All Natural

holiday installation (2)A client whose exuberant husband was campaigning for more in the way of holiday decorations outdoors had only one request.  All natural materials, please.  Garlands comprised of fresh fir, grapevine, tallow berries, pine cones and magnolia are as natural as could be, and fit right into an existing landscape. All of the materials came originally from the landscape.  The textures, colors and forms are easy on the eye, meaning is just about impossible to over do a natural look.  I was not worried that my client would feel overwhelmed.  I was sure it would just feel warm.

holiday installation (3)Properly judging the volume and scale needed can make a world of difference in the result.  For an entrance garland, big sugar cones have much more impact from the ground than white pine cones.  Magnolia leaves read well from a distance, as they are large. White tallow berries stand out, as everything white in the garden does. Rolls of grapevine come spring loaded with volume.  What might look over scaled on the ground will look just right, hung high on the wall of a building. To be sure we would have enough volume, we had 2 25 foot lengths ready to hang.

holiday installation 9The first garland was attached from the right top corner of the front porch.  The first 11 feet would be attached at frequent intervals across the width of the existing fascia board, to the left. The last 14 feet would drape down the left side of the porch.

holiday installation (4)Making sure a garland is firmly attached is a must.  I have no idea how much this garland weighs, but the last thing you want is garland sagging in the wind and snow.

holiday installation (5)Having multiple points to attach the garland means you have the ability to place it exactly as you wish.  For this porch, hanging the garland straight across and parallel to the ground would leave the view of the stone arch on the wall intact. Multiple points of attachment means the weight is spread out. Outwitting gravity just takes a little more time and care. It is easier to swag a big garland. The weight and gravity will see that your loops look graceful.  But some architecture calls for a clean and simple look.  A swag here would run counter to the lines established by the architecture.

holiday installation (6)Garland 2 was attached at the top left corner, and hung from the left all the way to the right side.  This means there is a double thickness of garland above the door, and a single thickness down each side.  A porch of this size calls for a substantial garland, hung outside the coach lights. The garland is a frame for the porch, and will not interfere with any coming and going.

holiday installation (8)We did run brown corded lights all along the grapevine.  This will help to illuminate it at night.  All you can see of the lighting in this picture are the light bulbs.  The brown cords up high blend invisibly into the grapevine. The overall look of the garland is appropriate to the size of the porch, and looks very warm and inviting to my eye.  The containers are simple. A roughly spherical shape of boxwood in the center is surrounded by silver fir.  The topiary forms are strung with lights that describes their shape.  There are garland lights tucked into the greens.

holiday installation (7)A pair of large windows in the front are faced down with steel boxes from Branch.  The boxes were made wider than the window, and have a subtle bow front.  The centerpiece from the fall planting was augmented with 2 additional pieces of the same material.  These were added to the left and the right of the original centerpiece.  The front 2/3rds box is stuffed with a mix of silver fir and boxwood.  The rear 1/3rd is all boxwood.  The boxes have lights near the centerpiece assembly, and in the greens.

holiday installation (1)Every year we hang one of Rob’s light rings in the window, with a plain magnolia wreath in the center.  We wire the wreath to the ring in four places, so it stays put even on windy days. This year we added a garland over the top. A single garland is centered over the window, and hung high enough so the stone arch is still visible.  The garland stops 16″ above the box, so as not to interfere with the shape established in the container. This is a warm winter look, with a splash of holiday.

The Holiday Outdoors

holiday (1)As much as I like representing the holiday season in the garden, I like getting ready for it in the garage. Our garage space is large; we can set up a pop up fabrication shop that even Buck would like.  The approach to the work comes first. It is key to doing a job efficiently, and successfully.  We had a garland to make for a holiday installation.  Dan Prielipp from Prielipp Greenhouses, a long time supplier at the Oakland County Farmer’s market, custom makes our mixed fir garland. We find that concolor, noble and douglas fir holds up the best and the longest of all the possible garland greens.  We stretch out the garland on a series of cardboard boxes we save especially for this purpose.  This brings the garland up to a height that is comfortable to work on.  We split the garland in half, and reattach the pieces such that the vertical parts of the garland both left and right side have branches that face up. Branches up one side, and down the other offends my sense of symmetry.  Upfacing branches will eventually respond to gravity, and open up. Open branches are more volumetric.  Branches hung down will close as they loose their moisture.

holiday (2)We add noble fir where we think the garland needs more presence-these new boughs are attached with zip ties.  We loosely wire and attach groups of pine cones to the garland.  This is not a job to do on a ladder.  All we will do on the ladder is wire the finished garland in place.  Working on a flat surface helps to establish the front face of the garland. Once the groups of cones are attached, we wrap the garland with grapevine.  Rob makes sure we have loads of these 35 foot long rolls in stock for the winter season.  The grapevine was cut and rolled when fresh.  When dry, these branches are wiry, and keep their circular shape no matter the weather.

