I would guess that I prune the evergreens in my yard back 6 inches in the spring. A long and wild stem on a yew, I may prune back 16 inches. Do I prune in November? Never. But there are those farmers out there that grow evergreens with the idea to cut for the holiday season. Long trimmings grace no end of winter pots and garlands. Our premium greens come 25 pounds to a case. Each bough averages 18 inches in length. We appreciate an emphasis on long and green for our winter and holiday projects. Greens of lesser quality are more about the woody trimmings, than the greens.
Florists greens are really short. A centerpiece on a table needs much less in the way of length and volume than a winter container. My advice- go for the long boughs. I am appreciative of how many materials are available to me. Any creative expression friendly to the garden begins and ends with what nature provides. The evergreen boughs that will bring your holiday to life are brought to you by the farming community. Do what you can to support them.
Gardeners routinely mix plants and design elements up in the landscape. They favor this soil mix over that one. They mix all kinds of fertilizer from manure tea to fish emulsion. Hybrid plants suggest a mix of that gene pool with another. A mixer suggests a party attended by people from very different points of view. This guarantees that a mixer will be lively and entertaining. Mixed reviews on a film suggests there are ups and downs-will you take a chance, and go watch it for yourself? A mix can suggest a special brew, an individual take on a theme. A mix of perennials in a garden can help keep that garden interesting throughout the season.
A mix of evergreen trees on the lot line is less formal, more natural, than a mass planting of a single species. A mix of bird seed will attract more than one species of bird to your feeder. The process of mixing up a scheme is a creative process. Mixing colors results in a visual display that has depth. Mixing a plant with big texture with another plant of a smaller texture can be striking. Adding another or an unexpected element to the mix-glorious.
Oil and water do not mix without enormous effort. A color mix from opposing sides of the color wheel can catch the eye. Side by side color mixes are harmonious. Certain mixes are bound to produce conflict. Thus the art of a seating arrangement at a dinner party or wedding. It is astonishing to think that every color imaginable comes from a mix of the three primary colors. Primary colors mixed together may make for mud. Colors mixed together in other proportions can produce colors of astonishing beauty.
Mix a violin with a voice-revel in the result. Mix a black eyed Susan with a liatris-glaring this. Mix a Sum and Substance hosta with Russian sage-this is horticultural discord for all to see. Creating a successful mix of anything is an art. By this I mean that no college offers courses in how to mix one material with another. Were I to follow a recipe for a cake to the letter, it still might look and taste bad.
For certain clients, we elect to fill their pots with mixed greens. The airy and contrasting textures seem appropriate, for whatever reason. A mix of evergreen boughs can produce lots of volume But just like imagining a mix of greens in the landscape, mixing greens in a winter container takes great skill. The mix involves cuttings from evergreen shrubs that have very different growth habits. How to make those cuttings work together to form a strong and cohesive statement-beyond me. My landscape crews have a hand. What do I mean by this? They have so many years behind them-planting. They have a feel for the natural shape of a bough, and they know how to work with it. Even more amazing is their ability to make evergreens of all types work together in a container arrangement.
No natural evergreen in the landscape has a mix of different types of branches, unless it is a grafted form from the Jean Iseli Nursery. Each evergreen has an identity all its own. Mixing the cut branches to harmonious effect, and a beautiful overall shape, is not so easy.
Most cut evergreens have a signature swoop. White pine and incense have very flexible stems. This means they can be flattened by a snow storm. We either support the weak stemmed evergreens with a neighbor that has a stiff and stout habit, or we stick the branch so they curve up. Gravity will have its say soon enough. Fresh branches have plenty of spring, but as they dry, they will droop. If you are a fan of weeping branches, then perhaps this is the route to take.
If your idea of celebratory is more along the lines of upswept, then stick arrange your branches so they all appear to curve up towards the sky. Before I hang a mixed evergreen garland, I cut in in half, and rotate one side, and reattach it. I hang the garland so the branches face up. As the branches succumb to gravity, the garland looks full. Garlands hung with the branches down look skimpy . Garlands hung with the branches facing up on one side, and facing down on the other will always look lopsided.
