predicated on one concept-you have to create the roots, and the trunk. I rarely worry about my summer pots going out of kilter. The roots of the plant secure them to the soil; plants grow upwards, towards the sun. I do not have that luxury in the winter, and Michigan has more than its fair share of stormy winter weather. So the mechanics of fastening all the materials is really important to the longevity and beauty of the piece. Tall skinny pots like these get lots of gravel in the bottom; a large centerpiece can be a big sail in disguise, just waiting for a decent wind to get airborne. We then construct a form in which to secure all the materials-glued up with industrial strength hot melt glue-that sits tight in the container. A loosely fitting form is just asking for trouble. If you have ever tried standing up in a pair of ice skates that do not lace up tight over your ankles, you know exactly what I am talking about.
These pots will have lights in the vertical dimension; a steel form provides stability as light strings are heavy. They also make it possible to cleanly and crisply mimic a geometric form. As light strings shapes are governed by gravity, a rigid form insures they will be representing the form you choose for them today, next March.
Winding the lights around a form is time consuming. It also makes the removal of the lights tedious. Zip ties make for an easy in and easy off. It’s also easy to spot in the above picture how close we space those zip ties; the closer, the better. Light string wires have strong kinks and curves when they come out of the package, but droop they will, given time. They do not hold a graceful curve on their own; we are generous with the fasteners. The centerpiece is set through a hole in the center of the form; a stout bamboo stake at the center of the arrangement goes far enough down into the pot to insure it stays vertical. There is something so wrenching about a listing centerpiece-who needs that in the winter? The fantail willow is set into the form based on a determination of the front elevation. When pots are placed such that they can be seen from all sides, we work in the round. As the form will be covered in a skin of lichen mat, the form is shaved into a rounded shape.
Once the form is covered in the lichen, we add a little icing to our lichen cake-just for the holidays. Gold leaves and a luminous red berry garland-yummy. These elements can be removed after the first of the year, so the pots look good throughout the winter. A client can use the lights in the winter-or not. The topiary form has a decidedly dressy look to it, with the added attraction of absolutely no maintenance. It will still look fine come next April, provided the construction is sound.
Getting the installation to match in a pair of pots is harder than you think. I try to work on pairs side by side. Some pairs of pots that demand a very formal arrangement, I make sure that one person does both. Everyone’s eye and hand is noticeably all their own. My rule of thumb-I work on the second pot, never taking my eyes off the first.
Day and night-never is that idea more evident than in a winter pot. In high summer here, daylight persists well past 9pm. Very shortly now, it will be dark at 4pm. Day length has everything to do with the onset of flowering in plants. How I design the winter pots respects this science, in a parallel way.
Your winter pots are the best they will ever be, the first day they are done. Unlike a landscape that fills out, and blossoms with age, there is no growing involved. They need to be constructed tall, wide, and robust from the beginning. The winter is a season that can handle a little unedited excess, with a dash of over the top sparkly, with aplomb.