Merry Christmas, Luca Della Robbia style

delle-robbia-wreath.jpgAn Italian sculptor named Luca Della Robbia produced many charming works in glazed terra cotta from 1400-1475.  Many of his plaques featured frames depicting fruits and vegetables.  This style of decoration still persists centuries later, in a style of Christmas decorating known in this country as the Williamsburg style.  Someday I would like to go there at the holidays, and see all of the wreaths and architectural elements decorated with the fruits of the harvest and holiday season.  Though the Willamsburg decor is traditionally done with real fruits and vegetables, my interpretation of the style makes use of faux fruit.  The fruit in the above wreath is produced from a weighted core, and a rubbery, almost waxy outer layer.  The color and texture is incredibly realistic.  This magnolia della robbia wreath, with proper care thast protects the dry magnolia leaves, will last many years.

holiday lighting.jpgWhy am I thinking about the della robbia style?  Rob made me 2 sets of Christmas lights-one for my tree and one for my mantel.  The red, yellow and green lights have a remarkably jewel like glow.  They so remind me of the Christmas trees I remember from my childhood.  Those big glowing lights on on our Christmas tree were enchanting.  Seeing anything through a child’s eyes is a way of seeing like no other.  How would I decorate my tree to make the most of these extraordinary lights?  It seemed a natural choice to pair this color and texture with a mantel and tree decorated with ornament of a similar feeling.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy holiday tree does not have ornament with an intrinsic history.  No objects which provoke memories, in and of themselves.    I actually like it that way.  I like having the option to decide on a scheme or a theme that is quite different than the previous year. The challenge of creating a display that reflects the immediate sentiments, importance, and aura of the season is an activity I enjoy.  When the seasonal work for clients comes to a close, it is time to go home, and create a little holiday spirit of my own.

trimming-the-tree.jpgThe della robbia tree had a modest beginning.  A Christmas tree, an evergreen garland, plastic ornament balls in lime green, and lots of faux fruit.  Having been laid low by the worst cold in a decade, Steve saw to getting the tree and mantel garland up, and the ornaments on the tree.  Angie stuck the large fruits with floral picks; it is vastly easier to secure a stick than a heavy round slippery fruit. The rest would be up to me.  For the better part of a day, I worried I might not have the strength to decorate our tree.  Funny how once a project captures your interest, troubles fall away.   Early on it became apparent that the big fruits could not go on the tree.  They were much too heavy.  The big fruits would have to go on the mantel.

Christmas-tree.jpgThe mantel garland was secured around a thick bamboo pole, and secured to the weighty metal mantel lights with zip ties.  I managed to find spots in the evergreen garland that would grip the picks.  As for the tree, I had to change gears. A trip to English Gardens yielded 10 boxes of dark red glass ornament balls.  Miniature limes and green apples could easily be fastened to the tree-after Buck wired bag after bag of them for me.  40 red berry picks, when taken apart, yielded 480 individual berries.  Other bits included 6 boxes of shiny lime green mini berry clusters.

Christmas-tree.jpgI like a Christmas tree that still looks like a tree, even after it is decorated.  This involved wiring on many small bits.  Big bits can engulf a Christmas tree.  I favor lots and lots of just a few types of little things.

decorated-tree.jpgI attached the red berry balls to the tips of as many branches as I could.  At the time of this writing, I still have about fifty to go.

holiday-mantel.jpgThe tree and mantel only have 30 lights, but the bulbs are big, and make an impression.  How this feels to me is nostalgic and warm-just how I like to celebrate the season.

holioday-tree.jpgI owe the look to the inspiration provided by Rob’s lights.  May your holiday be just as warm and bright as mine has turned out to be.

Shimmering

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.

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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.

 

Holiday Garden

holiday-decoration.jpgIt is no secret that I enjoy decorating the garden for the holidays.  The gardening season has come to a close-there are reasons to celebrate.  I am not watering,  grooming, transplanting, replacing, pruning or fertilizing.  This is a long way of saying I have respite from the chores that make the idea of a good garden a reality.  Though I was content to haul the hose around, I am equally pleased that it has been put away.

holiday-garland.jpgA lot of the work that goes into a landscape is as much fun as a dose of cod liver oil.  I have never been invited to a party to celebrate a grading project that eliminated a swampy spot in the yard.  Nor has any friend invited me to admire their new drain field.  A diehard gardening friend did invite me to admire the pruning on her front yard full of old oak trees-I don’t blame her.  I might not have noticed, had she not drawn my attention to it.   There is some sunlight in the yard now, and the work was very expensive-she wanted me to see.  The pruning was in her mind, just cause for celebration.

holiday-garland.jpgA garden decorated for the holidays is a whole other experience.  There is the opportunity to add some color to a landscape which has gone as gray as the winter skies.  Materials from the garden can be arranged in any configuration or shape without regard to lighting or growing conditions.  There is no planting, nor is there any watering.    Only at the winter holidays can I have a perfectly lush evergreen and perfectly spiralling grapevine growing over the doorway.  There are lots of things not available to me in the garden, but I can have whatever look I want for the winter.