holiday (3)The grapevine, rolled generously over the surface of the garland, is beautiful in its own right.  But it also provides an armature upon which lots of other elements of the garland can be attached. I like garland that has is airy, and has a sculptural shape.  The faux berries and glass ornaments of this garland were attached to nthe grapevine, not the garland.  More importantly, we attached brown corded 100 count light strands to the grapevine.  This placement will illuminate the garland at night.  Lights wound around the greens are too close to assembly to properly illuminate it.  I like to get the lights out there, over and above the garland.

holiday (4)Any materials that go outdoors have to be prepared to deal with freeze, and thaw.  Every glass ornament we attached to the greens in the containers needed to be sealed with glue.  Any water that would get inside and freeze would wreak havoc.  The big idea here?  Any element going in the garden for the holidays needs to be water tight, and securely attached.  Take the time.  The time it takes me to stake up a flopping Annabelle hydrangea or delphinium in bloom is 7 times the time it takes to put the plant supports in early on.  Why this concern about the time it takes?  Every gardener needs some free time to enjoy the results of the work they have done.   holiday (5)

The garland got wired up in no time.  For those of you who are afraid to put a screw into an exterior wall, I would suggest that the potential damage to the integrity of the wall from such a slight act is minimal.  Hanging screws make hanging a garland simple.  The peace of mind knowing that garland will stay put is well worth those little holes.  My advice?  Don’t fret over some holes in the wall 1/8 inch in diameter. Give your attention to the bigger picture.

holiday (7)A holiday expression in the garden takes some effort.  Minimize the effort with a construction plan.  Good planning can make the effort well worth the reward.  This weekend promises milder temperatures. Get out there.  Your family, friends, and community will appreciate it. Driving home tonight, I see so many houses in my neighborhood with holiday lighting ablaze. Love that.  The installation of this project took only 2 hours.  The centerpieces and greens were arranged ahead.  The garland was road ready on delivery. There is no need to stand outside in cold weather longer than necessary.

holiday (8)This client likes red at the holidays.  Integrifolia dyed red is perfect for her pots.  The red glass dots enliven the greens.  The garland lights will make the container glow, after hours.  Red in December shines.

DSC_6742My crew spent a lot of time getting this project ready for installation. It was better than a day’s work.  There was a lot of talk between them about the look of the finish.  This I like. They review everything we do, and talk to me about it.  The review from my crew-I treasure that moment. Work is one thing, but reflection and appreciation is better.  Make, furiously. Reflect.  Remake, or stand pat.  Wade into the process.  Enjoy every step of the way. Do more than you thought to do.  Be generous. This is how I would describe garden making.

holiday (9)Brown corded lights attached to grapevine

holiday (6)red integrifolia centerpieces

holiday (10)A holiday landscape is a landscape for a moment.  The winter celebration-delightful.


The Garden In December

December-garden.jpgEvery gardener’s circumstances are different, but our December is notable for the coming of the cold.  No matter what year it is, my plan for the holiday and winter garden at the shop has to include an element that is warm.  The lighting is warm.  Sparkly or reflective materials can be warm.  The sentiment of the season can be warm.  Rob says the shop garden this year is cozy.  As in yard after yard of thick fir garland.  Concolor fir, noble, silver, Douglas, balsam-fir is a very sturdy and long lasting green outdoors.  The garland was loosely wrapped with grapevine garland.  The contrast of the bare vines and the lush garland   The window boxes have fir blankets.  The windows have fir hats.  It was 14 degrees this morning when I took this picture, but the garden looks warm.


The window boxes are stuffed with mixed greens.  As the mixed greens are long and lax, we do a few rows of noble fir at the bottom of the greens to support the entire arrangement. Noble fir is very stiff and strong.  Winter weather can be fierce.  Snow, wind, ice and various mayhem from the sky can take a toll on a container garden one would want to last until March.  Making an arrangement sturdy and strong is more than half of the work of it.

warm-winter.jpgThe centerpieces are composed of red bud pussy willow, ochre eucalyptus, a few springs of metallic gold eucalyptus, and a ruff of gold sinamay. For good measure, a dollop of sugar pine cones completes the look.  Given that the building is large, and the garden is mostly viewed from the street, or from a car, the materials are over scaled. A smaller pine cone would not have much impact given the scale of the building.

holiday-container-arrangement.jpgOver the summer, these Belgian blue stone plinths supported Italian terra cotta pots with boxwood spheres.  Winter arrangements in my zone ask for pots that are frost proof. Though boxwood is generally hardy in pots, I would be uneasy about an extended period of low temperatures.  We have had an uncharacteristically cold late fall-12 degrees overnight is much more like late January than early December.  This garden would have a very bleak look, but for its winter dress.

