But for staying out until 3am at a rocking great affair at my brother’s New Years Eve in 2000, I am not a New Year’s Eve party aficianado. The weather can be both challenging and boorish; the after midnight drivers even more so. Some years I would head home at 11:30, and listen to the festivities on the radio in the driveway. But in 2005, nature put on an unforgettable New Years party.
We had hung big gold stars and red modern sputnik ornaments in the lindens on the drive in November-it was a good look. I think ornaments look much better on deciduous trees than evergreens-they can swing free and be easily seen. Rob has a way of casually dressing the trees with lights that at first glance looks like his blood pressure is too low-but a second good look says otherwise. So far, so good. Branches, red and gold-what could be better?
Better was on the way; December 29 we got snow. Not a snow storm-a blanket of snow. It fell softly and steadily all day, and all night, and on into the 30th. Snow souffle-everywhere. All that white fluff changed the landscape completely. I had placed hickory fence poles in each corner of the front pots and wedged a giant grapevine sphere in between them-all in an effort to figure out what to do with some 25 lengths of hickory wood and bark strips Rob had brought over from Belgium. Do you see those curving strips? Truth be known, they were nothing much until the snow came. The snow was beginning to make something substantial of something gestural.
The thicket of linden branches overhead caught a lot of this snow-it stuck and kept on sticking to every branch, top to bottom. Never have I seen branches so dressed up. The hot garland lights shed the snow, and kept on glowing. What was to come had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the weather. Timing is everything-is it not?
The snow kept coming, amiable and relentless. Slogging through it during those two days was a workout, but late that New Year’s Eve stands out in my mind as the most breathtaking collaboration of electricity, frozen water and landscape that has been my privilege to witness. Happy New Year to you, best regards, Nature.
A nine inch frosting of snow on this concrete table and matching chairs brings their design to the fore in a way a sunny July day would never do. All that white snow ramps up and multiplies the effect of those diminuitive lights-never mind that garland lights eliminate all that useless cord and concentrate the light. Fine, some good holiday lighting technology – the entire shop was in a very special state of reflective illumination beyond my efforts.
The boxwood eventually succumbed, and splayed out from the weight of the snow. I know not to fuss with frozen evergreen branches, but I was wringing my hands seeing this. The older I get, the better I am in not intervening in situations beyond my control. The bugs, the rabbits, the fungus-they get the run of my place. The snow-I have no plans to intervene, only some plans to watch.
Shovelling ten times in three days made it possible to get to the front door. But should this picture not convince you that a landscape, and all that goes with it, would not delight your eye every month of the year, call me. If you cannot believe this is my most exciting New Years ever, you just don’t know me that well yet.
Should you live in a part of the world that has clear skies this New Year’s Eve-lucky you. This picture of the shop at New Year’s in 2006 has the blue moon look-but not the blue moon. This holiday blue moon-so rare. I am sure I will be waking up regularly all night, though my forecast calls for clouds all night long. Hope-that’s the big idea behind the new year, yes? Happy blue moon.
The year’s end always invites reflection on what worked and didn’t work, what I liked and didn’t like-what I might want to do differently next year. There’s time for that, over the winter. But other things come more immediately to mind, at year’s end. As I rarely see a plant or a garden that I don’t like, what sticks out in my mind are those great garden moments. I have had years when my March crocus are so blasted by below freezing temperatures they barely bloom. This year, they were glorious-and glorious for quite a while. The night temperatures were perfect; every day for 2 weeks they were an event well worth the price of the ticket.
My hellebores were similarly spectacular this year. The evenly cool temperatures they liked. I was even so inspired to send away for more from Knott Hill Farms. The sweet woodriff coming on is a good companion for them. I have both of these planted in full sun, not far from the road. They not only perform better in this location than my shadier places, they take fewer years to make dreamboat sized clumps.
Spring flowers are like no others. Their fresh color I will not see again until the following spring. The oakleaf lettuce in this box-just as fresh and juicy looking as any spring flower. This is my idea of planting vegetables, by the way. This season was very cool for Michigan; the spring plantings flourished until fairly late in July. I do plant ornamental cabbage in the spring, though it will bolt at the first sign of hot weather. I got lucky this year. This is partly why I favor mixed plantings-you never know what nature might have in store. My roses this year-nothing to talk about.
The blooming of the Venus dogwoods however was spectacular. They were in full bloom, loaded with these giant 7 inch diameter flowers, for over a month. I could not recommend this tree too highly. It is happy in full sun, and very hardy. It grows fast, but stays small. It is the first tree I have planted in my yard in a good many years. If I had the space, I would plant great drifts of them, and let the grass grow rough underneath them.
The morning of July 19 dawned cool and sunny, perfect weather for the garden tour we sponsored to benefit the Greening of Detroit. We had 325 people attend the tour, and 125 for bites and cocktails afterwards at the shop. In addition to all that fun, we raised a good amount for the Greening. It was a perfect garden day.