holiday-decoration.jpgThe illusion of the decorated winter garden doesn’t ask for a skilled gardener.  A holiday display is not limited to the realm of possibility.  It is the one time of year I can have magnolia grandiflora, and sugar pine cones, red bud pussy willow,  and winterberry-each stem at their peak.  Each positioned in a display, just so.  All this garland requires is the support of the light fixture, and strategically placed masonry screws, and enough 22 gauge paddle wire to keep every element securely attached.

holiday-decoration.jpgFrost proof pots that had summer flowers are an obliging vehicle for an arrangement celebrating the season.  There are so many beautiful fresh cut materials available-twigs, berries, branches and greens.  The variegated boxwood I grew in a pot over the summer has gone into storage.  I worry it is not hardy in my zone, so I will protect it from my winter in an unheated but enclosed space.  I don’t have to worry about cut variegated boxwood in a winter arrangement.  The understanding is that this material has a shelf life.

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Growing a garden is one part skill, 3 parts hard work, 3 parts endurance and patience, and 3 parts luck. Sometimes even that is not enough. Plants routinely refuse to perform, even when given the best and most thoughtful care. The winter garden has no dead branches, or insect ravaged leaves.  A boxwood or lavender hedge with a dead plant right in the middle is an ordinary sight in a landscape.  No gardener has to put up with that in their winter arrangements.

holiday.jpgI have read the predictions that we will have a very cold, snowy, and lengthy winter.  That season usually begins in January.  I may take the holiday ornaments, picks and bows off after New Years, but my winter pots will keep visual company during those lengthy and dreary months.

holiday-lighting.jpgMy summer garden has little need for lighting beyond what the sun provides.  In the winter, every gardener has to fend for themselves.

 

Up On The Roof

holiday-garland.jpgReader Dianne commented on this blog yesterday that she always wondered how people installed holiday decorations that would stay put.  We wonder that same thing on occasion.  Few buildings come outfitted with hooks and screws especially installed to make a holiday decorating scheme easy to install.  We had but the most sketchy plan to install garland on this giant metal awning at the First National Building in downtown Detroit.  We had never been up there, and had no idea what to expect.  We knew the length of garland that we needed, and had a design and fabrication plan in place.  How would we hang it?  We brought giant metal hooks, concrete wire, long bamboo poles, florist’s wire, a bucket of tools, and some big ladders.

holiday-garland.jpgThe roof over the doors was almost 40 feet long, and better than 14 feet off the ground.  The building goes up many stories.  This meant that everything about this garland had to be overscaled.  A extra lush and thick fir garland was not enough.  We wired two garlands together.  Then we added 100 feet of grapevine garland, and lots of big sugar pine cones.  We had an incredibly heavy 50 foot long garland that needed to get up on that roof.  The saving grace of the day?  The roof was strong enough to walk on.

installing-a-holiday-garland.jpgWhat a relief.  Handling a very heavy garland high in the air on a ladder takes lots of physical strength and just as much nerve.  My crew handles it with aplomb.  But everyone was happy that they could be up on the roof.

evergreen-garland.jpgOnce the garland was on the roof, it had to be positioned such that the decoration attached in the shop was facing front and center.  We usually attach materials to garland with zip ties or florists wire that is loose-in the shop.  It is easy tighten up elements in a garland-it is time consuming and tough to loosen them up.  A garland with all of the other elements pasted to its surface looks clumsy.  Making a big heavy and cumbersome thing look airy and natural-that would entail a great installation.  Though we do as much as we can in the shop, the installation may require some changes in the field.  Changes in the field need to be handled with simple tools, and quickly.  As in pliers and spring loaded wire cutters.  It was 41 degrees today. A beautiful installation is a strong and sturdy installation that appears graceful and light.

holiday-garland.jpgWe had three people on the roof, and three people on the ground.  Securing the garland was one job.  Advising about what made it appear natural and beautiful came from me- from my view across the street.  The fact that we could walk on the roof-what a relief.  It took hours off the installation time.

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Every person who works on my crews is talented and gifted in their own right.  They know that every plant has a face.  They can plant a hedge that is straight within inches.  They know how to fluff a holiday look.  They know how to properly plant trees.  They can plant a container from a plan in no time-perfectly.  They make the work of hauling many pounds of garland to a roof, and installing it an art form.

mixed-fir-garland.jpgOne on the roof, and one on the ground-talking about what to move this way or that.  This is a moment I treasure-whether we are installing a garden, installing a landscape, or creating a seasonal garden.  Watching them work out the final details is a pleasure.

gold-sinamay.jpgOur first sinamay bow was way too small.  There was much discussion about the scale and proportion.  I like that discussion.  If I don’t get it right the first time around, I have a crew which is happy to go back, and make it right.  At 7:30 this morning I was making another one – three times larger. In my hand, it seemed impossibly large.  Up on the roof, it seemed just fine.

holiday-2013.jpgWe made this.  I so love being part of this group.