holiday-container.jpgWinter gardens are for viewing from a distance.  It is unlikely anyone will be lingering here for long.  Big, warm, and simple gestures go a long way towards banishing the winter blues.  A design which gives the illusion of warmth is appreciated when the weather is so dreary.  Decorating the garden has its benefits.  It feels good to have something to do that at least approximates gardening. And it is nice to have something good to look at while the garden is dormant.  This garden is just about ready for the snow.

warm-winter-decor.jpgThe fir hats over the windows are composed of garlands that are attached to bamboo poles.  Garden has a natural tendency to fall, swoop and swag.  If you want a straight and orderly appearance, a bamboo pole will keep all of the clippings in line.  The poles are then wired to the pediment.  I like this construction technique for mantels too.

wrapped-tree-trunks.jpgMy favorite part of this winter garden are the garlands and grapevines on the tree trunks.  Deciduous trees have a very spare and sculptural look during the winter.  These over sized scarves that puddle on the ground make the trees look protected and warm.

Detroit-Garden-Works.jpgThere are those places yet to finish.  These urns need something.  The pots need some lighting.  A favorite part of this winter project is the ability to work on it as time and inspiration permits.  Last January I had the basic idea for the garden.  I ordered boxes of grapevine garland, for the building, and the trees, and for Rob’s steel hanging spheres.  Taking the time to let a garden space speak back is my idea of luxury, and part of the great pleasure of the doing.  I may still be tinkering with this 2 weeks from now.  There’s no rush.  Winter will be with us for a long time.

Warm and cozy sounds good.


sinamay.jpgIt doesn’t take much to add a little holiday shimmer to a winter container arrangement. Anything that sparkles is very festive.  Sinamay is polyester fabric that can be found shot through with metallic threads.  It holds its naturally curvy shape no mater the weather.  Not great with swags and bows?  This material does the work for you.  I fold it over, and run a wire through the bottom near the crease edge.  Once I pull the wire as tight as it will go around the centerpiece, I get plenty of curls and curves.  That shimmer is great during the day, and especially effective at night in pots that have lighting.  A little glitz and glam has its time and place.  It takes but a second to remove it after New Years.  Should you decide to leave it on all winter, the metallic threads will dull down after exposure to winter weather.

silver-eucalyptus.jpgNew for me this year is eucalyptus with a metallic finish.  The centerpiece in this pot is 2 parts whitewash, and 1 part silver metallic. This is just enough shimmer to brighten the daytime look.  I am sure the look is quite sparkly at night, given the lights in the topiary form.

The arrangements have a subtle glow, given the late day sun, and read well from a distance. The pots are placed at the end of a driveway, where they frame the natural landscape behind.

winter-container.jpgThe side door pot has the same combination, with the addition of some white flocked picks.  The dry natural stems have just a hint of silver flake on them.  The overal effect-shimmery.

winter-pots.jpgThese pots have plum eucalyptus mixed with copper.  The effect is subtle enough that I wouldn’t be afraid to leave them in the arrangement all winter.  Michigan winters are particularly dreary.  Anything that reflects what little light we have is a visual treat.  The snow and the cold are ok, but the gloom is just about intolerable.

copper-eucalyptus.jpgRed bud pussy willow has a naturally copper cast.  The copper metallic leaves by themselves are a little overwhelming, but in a mix, they shine

pair-of-holiday-pots.jpgThese winter pots have pale green glittery picks in between the pussy willow and the white berry picks.  They are the perfect note for a holiday party.

sparkle-picks.jpgThat glittery layer speaks to the holidays coming up.  Once the holidays pass, those picks can be removed.  The more somber winter arrangement will look great through March.  Spraying wiltpruf on fresh cut greens does improve their longevity.  Wiltpruf is a water and was emulsion which slows the rate of evaporation from the needles.  Cut evergreens that dry out look bad.  The most effective professional grade antidessicant is called VaporGard.  Growers at my local market spray their ornamental cabbages and kales with it after transplanting them out of the field.  It does indeed prevent wilting.

holiday-decorating.jpgThese light strings on metal poles Rob calls lightsicles.  Certain of the mini lights have plastic light covers over them in a random pattern.  They look great hung from the eaves of a house, or from a tree.  For the holidays, we loosely wrapped a sinamay ribbon around the poles, and pushed the glass lights through the mesh.  The ribbon reflects natural light in a very subtle way.  Light strings are very hard to use in a design, as the daytime look is so much about the wires.  Using lights with brown cords, or garland lights that have the bulbs placed close together can help.

lighted-bars-and-sinamay-ribbon.jpgThis little bit of sinamay ribbon allows the light to shine through at night, and covers the steel pole and wires during the day. The chartreuse ornaments are plastic-a perfect material for outdoors.

lighted-bars.jpgIt’s time for the sparkles.