Sticking greens both up and down can be a lively choice. These pots are in a very protected location, meaning they will be shielded from bad winter weather. It takes a good eye and a better hand to spot how much liveliness is just enough, and not visually confusing and chaotic. But do not be discouraged in any way. It takes lots of practice to get good at anything. I have no idea how many winter and holiday arrangements we have done in the past 20 years, but a lot is a reasonable number.
Mid November is a good time to be planning what you might do to interpret the garden and landscape for the holiday and the winter. Early is the best time to get going on a scheme. The most compelling reason has to do with weather. The past few years, our late fall was very mild. Mild means it is reasonably easy to work outdoors. A really cold late fall makes so much work of any installation outdoors. For those gardeners that do their own work, dramatically cold fall temperatures is enough to make anyone consider skipping the winter work altogether.
My advice-don’t skip any experience of the garden. Plant roses, peonies, trees, and wildflowers. Plant bulbs in the ground, or in pots. Grow topiaries and espaliers. Plant clematis and tomatoes. Take a liking to asters, and amass a collection. Make enthusiasm for the garden and landscape a way of life. Plan to express a winter idea-you will not be sorry. On and off, we have had extremely cold temperatures in November. The temperature today when I came to work was 20 degrees. This is unseasonably cold, but by no means unheard of. I remember those years when we had to chop frozen soil out of pots in order to install a winter arrangement. Should night temperatures this low persist for much longer, our winter installations will be arduous. Tough conditions in the landscape are my problem-not my client’s problem.
If your winter garden is all your own to create, I would urge you to get dressed, and get out there. The forecast for our coming weekend calls for 50 degrees both days. All you need for a stellar winter arrangement in your pots are some great materials, a load of lights, and an atmosphere in which you have time to concentrate. Once I am in the process of stuffing a pot with sticks for the winter, I do not much notice the cold. The fresh cut branches we bring in for the winter season shrug off the cold-why shouldn’t I? I spent the entire day today outdoors, installing our first winter/holiday pots of the season.
Stick week-we take possession of so many beautiful fresh cut twigs. The stick work is what comes next. Those sticks can be bound together. They can provide the bulk and mass of a beautiful centerpiece. They can be stuck into the soil, one at a time. They can provide the stalk of a great winter topiary for a sideboard in the dining room. They can be woven around a form. Our bunches of fresh cut twigs delight and challenge me, in the beginning of that season when the landscape is going dormant. I find that the best antidote to loss is taking on the responsibility for a life that goes on. A gorgeous winter garden helps to take the sting out of experiencing a garden going down for the winter.
Nature provides a backdrop which is always interesting, and regularly spectacular. Figure in the wind, the snow, the sunny days, the gray days, the cold, the ice, and that special quality which we call natural. I have always posted entries to this online gardening journal of mine in real time. This year, my idea is to pose the questions, post the pictures, and speak to the season, ahead of time. In time for a reader to have time to consider all their options. Rob loads in all manner of materials for the holiday and winter season. I shop what he stocks at Detroit Garden Works for my projects. Sticks, picks, greens, garlands, magnolia, grapevine, sinamay, weather proof ornament-his selections are beautiful. Better than the beauty is the depth. He takes great care to represent a wide range of interests. Gardeners comprise a very big group with very diverse interests. Rob aims to engage each and every gardener.
We do anticipate the season to come-we have to. Rob and I shop for the holiday to come the previous January. We order materials in small numbers. We hope that each gardener will draw from a large group of a limited stock of materials to create a holiday and winter that produces an original and personal result. The order we place for sticks for your works happens in August. The holiday display at Detroit Garden Works takes weeks to create. We think ahead, so you do not have to. But this year, the weather may close out early. Our winter usually commences in January sometime. I am thinking the winter will come early this year. There is much stick work to do. If you plan to harvest materials from your yard, or from the roadside, or the empty lot next door-now is the time.
The curly copper willow that we installed in 12 pots downtown today is exuberant. Lively. I do so like the warm color. All of those curly stems are airy in a way only nature could create. Our part was to put together an arrangement in which the twigs would celebrate winter season in a striking way.
Our expression of the winter season for this client is a relationship forged from cut twigs, fresh cut greens, dyed kiwi vine, sugar pine cones, gold sinamay, and fresh cut magnolia. Any expression in the landscape revolves around a conversation. If you are a gardener, you have a voice. The season is another voice. Nature is the first and foremost voice. Multiple voices-harmonic.