My favorite time at the farmer’s market begins with sunflower season. Everything is big about them-big size, big color, big heart-big delicious seeds, so loved by the goldfinches. Sunflowers-the name says it all. The summer harvest is well underway.
My summer annuals provide much pleasure to me. I like the planning, the planting, the caring for, the looking at, the deadheading, the watering-I like every aspect of this part of my garden. I do not have the luxury of lots of time to spend in my garden; I work a lot elsewhere. This part I have the time, energy and heart for, every day. Other parts of my landscape have their moments, but the annual flowers provide every day good moments.
I always have one container that’s all green-I particularly enjoy matching and contrasting shapes, textures and volumes of green. Green-who could live without it?
Nicotiana mutabilis is probably my favorite annual flower. Once staked, it flowers its heart out way long into the fall. They are known to send out giant new spikes-in October. Those fluttering flowers-white, pink and rose on the same plant-are a meadow unto themselves- perfect for a small space. This pot is my favorite of 2009.
Like my striped crocus this spring, my white Japanese anemone “Honorine Jobert” had a stellar year. Standing every bit of five feet tall, they were loaded with flowers for weeks. This is a very carefree perennial for me. I do nothing to them, except look, and on occasion, water. I weed the offshoots out of the Carefree roses in the spring-that’s about it. Why they were so robust and heavy flowering this year-I could not say. I can say this was one of my favorite things in my garden this year.
We do not have that many foggy days in Michigan; perhaps this is why I enjoy them so much. This late September morning had just a hint of fall about it. All the vibrant summer color begins to fade. It’s a favorite of mine-living where the seasons change. All in all, it was a very good garden season, 2009.
I have always felt sorry for those people whose occasion to celebrate a birthday falls in a winter month. First off, there’s no opportunity for a party in the garden. Now what? In planning a party, the atmospheric conditions are the most important elements. Set the mood first. I look for that visual treat that encourages guests to leave their daily cares behind, and anticipate a festive evening. This client was not about to let the winter weather hinder her celebration, so why should I? The thought of her company slogging through the snow and ice in their party best made it clear there had better be something going on outdoors that would replace the that thought. However, there is no replacing the ice and snow idea in Michigan in January-so why not make a gift of the season? We would add a little fire to the snow and ice.
It’s not so tough to make ice outdoors when the temps are hovering around 25 degrees. We tried our homemade ice votives at the shop before we took the idea on the road. Plastic waste baskets, cardboard boxes lined with plastic, and whatever else we had on hand got filled with water, and set outdoors; we allowed a week for freezing. Quart sized milk cartons were set in the water, and weighted on the top so they wouldn’t float-we needed niches that would hold our fire-the votive candles. These overscaled ice cube luminaries did the trick. I could see the frowns on the faces of the women, putting their party shoes on the winter ground-turn to smiles.
We carried this winter snow and ice idea from the outside, inside. We outfitted sonatubes used for forming concrete cylinders into giant candles. A platform set just below the rim was stuffed solid with 10 hour votives in individual glass holders. Single leaves wedged in the center created a flame shape. The guest of honor’s table was dressed in white roses and lilies, and fern curl flames. The overhead flowers make an immediate statement at eye level when guests arrived. This treatment also makes it easy for guests to talk across the table.
Some parties call for table numbers. We set cotton batting snowballs on tripods of glass drops; this makes an organizational element part of the fun. Formal occasions do not necessarily mean stuffy occasions.
My client did want some color in evidence-chartreuse she liked. The quality of cut flowers in the winter can be hit and miss, so I stuck with varieties that are readily available, and tolerate winter travel well. Hollywood roses are my favorite white rose, but I need to order them well in advance to get them. White freesia and the white button mum “Green Peas” I can count on. White dendrobium orchids, and chartreuse spider mums are equally foolproof. White ranunculus can be good, and can be equally horrid; if I decide to use them, I order extra.
Glass bubbles in different sizes, shapes, and surfaces were spread on the tables, along with more snowballs. White twigs encrusted with plastic ice gave a little height, and lots of sparkle.
The chartreuse button pomp Yoko Ono is a cut flower workhorse. So much color from such a small flower. They can be used without water, if need be. The oversized votive candles have water in the bottom-this makes it easy to clean the wax out after the party, and re-use the glass holder.
Silver chargers, and white napkins wrapped in silver ribbon complete the table decor.
These large painted white branches are wrapped in mini lights with white cords. Some years ago Rob and I sprayed cut branches with a fine spray of water until they were glittering and icy-this I did for a party at home. One holiday party at the shop featured firewood burning in galvanized farm buckets all along the drive-even this simple treatment was every bit as effective as this more formal treatment.
This is not your garden variety garden party. Nonetheless, this winter version was inspired by the garden.
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.