Night Light

2008 store front 1-3-09 (3)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.      

DGW    22
 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.     

dgw 12-27-08 008My 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.

DSC05988Light 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.   

DGW    12
 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. 

Copy of dgw _0078Rob 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.    Taubman3 (3)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.

Dirty Little Secret

Nov 28 018Years ago Jonathon asked me to dream up a phrase that would describe my shop.  As we are in a tiny industrial district way off the beaten path, I thought “dirty little secret” would both reference the foundation upon which all I do becomes possible-and furthermore would encourage people whose curiousity was sufficiently piqued, to seek me out.  I try my best to have my three quarters of an acre ready for company every day.  This wreath, a warm, plain, and beautiful Douglas Fir wrap around a cast limestone dog, is displayed in the front of the house. The back of my house, stuffed with holiday materials scattered all over the place, is another story.  I know this is my second post about wreaths in a week, but these modest circles of green can so enliven your winter landscape-so bear with me.  No need to confine your wreathing to your front door either-a sculpture, a pot, a gate can be dressed in a wreath. Nov 28d 002  I am persisting with this discussion, as I think these modest circles based on green can endow a winter landscape with an impact vastly beyond their small size. They are a distinctly personal expression. My workroom is entirely given over at this moment to taking those green circles a few personal steps further-special orders.  There are so many materials-both natural and not, that can be arranged, wired or glued on the surface. I have made a lot of them over the years; they are miniature gardens that go together fast.  Rob meets with his clients; pictures of possible combinations follow via email.  Helping people put things together that they like individually is a big part of the job. 

Nov 28d 017The workroom, my dirty little secret , is home to the tools, the good light, and the space necessary to make things.  My only wish for my life-to be able to make, and go on making.  Landscapes, gardens, topiary sculptures, flower arrangements, paintings, essays-specific to a person, a time, and a place. Everything I make inplies the person out there.  These landscapes do not take weeks, or years to put in place.  Even a complicated arrangement rarely takes longer than an hour.  The trick is having all the materials and tools at hand, and ready. The rest-trying out whatever strikes your fancy.

Nov 28d 011My workroom is not particularly fancy.  A 4′ by 8′ painted plywood layout table holds all manner of materials and tools at a height that makes the work easy.  Underneath the top is space for plans, rolled up and labelled with a client’s name, and date-some of which date back 20 years.   Lots of flourescent lighting banishes shadows, and makes it easy for me to see the details. Every surface is put to use; if something is put away, I forget I have it available.  I collect bits of this and that all year long, for the wreaths.   

Nov 28e 005Shelves loaded with containers organize like materials-I need this level of organization, given that I am in progress with multiple projects.  I hate searching for the ribbon scissors, so it has a home. Things have gotten a little out of control, but I resist the impulse to clean.  I am so lucky to have a big space that needs no daily cleanup.  At the end of the day, I just go home-the litter can wait until I have time to clean it up. This is MCat’s favorite time of year-so many things that have fallen to the floor to play with. Some days he finds a spot on the table to snooze.

Nov 28e 002I like loading the layout table with materials that speak to each other.  I move things around, I add and subtract until I get a mix that seems to work. This can take a lot of time.  Once I come to some conclusion, the construction phase kicks in.    My industrial grade glue gun-an invaluable tool.  I cannot stitch, sew, or cook, but I can glue. I also take things apart before I use them.  One half a seed pod might work better than a whole one. Garlands and picks cvan be unwired, and their elements used individually. 

Nov 28e 010The dried grasses, the oregonia, the bahia pods, the magnolia stems, acorns, the bark wire-all of these materials seem just right for clients for whom I mail  out a slew holiday wreaths the Monday after Thanksgiving.    They love all manner of natural materials-they trust my mix, different every year. I photograph them, so they know what gets sent.

Nov 28d 013
The eucalyptus, acorns, magnolia leaves, pine cones and oregonia say hello and happy holidays to their friends and family.  The jute bows are a new thing.  Rob is so good at seeing the beauty of a raw material beyond its ordinary use.  This workroom is a gardener’s junk drawer on a big scale. Once these wreaths are hanging on a door, who would suspect the happy mess from whence they came?

Sunday Opinion: Thirteen Thank Yous



snow crocusMarch


Silver _0012


June 11 006June

July19 007July

Aug 17 034August

sept5 056September

Nov 3 004October


Silver Holiday 2005 - night (11)December

friends and family

At A Glance: The Library

Nov 27 005

Nov 27a 002

Nov 27 006

Nov 27 007

Nov 27a 005

Nov 27 009

Nov 27 022

Nov 27 008

Nov 27a 004

Nov 27 017

Nov 27 018